Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The Last Frontier and the Final Frontier"

I visited Alaska last week. It was awesome. I was there for work, but I stayed on for a few days for some hiking, biking, rafting, and close encounters of the moose kind.

A momma moose and her calf! (A little too close for comfort!)

Before I arrived in the state, I already knew one important 'Alaska + outer space' fact: it's the future birthplace of Commander Will Riker. He's from Valdez, Alaska, according to sources on the internet that are at least as nerdy as this blog.

Did a bear teach him Anbo-Jitsu?
Source: Wikipedia.

But Alaska isn't waiting around until the 24th century to contribute to space exploration! It has its very own space port, right now! And apparently it's a bit of a boondoggle? The Kodiak Launch Complex, located on Kodiak Island and operated by an Alaska state-owned corporation, has handled less than 20 launches since it was opened in 1991 (and maybe as few as 15- it was hard to find up-to-date statistics). 

 Home of the Kodiak Bear and the Kodiak Launch Complex.

There's only one launch scheduled for the Complex for this whole year. For comparison, Spaceport America in New Mexico has already had 8 launches since it opened in 2008.

Good at catching salmon; bad at launching rockets.
Source: National Geographic.

What is the (alleged) justification for a spaceport in Alaska? Apparently the location offers more fuel-efficient access to high-inclination orbits. And it's the U.S.'s only option for launching a satellite into a high-inclination orbit without shooting the rocket out over land. A high-inclination satellite passes over more northern latitudes than a low-inclination orbit. The highest inclination orbit is a polar orbit, passing directly over the north and south poles.

I have a high inclination to visit Alaska again.
View: Turnagain Arm.

Is the Kodiak Launch Complex really necessary? It has the best corporate motto I've ever seen ("From the Last Frontier to the Final Frontier") but is it worth the expense? It seems to be fairly unpopular. There's a group of concerned citizens blogging about the cost of the Complex relative to how little it is actually being used (and thus how little revenue it is producing).

Kodiak Launch Complex: coming up roses?
View: wild roses & forget-me-nots.

But maybe that is about to change. Earlier this year, Lockheed-Martin picked the Complex to launch a series of medium-lift rockets. The company pledged $100 million in financing for the Complex ... in conjunction with $25 million more in spending by Alaska. Right now folks are waiting on Lockheed to finalize its business plan and find customers.

Launch plans, moving at a glacial pace?
View: a glacier near Whittier, AK.

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