Kodiak rocket site damage from August blast may total $29 million

The August rocket failure at the Kodiak Launch Complex triggered damages to the facility now estimated at $26 million to $29 million, said Craig Campbell, president of the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp.

"We are working with our engineer, state risk management and the insurance adjusters to refine what is covered by the insurance. It does appear that most of the damage we have identified will be covered by our insurance," he wrote in an email this week.

Campbell said that the $26 million to $29 million total should be enough "to return the site to readiness" by next October. The company has a "multiyear commercial launch service contract" with Miltec, a company in Huntsville, Alabama, but no date has been set for the next launch.

The state is self-insured for claims of up to $1 million, which has been paid to the aerospace company, with the balance to be pursued from the insurance carriers contracted by the state to cover losses in excess of that amount, said Scott Jordan, director of risk management for the state.

The insurance companies are investigating whether they will make claims against third parties, such as the federal government or private companies. "There has been no legal action taken at this time," he said.

Incentive to launch

Meanwhile, the state rocket company is reviewing four offers from private companies as part of its effort to redirect most of a $25 million state capital budget appropriation from 2012 that had been intended as a down payment on a new $125 million launchpad to be built in a partnership with Lockheed Martin.

The Lockheed Martin plan for a new Kodiak launch pad faltered, though the company is apparently still interested in doing business in Alaska. Earlier this year, amid reports that some legislators wanted the money returned to the state treasury, the rocket company proposed a new plan for most of the grant.

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It sought bids in October, offering $21 million to a company that would come forward with the best plan to launch at least three rockets from Kodiak with payloads of 3,000 pounds or more. The bid documents said companies were asked to describe how they would use the money to "bring a minimum of three launches to KLC by 2020."

Campbell said the change did not require legislative approval or an endorsement from the governor because the goal of attracting new launches was identical, even though the expenditure would not lead to a new launchpad. The state documents for the $25 million appropriation said it "only covers the design, permitting, subsurface and foundation construction."

Campbell said four bids from private companies seeking the $21 million are under review, but he does not expect that a contract will be awarded before the end of the year, a previously announced goal.

The additional launches would presumably take place from the revamped Kodiak facilities, which may need modifications—some of which might be funded by the $21 million—to handle rockets capable of carrying larger payloads into space, Campbell said.

Damage control

The damage to the site occurred early on Aug. 25 when a 48-foot rocket carrying an experimental hypersonic glider for the military had to be blown up four seconds after liftoff.

Cleanup of the debris scattered over the site continues and is expected to be complete by the end of December, an Army spokesman said.

The rocket did not contain a weapon; it carried an experimental glider designed to deliver a weapon thousands of miles to a target.

It may be a few more months before a report is complete on the "anomaly" that led the flight operator at Kodiak to push the self-destruct button, the Army spokesman said.

Three buildings at the range had extensive damage and will be repaired under contracts that are about to be released, Campbell said.

The budget picture for the state rocket company remains in flux and it is not clear how the administration of Gov. Bill Walker will deal with the agency in his first budget.

Legislators have pushed the company to reduce its state subsidy by $2 million a year over the last couple of years, which would mean an appropriation of $4 million for the next fiscal year if it remains in the budget.

The rocket company has also been seeking a federal subsidy, "working with the federal delegation to insert federal funding to support state spaceports that support the national security space program," according to company minutes.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office says that a $7 million federal appropriation is expected to remain in the budget and would be split between Kodiak and a rocket complex in Wallops, owned by the state of Virginia.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.

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