In the summer of 2009, I interned at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC). ACC operates orbital and suborbital rocket launch facilities on Kodiak Island, Alaska. During my internship I assessed the feasibility of logistic operations for a launch schedule, calculated quantity distances for an explosive site plan, and analyzed different satellite orbits and multi-satellite constellations. The experience was both humbling and empowering. Every task initially seemed foreign to me. My assignments were questions rather than a list of instructions. I was directed to resources, but it was up to me to discover solutions. I read a book to teach myself orbital mechanics and spent countless hours deciphering an Air Force explosive safety manual to determine safe quantity distances for rocket storage. After I answered a question, there was always another problem even more complex to solve. The constant challenge paid off. The explosive site plan I calculated was approved by the Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board, and some of my work developing a rapidly deployable communications satellite constellation was published in “High Frontier: The Journal for Space and Cyberspace Professionals” produced by the Air Force Space Command (see article on page 78.) I left my internship with a greater understanding of the relationship between private companies and government in the defense industry. This experience energized me to learn more about propulsion and orbital mechanics.
One of my projects involved developing potential constellations of satellites that could be launched from the complex. I used Satellite Tool Kit to analyze various satellite configurations and their contact with target areas on Earth. Kodiak Launch Complex is a prime location for placing satellites into high inclination Tundra and Molniya orbits. These orbits can be used for communication satellites to service areas at high latitudes out of reach of satellites in geostationary orbits. Three satellites can be launched and equally spaced around the same orbit to provide constant contact an area as large as North America. This type of satellite system is used by Sirius Satellite Radio.
In order to validate the concept of operations I calculated the fuel requirements to actually place a satellite in a Tundra orbit. I used launch vehicle capability data to determine the payload size that could be delivered into low Earth orbit. Next I calculated the percentage of the payload required to be fuel in order to perform a Hohmann transfer into a Tundra orbit. The maximum payload calculated agreed with previous analysis of this launch system.
I also had a crash course in explosive site planning. Because solid rocket boosters are explosive devices, it is important to store them in a safe location. The Department of Defense publishes standards for distances that explosives need to be stored from inhabited buildings, people, and roads. Each explosive is classified in a particular hazard class depending on the nature of the explosion caused by detonation. Various formals are used to convert the explosive amount into an equivalent amount of TNT. Once the explosive type conversion is made, a set of formulas are used to calculate the minimum required distances that the storage area has to be from different types of infrastructure. Storage methods are also considered in these calculations.
Thank you to Alaska Aerospace Corporation for this career changing experience.
Near the gates of the Kodiak Launch Complex. It is easy to see why Kodiak is called Alaska's Emerald Isle.
Mars Curiosity Rover Image Credit: NASA Other Images by the Author