Kodiak’s Spaceport has a new CEO months after last one was ousted and Alaska Aerospace leadership was shaken up

A retired U.S. Air Force Colonel is the new president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which oversees Kodiak’s Pacific Spaceport Complex on Narrow Cape. John Oberst was announced as the head of the state-owned corporation last month on Feb. 26.

Oberst has 30 years of military service, during which he was mainly stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) and Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. Most of his career has been tied to space in one form or another, from Oberst’s first job building rockets, to his newest role leading the spaceport.

“My first job in the industry was with Orbital Sciences building the first four stage orbital rocket, civilian. So they were breaking into the industry, they already had an air launch vehicle called Pegasus,” Oberst explained. “But Taurus was their Pegasus on top of another stage which made it a four stage vehicle.”

After working for Orbital Sciences for a year, Oberst joined the Air Force which brought him to Alaska. He took on various roles throughout his decades of work at locations like Clear Air Force Station outside of Nenana, which is a space station now. Oberst spent ten years in the Air Force, mainly in Alaska and ten years in the Alaska National Guard.

Oberst said since his hiring last month he has been meeting with potential customers who want to use the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska (PSCA) on Kodiak Island, but that does not include larger rockets like those of Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. According to the Alaska Aerospace Corp.’s annual report, the spaceport is diversifying its customer base with commercial and government missions, which includes launching satellites into orbit.

“On the government side it’s the U.S. Space Force. On the commercial side it’s small and medium rocket launch providers. Like we have a partnership with ABL [Space Systems] and they are out there right now [at the spaceport]. And we are looking at some partnerships with other, similar type companies,” Oberst said.

According to a press release, PSCA provides all-indoor, all-weather processing and offers optimal support for small lift rockets and satellites into sub-orbital and polar, sun-synchronous, and highly elliptical orbits over the North Pacific Ocean.

Plaque of achievement hanging on wall at Kodiak’s Pacific Spaceport Complex. PSCA has been launching rockets from Kodiak Island since 1998. (Davis Hovey/KMXT)

Oberst’s hiring comes as Alaska Aerospace has gone through a recent period of turmoil.

In March of last year, former chief executive officer Milton Keeter resigned. But Keeter’s replacement was rejected last fall by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, according to reporting from the Anchorage Daily News. Dunleavy has final approval over leadership hires at the state-owned company. He ended up removing the corporation’s board chair, Robert McCoy, as well. In a statement, newly appointed Board Chair, Lindsay Knight of Kodiak acknowledged McCoy’s leadership over the past 12 years of being on the Alaska Aerospace Corp. Board and said he will miss him.

The company has also faced recent public scrutiny over frequent road closures near the Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island. A failed launch by California aerospace company ABL Space Systems last year also released thousands of gallons of fuel when the rocket crash landed.

In his new role, Oberst said he plans to communicate regularly with the public through local media organizations in Kodiak about developments and launches happening at the spaceport. Residents can sign up for updates by visiting akaerospace.com.

The Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island is planning another launch sometime this spring, although as of March 27 a launch event has not been announced, which means the next scheduled launch is still more than 30 days away.

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