Alaska Aerospace Corp., operator of the Pacific Spaceport launch complex on Kodiak, is teaming up with Spaceport Camden, a new commercial launch facility planned in southeast Georgia now in advanced stages of its licensing by the Federal Aviation Agency.
The plan is to jointly develop opportunities in small rocket launches, a fast-growing niche commercial space industry. Alaska Aerospace is developing expertise in the field having provided support services for three years to RocketLab, a leader in small rocket launches.
Alaska Aerospace, a state-owned corporation, has launched test missiles and satellites for military, government and private customers for 22 years.
Because of its northern latitude location at Kodiak it is best suited to launch into polar orbits over the North Pacific. Polar orbits are preferred for many types of satellites because all parts of the globe can be scanned within hours.
Spaceport Camden, on the Atlantic coast in far southeast Georgia is situated to launch efficiently into equatorial orbits over the ocean. It is owned by Camden County, Ga.
Camden’s southern location in the U.S. gives it an advantage with an extra boost in reaching equatorial orbit created by the earth’s rotation. It was one of the reasons why Cape Canaveral, now Kennedy Space Center, was chosen to be the nation’s first sites for space launches. Kennedy is 170 miles south of Camden, but in the early days Camden was a contender for the first space launches with Cape Canaveral.
Under a new Memorandum of Understanding announced Jun 15 the two would coordinate marketing to commercial space customers. “Pacific Spaceport and Spaceport Camden can work together to establish common operating environments that have common processes, protocols and procedures. This will create a seamless, smooth and cost-efficient operating environment for small launch operators,” the two said in a statement issued Monday.
Camden is still a proposed site, but it is well along in licensing. Officials there were notified by the Federal Aviation Administration in early May that its application for FAA approval cleared key safety and launch site reviews and now awaits the completion of an Environmental Impact Statement.
Camden’s planned facility is on a 12,000-acre land tract. It has a long connection with the space program having been used by NASA in the 1960s for the testing of Saturn V engines for the Apollo space missions.
It is also near Naval Submarine Base King’s Bay, home port to missile-launching U.S. Trident submarines. That means there is a large amount of nearby infrastructure and expertise in missile technology, according to Steve Howard, Camden County administrator.
Georgia itself is also home to 800 aerospace companies that support 99,000 direct aerospace jobs. Georgia Tech is the nation’s number two aerospace engineering university and the largest producer of U.S. aerospace engineers.
Mark Lester, CEO of Alaska’s AADC, said the connections in the industry that could be gained with Spaceport Camden are valuable, but the experience AADC’s staff has gained at Kodiak over the years is valuable to Camden. Access to mobile equipment owned by the Alaska corporation, such as a range safety tracking system, will also be of value to Camden, Howard said.
Howard said commercial space companies that have been using the big federal launch complexes like Kennedy and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., have been searching for alternative sites like Camden and Kodiak.
NASA and the U.S. Air Force have first call at the large complexes and are basically crowding our commercial companies.
Smaller sites are more suited to commercial customers, Howard said, because schedules are more secure. They are also less expensive.
Alaska Aerospace was originally conceived to be an extension of a small suborbital research rocket program that has been operated for years by the University of Alaska Fairbanks at its Poker Flat research site in the Interior.
The launch location had to be moved to Kodiak, however, because the FAA cannot approve launches over land where there are population centers. AADC’s site at Narrow Cape, on Kodiak’s south coast, allows launches to the south over a huge area of the North Pacific.
The corporation’s original customer was the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, which used Kodiak to launch target missiles for tests of ballistic missile interceptors. Over the years the Kodiak facility has supported launches of satellites for other military branches as well as NASA and private companies.
Although AADC is a state corporation it operates independently, like the Alaska Railroad Corp., and has had no state funding for five years. It supports operations though revenues from launches.