Lockheed Martin has chosen the Kodiak Launch Complex for West coast launches of its proposed Athena III rocket. Today’s announcement comes as lawmakers in Juneau are debating the merits of funding Alaska Aerospace, which operates the Kodiak launch facility.
In an interview last March with KMXT, Alaska Aerospace Chief Operating Officer Craig Campbell predicted that an increase in the market for small and medium-lift launch operations would be advantageous for Alaska Aerospace.
"That’s where a significant majority of the market is going to go. So when we have a customer that says, ‘Yes, we’re prepared to launch from Alaska with the facilities there,’ then we’ll be looking for a capital request for facilities."
And now that customer is Lockheed Martin. In order for the Kodiak Launch Complex to accommodate the Athena III, Lockheed Martin and Alaska Aerospace are seeking $100 million in financing to expand Kodiak’s facility to have medium-lift launch capability. Governor Sean Parnell said today that he’ll submit a capital budget request for $25 million from the Legislature toward the cost of expansion. That’s in addition to the $8 million in operational expenses they’re currently seeking.
Last spring Alaska Aerospace released a report that said the corporation could generate $250 million annually in direct and indirect economic impacts by 2018. Alaska Aerospace Chief Executive Officer Dale Nash says the investment could be a "generational win."
"We see this as a strong opportunity to see if the medium-lift market pans out and if it does we will be launching rockets with capability of up to four times of what we do right now. It certainly will bring jobs and other corporations in. It has a potential to make a 20-25 year run with major launch vehicles. That’s about the life span of the major launch vehicles as you look back in history."
But the announcement doesn’t hold much sway with Kodiak Representative Alan Austerman who is also a non-voting member of the Alaska Aerospace board. The partnership wasn’t news to Austerman who, during a press conference on Wednesday, said the board was discussing shutting down or selling off the corporation if a significant contract was not secured this year. The facility made only one launch last year. Austerman says that he won’t be more supportive without a definite contract.
"I’m still waiting for an actual contract to launch. I mean this announcement that they’ve made is Lockheed wants to come to Alaska, Lockheed wants to launch out there and the whole issue of whether they’ve actually got the customers for their payloads are still being worked out."
Lockheed Martin’s Athena Program Manager Al Simpson is optimistic about bringing the rocket to Kodiak.
"The opportunity is very exciting because when we start looking for supply chain one of the things that we’ve been talking about is that we will do that in Alaska. That’s that economic footprint that I think is very important for the state and it also works the diversification in to an aerospace and defense kind of sector, so those are all key elements of what we we’re planning on doing going forward."
If all goes as planned, the Athena III could be launching from Kodiak’s facility as soon as 2014.