Government-owned Alaska Aerospace considers second spaceport

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The competition heats up: State-owned Alaska Aerospace is considering opening a second spaceport outside the state and closer to the equator.

Alaska Aerospace operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska. The Kodiak Island complex is capable of polar, sun-synchronous and high-inclination orbits, but does not support the equatorial launches that make up most of the industry demand. With the new launch facility, Campbell said having equatorial launches will give the corporation a competitive advantage and also bring more customers to Kodiak.

The state no longer funds the corporation, which has never made money. Still, it now has contracts with Rocket Lab and Vector Space Systems and this new move is an obvious effort to make itself more viable.


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  • LocalFluff

    There might be room for another space port for the future. Last year for a while both Vandenberg and KSC were closed at the same time because of wildfires and hurricanes.

    I note that the 8 next orbital launches are all done on different rockets: Falcon, Ariane, PSLV, Soyuz, Vega, Delta, H-IIA, Atlas. There’s no lack of independently developed launchers. Still, only one is human rated. Doesn’t that show that the industry is dominated by governments wanting to spend on high tech and military capabilities, and is not driven by space exploration. Money isn’t the problem at all, but the lack of interest in space exploration is.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff asked: “Doesn’t that show that the industry is dominated by governments wanting to spend on high tech and military capabilities, and is not driven by space exploration”


    However, it could show that launching people to space is more difficult and expensive than launching hardware. It may also show that there is a lack of destinations in space for people to go to. Right now there is only the ISS and the Tiangong space stations.

    You may be underestimating the number of man-rated launch vehicles, since the Chinese are launching people into space on the Long March 2.

    Also consider that the Atlas will soon launch the manned CST-100, with the possibility of the Delta, too, and Dragon will launch on Falcon 9, adding another three launchers to the list.

    CST-100 will also fly on the future Vulcan rocket, and Russia’s future Angara rocket is also to fly manned spacecraft. Rounding out future manned rockets would be, of course, the SLS.

    From what I read and hear, many countries would like to have their own manned space programs, but the cost of developing rockets, manned spacecraft, and destinations (e.g. space stations or Moon bases) has overwhelmed even the European Union, who once announced their Hermes spacecraft but gave it up in the mid 1990s.

    The interest is there, as can be seen from this list of manned-space programs:

    I count three countries that have successfully flown: China, USA, and USSR/Russia. Two countries are in development: India and Iran. In addition, Canada and Europe share with the ISS program. Three countries have tried but cancelled their programs: Germany, Japan, and UK. That sounds like 10 countries are actively interested in manned space, willing to spend the billions to participate, but three countries seem to be unable to afford to do so.

    There are many countries that are developing unmanned rockets, from Australia to Brazil to New Zealand. Even states, such as Alaska, are getting into the business. Landlocked Luxembourg is becoming a spacefaring nation by encouraging space companies to make their headquarters there.

    Even for the three countries that have ever launched people, unmanned rockets and spacecraft came first.

    I believe that the interest in manned space programs is there, but that the multibillion-dollar development costs have dissuaded many nations from fulfilling their interests. It has proved less expensive to develop smaller unmanned rockets and to develop unmanned spacecraft, and that is where much of the development spending has started for those countries that are trying to become spacefaring nations.

    With the advent of commercial manned spacecraft and space habitats, many countries will be able to rent these in order to perform their own experiments and explorations without the expense of the development costs of the expensive hardware.

    The next decade will be an exciting time in space exploration.

  • LocalFluff

    They make it expensive by developing their own doublettes of everything. Look at the fleet of spacecrafts that supply the ISS now recently or soon: Progress, Soyuz, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus, Dreamchaser, HTV, ATV. European ATV launched only 5 times during 6 years before it was canceled. That stuff must be left to private international companies to provide to whomever pays.

    I think that they are deliberately making it expensive, rather than be deterred by costs. The overall structure of the launcher and human space flight industry illustrates the corruption and irrationality. Each country has its own special interests and the more expensive it gets, the more monies in their pockets, so high costs is a goal in itself when you deal with other peoples money.

    One thing there isn’t too much of is space ports capable of launching the most common orbital launchers. Being an established player, it should be a great idea for Alaska Aerospace to build an equatorial site.

  • Alex

    @LocalFluff: I agree completely.

  • John E Bowen

    “this new move is an obvious effort to make itself more viable”

    Good. All the best to them.

    Some things make me think they have a chance.

    * They offer high inclination orbits. This has been seen as bad for the traditional large comm sats in GEO.

    * Several companies have investigated the idea of fielding large constellations of smaller satellites, to provide Internet, phone and other data services worldwide. Their intended orbits are lower than GEO, and some are highly inclined planes.

    * There is just a whole lot of other interest in small satellites by various groups, some of whom might like the polar orbits.

    * Everybody, but especially small-sat operators, likes the possibility of lower range fees. Let’s make a deal!

  • Edward

    You wrote: “Look at the fleet of spacecrafts that supply the ISS now recently or soon: Progress, Soyuz, Dragon, Starliner, Cygnus, Dreamchaser, HTV, ATV.

    Events over the past three years have shown that it is a good thing that there were multiple launchers and spacecraft to get materiel to the ISS. For a while, only Japan’s HTV was available and was the only craft to successfully reach the station with supplies.

    Look at the angst that we have, now that only one vehicle can take personnel to the ISS. There have been concerns for years that we may have to abandon the station for some period of time.

    Low cost, reliability, and availability are difficult to combine within one system. As Red Adair supposedly said, “I can do it fast, I can do it well, I can do it cheap. Choose two.” Over time, Adair was able to slowly improve in all of these factors, but the choice continued to be the same: choose the two more-important factors. The same applies to space endeavors. Right now, there are commercial companies focusing on cost while trying to maintain reliability and launch cadence. As we can see, it is not as easy as it sounds.

    ATV was a political creature, created as part of a “payment” for participation in ISS. Now we have an even sillier service module for Orion, also for the same payment, what happens when they stop making that craft?.

    LocalFluff wrote: “I think that they are deliberately making it expensive, rather than be deterred by costs.

    There may be some of that going on. NASA has become a political pawn for Congress and presidents. ISS became international for political reasons; notice that costs soared after international partners joined up. The Russians were asked to join ISS for political reasons. It is well known that spreading the work around Europe for political reasons causes Ariane V to be more expensive than necessary, which is why work on the next generation is more consolidated and expected to be less expensive.

    The cost of rocket development truly is high, as seen by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on commercial launchers Falcon 9 and Antares. The companies that developed those two rockets had incentives to spend much less than most government development projects. Governments also have a certain amount of waste as they attempt to justify, account for, and track the expenses. However, you may be talking about the tendency toward crony capitalism in government programs, and it seems to many people that SLS suffers from this kind of political nonsense. In the US, some of this wasteful spending is called earmarks or pork-barrel spending.

    Rocket development can cost more than just money; it has a terrible learning curve. The Russians had the infamous Nedelin catastrophe. Scaled Composites had three people killed in an explosion resulting from a rocket test. Although SpaceX seems to be recovering from its recent pad explosion — in which no one was hurt — Brazil hasn’t recovered from its 2003 pad explosion.

    That so many countries have made it look easy, and that so many companies have made it look inexpensive is a testament to those countries and companies and especially to the people who do the work. I recently linked to this Bill Whittle commentary, “The Deal,” and I link again, because as with airplanes, it will take a lot of learning to finally do it right. (7 minutes)
    Now that government is out of money, any future we have in space is in the hands of private companies

    This may not be such a bad thing as it sounds. A lesson from the cancellations of various spacecraft shortly after they killed crews is that government is not willing to pay in blood for progress. Apollo killed one crew and almost killed a second, the X-15 killed one crew, and the Shuttle killed two crews, and cancellations of all of these programs were announced shortly afterward. Freely elected governments of free people do not stand up well to criticism. They fear for their power. They do not have the courage to understand The Deal that we have with reality. As Whittle noted, commercial airlines have that courage, and Whittle is hopeful that our commercial space companies have that courage, too. Jack Northrop, Donald Douglas, William Boeing, Howard Hughes, and Bill Lear had the courage, but do Jeff Bezos, Robert Bigelow, Sir Richard Branson, or Elon Musk?

    In the past, the space industry was dominated by governments with more interest in military use of space than in exploration and use of space. In the 1990s, several companies tried to change that. Many of those companies failed, but Orbital Sciences and Alliant Techsystems are two that survived, yet they merged in order to form a stronger company. Other companies are now commercializing Earth observation and reconnaissance as well as weather prediction. Space mining and space manufacturing are now seen as realistic possibilities, but commercial companies are planning to do this, not governments. It seems that the State of Alaska wants to get in on some of this action.

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