The Alaska Aerospace Corp. has released the final draft of its 10-year plan for developing Kodiak's Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska, including an assessment of potential environmental impacts as launch activity increases in the coming years.
The corporation, which is a state-owned entity, is accepting public comments on the master plan until Jan. 31. After receiving feedback, the plan will be submitted to Alaska Aerospace Corp.’s board of directors for approval.
The spaceport is located on 3,717 acres of state-owned land at Narrow Cape under an Interagency Land Use Management Agreement with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
With demand for small-satellite launches projected to increase by 3% per year, Alaska Aerospace is expecting to gradually increase the number of launches from four in 2020 to 36 per year by 2030.
In the past, the spaceport has primarily contracted with U.S. Department of Defense. From 1998 to 2019, there were a total of 24 launches, with just two of them commercial launches. The corporation expects the number of commercial launches to increase significantly.
The 320-page master plan provides an overview for the spaceport’s future development and increased activities. As the spaceport gradually increases launches, it will need to construct tanks and additional launchpads, among other developments within the PSCA’s boundaries.
To inform the document, Alaska Aerospace has held multiple meetings in Kodiak with stakeholders since 2019, including the Spaceport Planning Advisory Group, which consists of community members, as well as with industry and tribal representatives.
The most recent draft of the master plan includes feedback from the last public meeting held on Jan. 22. Mark Lester, the company’s president and CEO, said that due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, a public meeting to review the spaceport’s master plan was not feasible.
Rebbecca Skinner, a representative of Kodiak’s fishing fleet, said Alaska Aerospace has been extremely responsive to the concerns of the community, including the fishing fleet.
Previously, the fleet was concerned with the length of the waterway closures that prohibited boats from crossing certain areas of water during rocket launches, which often lasted eight to 12 hours.
Skinner said that since these concerns were brought to Alaska Aerospace, the waterway closures have decreased in time. The spaceport’s master plan estimates that closures will amount to 684 hours per year out of 8,760 total hours in a year.
“They (PSCA) are really stepping up the amount of outreach that is done with the fishing industry,” Skinner said, adding that the corporation modified some of its operations to meet the concern of the fleet.
“When you are trying to find a way for everybody to live together, you have to find a way to do it and try to accommodate different perspectives and different concerns.”
Tom Lance, director of natural resources for the Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, said he remains concerned about the cumulative, long-term impact that spaceport activity will have on the environment.
He compared the potential effects of the launch activity to military activity from World War II, from which debris and pollution is still being cleaned up. He said he worries that such detritus will impact the environment for years to come.
“We dumped a lot of hazardous materials in the water and we are still cleaning up that stuff from World War II and the Cold War era,” he said. “Let’s not be completely blind that there are unseen impacts.”
In response to environmental concerns, Alaska Aerospace recommended maximizing the use of already developed areas and minimizing expansion into undisturbed areas.
The plan also said that hiking trails identified in the Kodiak Audubon Society Trails Map of Narrow Cape and those in the 2011 Kodiak Road Systems Trails Master Plan will be excluded from future development. These trails include the Narrow Cape Loop.
In addition, public access along Pasagshak Road to Fossil Beach Road inside the spaceport’s boundaries will remain open to the public except during hazardous and launch operations.
Road closures near the time of a launch will begin at the spaceport’s entranceway for most commercial launches. For others with larger launch vehicles, the road closure will occur along Pasagshak Road just east of Surfer’s Beach.
The master plan cites environmental assessments conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1996 in 2016 on the spaceport.
The assessments were made when nine launches per year were expected, and in most instances, little to no measurable impacts were reported for water and air quality, or to marine and other wildlife.
Now, with 36 annual launches planned for the future, Alaska Aerospace noted that revisions of the assessments have been requested for some of the environmental issues, such as air quality, water quality and noise issues, among others.
The document cited environmental assessments that said the impact to air quality and water quality would be negligible, based on nine launches per year. In addition, pollutant levels from liquid propellant engines meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, it said.
Regarding water quality, the environmental assessment found that while liquid propellant rocket engines emit carbon dioxide that will not affect water quality, “some residual propellant (unburned) may be deposited on surface water.”
Another issue is the impact on water quality of hydrochloric acid emissions from some types of rockets, which is expected to be diluted by Kodiak’s large amount of rainfall.
“The annual rainfall at Kodiak provides an excellent dilution factor to avoid water quality degradation,” the plan said. “Residual propellant that reaches the surface is diluted and expected to be below … acceptable limits.”
Northerly and northeasterly winds during launches could result in small amounts of hydrochloric acid or carbon dioxide — depending on the type of rocket — reaching the surface of Twin Lakes located at Fossil Beach.
With the increase of activity at the complex, debris from launch vehicles, or motor casings, is also projected to increase. The motor casings are made out of aluminum, steel, rubber, graphic epoxy and composite fiber. They sink to the bottom of the ocean after all the propellant has been burned.
Alaska Aerospace said these casings could make new habitat for aquatic ecosystems.
While this part of the rocket could release residual propellant into the ocean, “due to the small volume of this release into the open ocean, impacts on water quality would be less than significant.”
The document also said that nine annual launches would have negligible impacts on marine birds and the marine environment.
The master plan also assessed the economic impact that spaceport activity would have on Kodiak, estimating more than $120 million in indirect and direct economic benefits to the community over the next 10 years.
Increased launches may also translate to more jobs as Alaska Aerospace may subcontract with local employees and companies.
A single commercial launch campaign is estimated to have a financial impact of $35,840, while one government launch campaign had a direct economic impact of $2.7 million.
Financial impacts take into account the average number of personnel, length of stay, number of rooms per night and daily rate, as well as direct personnel income and car rental income, among other factors.
The master plan said the city of Kodiak could see economic benefits with government launches estimated to bring between 25 to 250 personnel per launch, and employees from these launches spending money at local stores, restaurants, hotels, and bed and breakfasts.