What others say: Waking up from Alaska’s aerospace dream

  • Monday, September 8, 2014 8:21pm
  • Opinion

When your head is in the clouds, it’s easy to lose track of your feet.

Last week, the 17th rocket since 1998 lifted off from the state-owned Kodiak Launch Complex on Kodiak Island. Four seconds after leaving the launchpad, the rocket exploded.

The blast damaged the complex — how extensively we do not yet know — and it may be a sign that it’s time to give up on the dream of an Alaskan aerospace industry.

Rather than use insurance payouts to rebuild the complex, Alaska Aerospace should consider using that money to demolish it.

When it was envisioned in the 1990s, the Kodiak Launch Complex was to be the centerpiece of a new branch to Alaska’s economy. Built with federal grant money secured by Sen. Ted Stevens, the launch complex would welcome rockets and satellites bound for polar orbits.

The companies that launch satellites need contractors, and they would turn to Alaskans, much as Alaska’s oil industry is served by a family tree of oilfield service companies.

Unfortunately, Alaska’s aerospace dream stubbed its toe on the doorjamb of reality.

Kodiak Launch Complex hasn’t been able to compete with launches from Vandenberg in California, and private companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic haven’t shown much interest in launches from Alaska.

The problem has to do with the market.

The Kodiak launchpad can only fly small rockets, and it’s best suited for delivering satellites to polar orbits, ones that go north to south. Equatorial orbits, which run west to east, are more popular among commercial companies. That limits Kodiak to the military market and the market for polar science satellites.

A contract with the Missile Defense Agency was lucrative for Alaska Aerospace and the Kodiak Launch Complex, but that contract ended years ago and federal budget cuts mean little is available to replace it.

Three years ago, Alaska Aerospace (the state-owned corporation that operates Kodiak Launch Complex) began asking the Alaska Legislature for cash to make ends meet. This year, the corporation received $6 million in operating expenses and $2.4 million for capital costs.

We like the idea of an Alaskan aerospace industry, and we like Alaska Aerospace. It’s nice to dream about the Last Frontier becoming the gateway to the Final Frontier. Unfortunately, the market hasn’t matched our dreams.

After last week’s failure, no more launches are on Kodak’s calendar.

Alaska Aerospace isn’t a failure of imagination. It’s not a failure of hard work or drive. It’s not the Delta Barley Project or the Alaska Seafood International plant. If the state gave up on Alaska Aerospace today, it would walk away having brought millions of dollars in economic development to Anchorage and Kodiak.

Dreams are wonderful, but you always have to wake up.

— Juneau Empire, Aug. 29

More in Opinion

Capitol
Opinion: Humanism and the billionaire class

Compromise is the right thing to do and they should do it.

tt
Opinion: The challenged truths of 3 elected representatives

“Politicians lying is nothing new.”

This photo shows the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The wrong way to define demand

And as glaciers go, the Mendenhall is only a minor attraction.

Zachary Hamilton (Courtesy photo)
Borough mayoral candidate: ‘The best is yet to come’

Zachary Hamilton is running for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor in the special election

Love, INC in Soldotna, Alaska, provides homelessness prevention and housing services to people on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: COVID relief funds help homeless children in Alaska

We need to sustain this kind of investment.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Alaska must act now to capitalize on carbon markets

Alaska has vast forests and coastlines that can provide natural carbon management

1
Opinion: MLK Day clinics offered in the ‘spirit of service and advocacy for equality and social justice’

Attorneys across the state will be spending their holiday as “A Day On, Not a Day Off”

The M/V Tustumena comes into Homer after spending the day in Seldovia in 2010. (Homer News File)
Opinion: New federal funding could aid Alaska Marine Highway System

The evidence is clear that the AMHS is in grave danger of failing and moving into Alaska’s history books

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’ve seen the union difference

As a community we can show solidarity…

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Sullivan’s irrelevance in defense of democracy

Two years ago this week, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol…

People vote in polling booths at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: What’s on your 2023 schedule so far?

There is a Kenai Peninsula Borough Special Mayoral Election coming up in February

Soldotna City Council member Dave Carey testifies in support of the Kenai Peninsula Reentry Coalition during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Vote Carey for borough mayor

I know the responsibilities and obligations of being borough mayor