LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The operator of an underutilized Alaska launch site is offering more than $20 million to launch companies in a bid to attract a larger class of launch vehicles, even as it continues to assess damages from  a failed missile test there in August.

The Alaska Aerospace Corp. issued a request for proposals (RFP) Oct. 2 for companies interested in conducting commercial launches of “medium class payloads” from the state’s Kodiak Launch Complex. Such launches are defined in the RFP as those capable of placing payloads heavier than 1,500 kilograms into a 1,000-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.

Companies responding to the RFP have to demonstrate their technical capabilities as well as their ability to conduct at least three launches from Kodiak by 2020. The RFP states that the number of launches and “long term viability” of the proposal is the most important factor in the selection process, with the number of jobs created in Alaska the second most important factor.

Alaska Aerospace will award the winning company a $21 million fixed-price contract to develop those launch services. The launch provider, though, will be responsible for providing any additional funding needed to develop the launch site infrastructure to support those launches.

The $21 million comes from a $25 million appropriation by the Alaska State Legislature in 2012 to develop a medium-lift capability at Kodiak, explained Matt Steele, vice president of business development for Alaska Aerospace, in an Oct. 15 interview during the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) here. That funding was originally intended as a down payment for the construction of a new launch pad at Kodiak to support larger vehicles.

However, delays in identifying a customer for the new pad had left the money unspent. Steele said Alaska Aerospace decided to instead offer the funds as an incentive to companies that would commit to providing medium-lift launch services from Kodiak, as the state did not require that the $25 million be used explicitly for constructing a launch facility.

Steele added that if those delays continued, the corporation was concerned that the legislature might decide to withdraw the funding. “We needed to add some urgency to the process,” he said. Proposals are due to Alaska Aerospace by Nov. 25, and Steele said he anticipates the state-owned corporation to make an award by the middle of December.

The two leading contenders for the funding are Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia. 

Lockheed Martin has been interested in launching its upgraded Athena vehicles from Kodiak, but has not previously been able to work out a deal. The proposed Athena 2S and Athena 3 rockets would both meet Alaska Aerospace’s medium-class requirements, although neither vehicle has yet flown and the company has not announced any orders for those vehicles.

Orbital Sciences, which currently launches its Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia, has been interested in a West Coast launch site, but has yet to commit to using either Kodiak or California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. Steele said several other companies participated in an industry day held at Kodiak Sept. 24.

Alaska Aerospace is currently working on an environmental assessment for a medium-class launch site, called Launch Pad 3, at Kodiak, an effort that has included a series of public meetings in Alaska in recent weeks. Steele said that companies could instead propose to use instead the existing Pad 1, which could significantly reduce the overall investment needed to support their vehicles.

Pad 1, however, suffered damage when a U.S. Army missile failed during an Aug. 25 launch there. The missile’s flight termination system was triggered four seconds after liftoff during a test for the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon program. Photos of the launch site taken after the failure showed damage to the exterior of the launch service structure at the pad and to a nearby building.

An assessment of the damage and the cost to repair it is ongoing, John Cramer, vice president of administration for Alaska Aerospace, said in an Oct. 15 email. A preliminary report is due from engineering firm BRPH in the next two weeks, after which he said they will draw up plans to begin repairs.

Those repairs will not affect any upcoming missions from the pad, which has supported fewer than 20 orbital and suborbital launches since it opened in 1998. “We do not currently have any launches scheduled for the next 12 months, which is the anticipated time frame for the construction work to be completed,” Cramer said.

Twitter: @jeff_foust


Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...