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Friday, February 27, 2009

Alaska Aerospace Kodiak Rocket Launch Doomed




The Alaska Aerospace rocket launch facility at Narrow Cape on Kodiak is DOOMED. And not because it is not a commercial success (Federal Pork could probably sustain the thing indefinitely), but because eventually it will get demolished by an earthquake. The launch is built directly on top of a very active and shallow earthquake fault. One that is so clear that you can see it in google earth satellite photos (see bottom two photos). The fault is the ditch that runs across Narrow Cape just past the facility on the way to fossil beach. Yup that is a fault, and that is the rocket launch right next to it. It is a well known fault, has a name, and has even been written about in the geologic literature.

Last night I attended the Kodiak Island Borough work session and heard a presentation from Alaska Aerospace all about the facility. They want to expand it. They also made a pretty convincing case for the need of a high latitude launch facility for launching satellites on various polar orbits that more equatorial launch facilities can not do. Currently,there are no other high latitude launch facilities with such capabilities in the United States. For this reason they see a commercial opportunity for the Kodiak launch facility - it would be the best and cheapest place to launch Iridium, Google Earth, and all the other commercial satellites we so need in our broadband age.

America certainly needs a high latitude rocket launch facility but because of the fault I think Narrow Cape is a poor choice for it. Why didn't they built it at the abandoned Navy Base at Adak, or at Poker Flats up in Fairbanks? As it is, perhaps it will be a commercial success and generate a lot of money for the Kodiak economy in the short term, but down the road it will be destroyed. I just hope they don't have any really scary stuff stored out there when it is demolished by an earthquake. I also do not like the launch facility out at Narrow Cape because it is placed directly on prime recreational land - some of the only public recreation land on the Kodiak road system (see top photo). Why didn't they put it at the old tracking station near Sequel Point on Lesnoi, Inc. Land?

Anyway, last night I did ask one of the Alaska Aerospace presenters if the facility could withstand an earthquake on the Narrow Cape fault. And he replied, 'we already have withstood a 7.2 magnitude earthquake'. I pointed out that that 7.2 earthquake occurred on a fault no where near Narrow Cape and that it was a very deep earthquake (miles beneath the surface), and that an earthquake on the Narrow Cape fault would be much more severe. And he just did not get it. He told me that the launch facility was built to withstand earthquakes - PERIOD. He also told me that the Vandenburg Rocket launch facility is also built near a whole bunch of earthquake faults - as if that makes it OK!

What he does not seem to understand is that the severity of an earthquake depends on many factors - not just the magnitude of the event. A small earthquake (say 6.5) occurring on a shallow fault just a few hundred feet away would be WAY WORSE than a 9.2 event like we had in 1964. A 7.0 on the Narrow Cape fault would probably cause more shaking and structural damage in the City of Kodiak 40 miles away than the 9.2 event did in 1964. I just do not see how they could build the facility to withstand such an earthquake whose epicenter is only a few hundred FEET (not miles) away.

As I said at the beginning, the Kodiak Rocket Launch is doomed. Sometime in the next 100 years the slate will be wiped clean. Hikers out at Narrow Cape will explore the ruins of the Launch Facility much like they visit the old WWII bunkers out there today. Mother nature always wins. Patrick

3 comments:

Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group said...

Excellent diagram showing the fault that will eventually destroy the KLC. AADC knew about this major fault, but chose to ignore it. They used 40 year old inaccurate geological data in their Environmental Assessment analysis of potential earthquakes and their effects at Narrow Cape.

Kodiak Rocket Launch Information Group said...

The Time may be near:
Recent Earthquakes near Kodiak:
12:47 PM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 3.47 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
12:36 PM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 1.06 ML in the central region of Alaska
12:03 PM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 3.05 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
11:59 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 3.78 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
11:34 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 2.02 ML in the Fox Islands region of Alaska
11:23 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 4.51 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
10:45 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 0.86 ML in the Cape Yakataga region of Alaska
10:41 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 3.86 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
10:38 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 3.62 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
10:24 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 4.65 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
10:15 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 2.74 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
10:14 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 1.81 ML in the Cook Inlet region of Alaska
09:53 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 2.93 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska
09:38 AM AKDT Friday May 15th, 2009 4.25 ML in the Kodiak Island region of Alaska

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