Proposed East Hawaii Spaceport Encounters Early Opposition

Feb 13, 2019

The Office of Naval Research-sponsored tactical satellite IV (TacSat-4) lifts off from the Alaskan Aerospace Corporation's Kodiak Launch Complex aboard a Minotaur IV launch vehicle.
Credit John F. Williams / U.S. Navy

An Alaska-based company wants to build a spaceport on the east side of Hawaiʻi Island. The plan is still in a phase of assessment, but it already faces some local opposition. And there are also some voices of skepticism from Alaska.

The Alaska Aerospace Corporation was created by the Alaska State Legislature in 1991 to help grow the 49th State’s aerospace industry. The company has now been launching rockets for 20 years — sending three into space over the past two years. It currently operates a launch complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Alaska Aerospace CEO Craig Campbell said the company evaluated locations across the Pacific before it settled on Hawaii.

“We looked pretty far. We looked at Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, specifically at Saipan and Tinian. We did an evaluation of American Samoa. So yeah, Guam, CMNI, American Samoa, and Hawaiʻi.”

East Hawaiʻi’s proximity to the equator and a wide expanse of ocean to the east make it an attractive location for launching commercial satellites. But many area residents remain opposed.

Hawaiʻi State Senator Russell Ruderman says he is opposed to the project one hundred percent. He represents the Puna area at the State Capitol and says his constituents are skeptical that rocket launches won’t harm the environment.

“There’s an incredible amount of distress of any company like this that comes in here and says something that’s impossible to believe,” said Ruderman. “We already know that people want to propose this kind of stuff for our area, and we don’t want it.”

Alaska Aerospace also has community relations challenges in its hometown. Kodiak community activist Mike Sirofchuck says the company has largely been exempted from local regulations

That’s largely because the company created by the State of Alaska. Julie Kavanaugh is a member of Kodiak’s elected assembly and had this advice for Hawaiʻi lawmakers.

“If you have a large concern about environmental impacts, that they do an environmental study [and] not just an assessment. They’re totally different things.”

For its project in East Hawaiʻi, Alaska Aerospace has already contracted for Environmental Assessment – not a full Environmental Impact Statement.   

CEO Craig Campbell said that if no significant issues are encountered in that assessment, the new site could be operational in as little as 24 months.