A four-stage orbital rocket lifts off at dusk on Friday. The $170 million Minotaur IV launch was a joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Air Force. Jacob Resneck/KMXT photo
A streak in the sky that could be seen from Kodiak to Homer at dusk Friday was a multi-stage Minotaur IV rocket. The joint NASA/Air Force research mission successfully lifted off from the Kodiak Launch Complex on Narrow Cape and comes at a crucial time for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck reports.
— (rocket pkg) 4:20 "At 4:25 p.m. the Minotaur … On Narrow Cape, I’m Jacob Resneck."
amb – launch
At 4:25 p.m. the Minotaur IV rocket, a reconfigured ICBM missile, lifted off at dusk, its contrail snaking upwards… the backdrop a nearly full white moon hanging in a cloudless sky.
Minutes after the launch there was a jubilant atmosphere as each of the four stages separated. Alaska Aerospace Corporation’s chief operating officer Tom Case stood outside listening as mission controllers reported all was going to plan.
Inside the control room officers from the Air Force’s Space Development and Test Wing watched as the rocket achieved its polar orbit. Lieutenant Colonel Kent Nickle from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico was the deputy mission commander.
The fifth stage was a reported success and the Kodiak launch became the site of the first time a Minotaur IV rocket was able to send payloads into two separate orbits.
— amb — signing
Earlier in the day representatives from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley in California signed a memorandum of understanding with the Aerospace Corporation pledging future cooperation. While the document doesn’t specifically guarantee future missions, both sides say the agreement will streamline the ability to collaborate in the future.
Ames Research Center chief Pete Worden said the Kodiak facility is well-suited for a developing niche satellite technology.
This $170 million mission comes at a crucial time for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation which hadn’t put a rocket into orbit for nearly two years. The state-owned corporation has seen a reduction in federal funding which was compounded by the loss of its missile defense contract this year. It was forced to appeal to the state and received $4 million dollars from Juneau to pay the bills.
In recent months it’s emerged that the state-owned corporation is negotiating with the governor’s office over a long-term funding commitment.
Details of the proposal haven’t been released but aerospace corporation officials have confirmed they are mulling an expansion into launching larger, medium-lift rockets. That would cost upwards of $80 million dollars. The corporation is also asking for a reported $10 million dollar annual commitment for the next four years.
Observing Friday’s launch was Lieutenant Governor-elect Mead Treadwell. He confirmed that corporation is asking for as much as $120 million from the state over four years. But he says the deciding factor will be the strength of the corporation’s business plan in attracting federal dollars and private investments.
Meanwhile Air Force and NASA say the satellites are functioning. Of the 16 experiments, 11 have a specific military function. They range from developing a solar sail that would allow satellites to maneuver in orbit; astrobiological tests measuring bacterial growth in microgravity; and the effects of space weather on orbit-to-ground communications.
The next mission hasn’t been announced, though aerospace personnel have talked about a mission as early as June or July next year.
On Narrow Cape, I’m Jacob Resneck.