Alaska Aerospace Corporation proposes Hawaii launch site

    Hilo, Hawaii (AP) - An Alaska-owned aerospace corporation wants to build a satellite launch site in Hawaii.

    An environmental assessment is being drafted for a proposed small satellite launch facility on the east side of the Big Island because the Alaska Aerospace Corporation wants to build its next site for launches closer to the equator, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

    The state of Alaska established the corporation to develop an aerospace industry. It operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex, a launch facility on Alaska's Kodiak Island.

    Mark Lester, the corporation's president, said he's aware other spaceport proposals have been kept grounded on the Big Island because of environmental and safety concerns from the community. He said he doesn't want to force it on the community.

    "If one piece of this doesn't make sense, this process can come to a close," Lester said.

    Payloads would be between 110 pounds and 220 pounds, he said: "This is really a couple concrete pads with very little permanent infrastructure."

    Rockets would be 20 feet to 40 feet tall, said CEO Craig Campbell.

    Rockets wouldn't launch daily, and they would be far enough from homes, they said.

    "You will hear it, but it won't be any louder than the jets that take off from the Hilo airport," Campbell said.

    Community activist Terri Napeahi said she can't imagine rockets being low-impact, no matter how small.

    Officials are eyeing land owned by W.H. Shipman near Keaau. Shipman President Peggy Farias said in an email that the company's final decision on hosting the facility will depend on the outcome of the environmental assessment, which is in the "very early stages."

    "We do believe that there are many potential benefits of this proposed project, including educational opportunities for local students," she wrote.

    State Rep. Mark Nakashima, who supports creating aerospace jobs in Hawaii, said the project would diversify east Hawaii's economy and could help spur a satellite manufacturing industry tied to the community colleges.

    "If it is successful, it would be huge for us," he said.

    Other Big Island lawmakers are skeptical.

    "Why don't we use our land for what people really want?" asked state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who said he wasn't aware of the proposal.

    State Sen. Kai Kahele said he hadn't heard details of the proposal but noted it's likely not realistic. "Launching anything from that side of Hawaii Island has never come to fruition," he said.

    The environmental review will be ready for public view and subject to community meetings in early 2019.

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