By Sam Friedman
The state-owned company that operates the Kodiak Launch Complex (KLC) is getting a new place in the state bureaucracy in order to facilitate deals with military clients.
Effective July 1, 2011, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC) will be overseen by the Alaska Department of Military and Veteran Affairs instead of by the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Gov. Sean Parnell issued the change in an executive order Friday.
"The focus of AAC has expanded and is no longer primarily commercial business development, but rather development of a unique niche market driven by government and military customers," Parnell said in a letter authorizing the change.
A document accompanying the order concludes that moving AAC will have no fiscal effect on the state budget.
Dale Nash, CEO of AAC, said the association with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will be good for the company's image with clients.
"It's just easier to look like your customers want you to look," Nash said. "When you're dealing with your customers they know we're not Vandenberg (Air Force Base), but they like us to look and act like Vandenberg. They know we're not NASA, but they like us to look and act like NASA."
The change does not mean that AAC is giving up on commercial, non-military launches, he said. But whether conducting a launch for the military, NASA or a university, AAC usually works with a small community of aerospace companies like Lockheed Martin, Orbital Sciences, ATK, Boeing or SpaceX.
Throughout the corporation's 13-year history of launches, all 15 launches have had a military component. The facility's most consistent client is the Missile Defense Agency, which conducted eight launches at KLC. The company's most recent launch carried a payload of military, NASA and university payloads.
AAC is now considering an expansion of KLC to attract larger, medium-lift rockets. Also under way is a move to secure a new contract at Fort Greeley with the Missile Defense Agency.
The corporation is considering the launch complex expansion to accommodate Falcon 9 and Taurus II medium-lift rockets built by aerospace firms SpaceX and Orbital Sciences.
Securing contracts to launch these rockets is a "once in a generation" opportunity, Nash said, because new rockets are developed infrequently.
"If we do not do anything as a state, we have lost it," he said. "You only get the opportunity about once every 25 years."
The medium-lift rockets produce about twice the thrust of the November 2010 orbital launch from KLC, and can carry four times the payload. One possible payload for these rockets is GPS satellites.
AAC would need an estimated $85 million to upgrade KLC for medium-lift rockets. The rough cost estimate is based on what the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., paid to upgrade.
The new launch pad for the rockets would probably be about 2,250 feet west of Kodiak's launch tower.
AAC has not yet decided how it would finance the upgrade to KLC, Nash said. Two possible sources of public funding are the Alaska Legislature or the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.
AAC has already requested money from the Legislature this year to pay its operating expenses. A $4 million expenditure for the corporation made it into the governor's proposed budget. Last year the corporation received another $4 million from the Legislature for its operating expenses.
Away from Kodiak, AAC is working to secure a ground-based midcourse Missile Defense Agency contract out of Fort Greeley. It is working with a team including Lockheed Martin and regional Native corporation NANA. A team led by Boeing now holds the contract.
The contract award is due in May.
AAC previously held a different contract with the Missile Defense Agency that used KLC. The agency plans to launch target drones from the Kwajalein Atoll instead.
KLC's next launch is an Air Force communications satellite scheduled to launch some time in 2011.
Mirror writer Sam Friedman can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.