After successfully hosting a test of the Arrow 3 defense system last month, Kodiak’s Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska will not host any defense-oriented launches for the remainder of the calendar year, according to Alaska Aerospace Corporation President and CEO Mark Lester.
MDA spokeswoman Heather Reed Cavaliere confirmed there are no future Missile Defense Agency operations scheduled in Kodiak until the end of 2019. She added that MDA does not have any joint tests scheduled with the Israeli Missile Defense Organization in the near future.
The Arrow 3 system is a joint effort between the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the Israel Missile Defense Organization intended to intercept ballistic missiles outside Earth’s atmosphere. During the Kodiak tests, Arrow-3 missiles successfully took out target missiles in high-altitude precision test engagements, according to an MDA press release from July 28.
“I’m really proud of the spaceport and what we did for this mission. I think it was a good example of how we can support a big operation like this in a way that has a minimal impact on the community,” Lester said in an interview with the Kodiak Daily Mirror on Monday.
Road, sea and air closures during the Israeli operation were spread over a 10-day period. However, there were no closures during weekends. Additionally, closure areas and timeframes were more limited compared to previous PSCA operations.
Though no defense-oriented launches are planned this year, AAC has a five-year Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity contract with the MDA that is scheduled to end on June 30, 2021. An IDIQ contract allows for an unlimited quantity of services provided by the Kodiak spaceport to MDA for the contract duration.
Cavaliere could not confirm future dates for MDA launches in Kodiak, but noted that the schedule would depend on funding from Congress.
Lester noted that AAC has no intention to weaponize the Kodiak spaceport.
“We’re not an operational weapons site. That’s not what we do here,” Lester said.
Even so, he said that the spaceport will continue to support U.S. national defense.
“This island has a longstanding connection with national security, I don’t see how the spaceport is at odds with that mission,” Lester said. “We’ve had a longstanding relationship with MDA we’ve done good work for them. I would look forward to continuing the relationship with MDA. We see them as one of the customers in the diverse portfolio.”
Though the total cost of the testing in Kodiak is unclear, much of it was funded through the MDA and U.S. government funding earmarked for Israeli defense.
The U.S. has provided Israel with $2.9 billion in funding for the Arrow defense systems between 1990 and 2017, according to a Congressional Research Service report from April 2018.
The Fiscal Year 2019 funding package, which included the annual Defense Appropriations bill, provided $10 million to ensure private spaceports, like Kodiak’s PSCA, maintain readiness to carry out defense missions. It was signed into law in September 2018.
In a National Defense Authorization Act spending bill passed in March 2018, the U.S. government earmarked $705 million for Israel’s missile defense systems. A total of $253 million went to Arrow 3. Of that amount, $105 million were designated for the Arrow 3 flight test in Kodiak, according to a news release from the office of Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK.
Cavaliere said that the total cost of the flight testing likely exceeds the $105 million designated last year, given the size of the operation. She deferred comment on the total cost to an Israeli representative.
In a recent press conference with Israeli reporters, Israel Missile Defense Organization Director Moshe Patel refused to discuss the total cost of developing the Arrow 3 defense system and its testing in Kodiak.
Commercial customers are the spaceport’s key to financial growth
Lester highlighted that that PSCA intends to pursue more commercial customers in the future. There will be two or three commercial launches in Kodiak later this year, with the next commercial launch scheduled in October, he said.
“One of our big pushes is to bring in a much higher case of launches for commercial customers. That market is now just maturing,” Lester said, adding that commercial launches will help secure the financial future of AAC and PSCA. “I don’t think there’s a need nor does make sense for us not to support national defense and satellite missions and to continue complimenting that with commercial launches,”
“Having multiple customers and diversifying our base is smart. Throwing all our eggs in the commercial basket isn’t smart, and vice versa,” Lester said.
As the spaceport continues to increase the number of annual launches, AAC will focus on hiring more people from Kodiak, and moving company positions from the AAC office in Anchorage to Kodiak, Lester said.
“If you’re interested in working in the space industry, get your resume to us,” Lester said. “There’s some really good talent (in Kodiak), and I’m really interested in hearing from them.”
Lester is based in Anchorage but says he spends almost 40% of his time on the island.
“There is a corporate interest in strengthening our presence in Kodiak,” Lester said, noting that in the past, hiring locally was limited due to the small number of launches. “It’s good for business and good for the community.”
“I know a lot of people have been waiting for 20-plus years to see the spaceport have an economic impact on Kodiak,” Lester said. He noted that the Israeli presence on the island likely had a positive influence on the local economy, and that AAC will analyze that influence in the coming months.
A Temporary Life Support Area was constructed in 2018 to house personnel involved in the Arrow 3 launch, at a cost of over $1 million. The facility is in the initial stages of being torn down, according to Lester. Israelis still present at the spaceport are expected to depart in the coming months.
“It will all be happening over the next few months,” Lester said, but could not provide an exact timeline for the removal of the trailers that make up the housing facility.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, R-AK, applauded the Arrow-3 missile tests, according to news releases by their respective offices.
As a member of both the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and full Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Murkowski has worked to provide funding to ensure private spaceports, like Pacific Spaceport Alaska in Kodiak, maintain their readiness to carry out defense missions, according to her news release.
“A strong homeland ballistic missile defense to ensure our national security is of the utmost importance. I take great pride in the fact that we have the cornerstone of that defense in Alaska. I am particularly proud that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, in a joint effort with the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Missile Defense Organization recently completed a successful Arrow-3 missiles test at the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island,” said Senator Murkowski.
Sen. Sullivan emphasized Alaska’s role in U.S. missile defense in his statement on July 29.
“As I have long said, Alaska is the cornerstone of our missile defense, home to the vast majority of the homeland missile defense interceptors and radar sites that defend the country. We are building this up significantly as we speak. But we also have a re-emerging role in conducting tests for the missile defense system at the Kodiak Launch Complex,” Sullivan said.
“Over the past three years, I’ve worked to successfully advance legislation that has bolstered the build-up of Alaska’s missile defense and the testing of some of these systems in Alaska,” Sullivan said. “It should send a strong message to (the U.S. and Israel’s) common adversary, Iran, about our ability to deter any aggressive act against our allies in the region.”
“I want to commend all those who invested the thousands of hours of preparation that went into producing this successful test. In particular, I also want to thank the people of Kodiak who have been host to American and Israeli officials working to conduct this historic test,” Sullivan concluded.