13th Conference on Applied Climatology and the 10th Conference on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology

Tuesday, 14 May 2002: 2:15 PM
Kodiak Star: An Overview of Operational Weather Support at the Kodiak Launch Complex for Alaska's First Orbital Space Launch
James E. Sardonia, U.S. Air Force/45th Weather Squadron, Patrick AFB, FL; and J. T. Madura
Poster PDF (156.5 kB)
In early 1998, the Alaska Aerospace Development Corporation (AADC) began construction on Kodiak Island, Alaska for the first fully commercial spaceport in the United States. The Kodiak Launch Complex (KLC) is located on the southeastern tip of Kodiak Island, about 250 miles south of Anchorage in the Gulf of Alaska and 25 miles south of Kodiak City. Kodiak Island provides an ideal location for polar launch operations. With a wide launch azimuth range and unobstructed downrange flight paths, spacecraft up to 8000 lbs can be safely launched from KLC and placed into nearly any low-earth polar orbit.

This launch capability, however, comes with challenges. Some of North Americaís most intense weather systems develop and move through Kodiak Island and the Gulf of Alaska. Strong winds, heavy rain and snow, and thick cloud cover are a way of life on Kodiak Island. While thunderstorms are very rare, the threat of a rocket triggering a lightning strike is actually quite high at KLC because of the types and thickness of clouds that frequently exist there.

In support of NASAís first orbital space launch (ĎKodiak Starí) from KLC and the State of Alaska, a Weather Working Group was established at Kennedy Space Center, FL in 1998, with members from NASA, Lockheed Martin, AADC, the University of Alaska, and the USAFís 45th Weather Squadron. The Working Groupís primary task was to create the infrastructure and processes to provide full operational weather support to the ground processing and launch of Kodiak Star aboard the Lockheed Martin Athena 1 launch vehicle. This effort included the coordination, acquisition, installation, and certification of all weather instrumentation. Systems included Kodiak Islandís first-ever fixed weather radar, a cloud-to-ground lightning detector, three fully instrumented weather towers, a weather reconnaissance aircraft capability, an extensive communication network, and a fully integrated meteorological display system located in the Launch Control Center for the Launch Weather Officer on the day of launch.

In parallel, members of the Lightning Advisory Panel (responsible for the scientific assessment of atmospheric electricity data and recommending Lightning Launch Commit Criteria (LLCC) to the Nationís Space Program) initiated an Electric Field Mill study on Kodiak Island to characterize the electrification of clouds in high latitude regions. This unprecedented study yielded valuable knowledge on the electrical behavior of clouds in high latitudes and resulted in several modifications to the LLCC for launch operations in high latitude regions such as Kodiak Island.

This paper describes the weather support provided for the planning, processing and launch of Kodiak Star.

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