An environmental assessment could lead to approval for four times as many rocket launches on Kodiak Island.
If the Alaska Aerospace Corporation gets the go ahead to have more launches, then two or three years from now Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska could be the site of up to 36 smaller rocket launches per year, said executive officers for the state-owned corporation in an interview.
Currently, the complex is OK’d by the Federal Aviation Administration to launch up to nine medium-sized rockets per year, executives said. If the increase is approved, most of the rockets launched would be smaller — about 55 feet in length — and comparable to what NASA calls a “Venture Class rocket.”
“It’s not like Cape Canaveral,” said Craig Campbell, chief executive officer for Alaska Aerospace. “These aren’t national security rockets.”
Kodiak is west of Juneau across the Gulf of Alaska. Campbell said the nearest village to the complex is about seven miles away and the environmental assessment is mostly concerned with how more launches could affect wildlife.
Mark Lester, president for Alaska Aerospace Corporation, said they could know the results of the environmental assessment in the next several months, but an increase in launches would not be expected to happen for years.
Campbell said it’s likely that Pacific Spaceport Complex is already mostly equipped for the possible increase in launches because rockets of that size do not require much in terms of buildings or clearing.
“We probably aren’t going to need a lot of new things,” he said. “I think we’re going to meet a lot of demands with existing infrastructure.”
Lester said the reason more, smaller launches are desirable is because of how the private market is developing.
He said 3D printing and decreasing satellite size have lowered the costs of launching small rockets and companies interested in remote sensing, weather and communications may prefer to launch several satelites on a small rocket than dozens of satellites on a large rocket.
This potential increase in launches will be one of the topics during the Alaska Aerospace Board of Directors meeting planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 12 at the Westmark Baranof Hotel in Juneau.
Campbell and Lester said involving the public in plans for the Pacific Spaceport Complex remains a priority moving forward.
Additionally, as the environmental assessment moves along there will be a period for public comment.
The board meeting will also include discussion of a Space Port Master Plan Advisory Group that is tasked with coming up with something Campbell said will be “just like an airport” master plan for the complex.
“The intent is to identify what the demands are,” Campbell said.
The plan would also identify what size footprint the complex needs to meet those demands and set a plan through 2030 for the complex.
Currently, Campbell said the complex consists of 3,700 acres leased by the Department of Natural Resources.
“Is that what we need?” Campbell asked. “Maybe we need less.”
Another environmental assessment
There is another Alaska Aerospace-connected environmental assessment happening in Hawaii.
Campbell and Lester said there are hopes for a second Pacific Spaceport Complex there, and the topic is expected to be discussed at the upcoming board meeting.
The Hawaii Legislature approved in 2017 $250,000 for the environmental assessment, but Lester and Campbell said Alaskans’ money isn’t being spent on the effort.
“We’re not using any state of Alaska funds for this,” Campbell said. “We’re a state-owned corporation that receives no money from the state. We’re surviving on our own revenue.”
The reason a Hawaii location is desirable is because it would allow Alaska Aerospace clients to launch rockets from locations near the North Pole and near the Equator.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.