“There isn’t a whole lot of damage to anything,” AAC senior vice president and COO Mark Greby said from the site. "I’ve seen worse-looking after a hurricane.”
At about 12:15 a.m. Monday, a three-stage solid fuel booster exploded four seconds into a flight intended to test a hypersonic glider for the Army. People in Kodiak city, about 30 miles away, report they saw or heard the explosion.
Pasagshak Road past the mouth of the Pasagshak River is closed until further notice, according to an announcement from the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities.
Department of Defense spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said debris from the rocket came down mostly on land, but no one was injured.
The launch site at Narrow Cape overlooks the entrance to Ugak Bay. AAC, which operates the state-owned facility, touts the vast, landless expanse of the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean stretching southward as a safety feature of launching rockets from Kodiak, minimizing the chance of debris causing damage downrange in the event of an accident.
The Coast Guard cutter Roanoke Island patrolled a safety zone south of the complex around the launch time and aircraft from Air Station Kodiak overflew the facility after the explosion, Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Third Class Diana Honings said.
Infrastructure near the launch pad includes the Spacecraft and Assemblies Transfer Building and the Integration Processing Facility. Buildings for launch control and maintenance stand more than two miles northwest of the pad.
“They’re all standing,” Greby said. “There is some skin damage.”
He said Department of Defense officials arrived in Kodiak Monday from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage to assess site safety.
“Then we’ll go out and do close assessment of the facility,” Greby said.
He said investigation of the incident will involve “a couple layers.”
“There’s a whole lot of data to gather,” he said, but could not tell whether solid debris would be moved any time soon.
Schumann said the investigation may last several months before a cause for the accident is determined. Witnesses said the rocket appeared to abruptly change direction after lift-off, and a press release from the Army indicated launch controllers detonated the rocket as a public safety measure.
Among those sifting through the data will be a “failure review board,” an independent panel including representatives from the Army, the Navy, the Missile Defense Agency and the New Mexico-based Sandia Aerospace Corp.
“We’ll certainly augment that with other organizations and experts as the investigation unfolds,” she said.
Federal Aviation Administration, the civilian agency charged with investigating aircraft accidents, had received no official notice about the incident by Monday afternoon, an FAA official in Anchorage said.
The launch vehicle that apparently failed was decommissioned Navy equipment, Schumann said.
The payload was an experimental glider for the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon program of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. It was meant to boost into the upper atmosphere, then fly at speeds exceeding Mach 5 to come down in the Marshall Islands. It would use a flatter flight trajectory than a purely ballistic missile covering the same course, according to an Army animation.
Schumann said the possibility of repeating the failed glider test depends on program needs and tests of many components of the proposed weapon system, including boosters, hypersonic bodies and warheads.
“The results of those tests — whether a success or failure — inform future schedules,” she said.
Greby said AAC has no other launch customers in the pipeline for the next 12 months, although that could change. The last rocket launch from Kodiak took place in September 2011.
AAC’s board of directors will hold its previously scheduled quarterly meeting Thursday at the Best Western Kodiak Inn. At least part of their meeting will be open to the public, starting at 9 a.m.
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