Next Kodiak rocket launch is Sept. 27

Naval Research Laboratory engineers work on TacSat-4 in 2009. The satellite's launch has been repeatedly delayed but is currently scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Kodiak Launch Complex. (Photo by U.S. Naval Research Lab)

KODIAK — The next satellite to take off from the Kodiak Launch Complex will fly on Sept. 27, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation board of directors learned Thursday.

The board held its quarterly meeting at the launch complex Thursday morning, and the upcoming flight was a hot topic of discussion, along with tentative plans for annual fall launches and an update on a construction project at the complex.

The satellite to be launched in September is a Naval Research Laboratory project that has been in the works for several years, explained Tim Duffy of the Naval Research Laboratory.

“It’s much smaller than your typical military satellite,” he said. The spacecraft weighs just under 1,000 pounds.

Despite that small size, it’s a capable design, Duffy said.

“Troops can be moving or on foot; they don’t have to stop and set up an antenna.”

In addition, the orbit of the satellite means it can provide two hours of coverage over a given area for each orbit, and it can orbit over that spot three times per day. It’s also effective at high latitudes and in mountains, unlike most satellite communications systems, Duffy said.

There are no immediate plans to launch additional satellites on this model, but, “We’re hoping once we show the utility of these there will be more interest,” he said.

Alaska Aerospace CEO Dale Nash agreed.

“We hope there’s great results out of this,” he said. “It’s an innovative approach.”

The launch is scheduled to use a Minotaur IV rocket, a missile based on the Peacekeeper ICBM used by the Air Force to deliver nuclear weapons.

“Right now we’re on schedule for launch on 27 September,” Nash said, but he mentioned that a partial failure of a mission involving a Minotaur IV launched from California may delay that date.

“We’ll know more in a week or two if that slips a few days,” he said.

If it does go off as planned, the launch will look much like the last one from the Kodiak Launch Complex, Nash said.

“It is an early morning launch, and we’ll essentially have it open to the public,” he said.

The last missile to lift off from Kodiak Launch Complex came on Nov. 20, 2010, and carried a handful of small satellites to orbit. The launch occurred in partly cloudy skies and was seen as far away as Juneau, Anchorage, Sitka and Palmer.

“This one, if it’s clear, should be just like that,” said Alaska Aerospace board chairman Roger Smith.

The launch is scheduled to take place between 7:49 a.m. and 8:56 a.m. Sunrise will be at 8:02 a.m., and details about the best viewing locations and viewing suggestions will be released before the launch.

Following the presentation on the upcoming launch, the board heard details of a tentative proposal by aerospace companies Lockheed and ATK to launch a rocket every fall from Kodiak Launch Complex.

The two companies plan to offer universities, countries and private groups an opportunity to lift satellites to orbit in a process similar to the November 2010 launch. The rocket will be able to drop off satellites in different orbits, allowing the Lockheed-ATK rocket to give multiple groups the same opportunity.

More civilian applications would be available, “which is something we’ve been looking for for a long time,” said Alaska Aerospace board member and Alaska House of Representatives member Alan Austerman.

In other business:

• Nash announced a $73,800 contract for Alaska Aerospace to provide tracking support for private launch company SpaceX when it launches a rocket later this year.

• The board received an update on the new rocket motor storage facility at the Kodiak spaceport. Two of five planned bunkers have been completed at a cost of about $9 million, and additional bunkers may be added at $1.5 million apiece.

• Alaska Aerospace operations underwent a federal accounting audit and received the highest possible rating. The next audit will occur in 2013.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at

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