Searching for stability, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation board of directors on Monday voted chief operating officer Craig Campbell the state-owned company’s acting CEO.
Campbell replaces Dale Nash, who resigned earlier this month to head Virginia’s state-owned aerospace corporation.
Patrick Gambell, president of the University of Alaska and chairman of the Aerospace Company board said Nash’s departure leaves a big hole. “I have a feeling that it’s a pretty small group of people who can come in with all the attributes that Dale Nash came into,” he said following Monday’s board meeting. “We think there’s probably a lot of rocket science experts out there … but somebody who runs a launch site like a Vandenberg or a Patrick (Air Force Base), that’s a pretty small crowd.”
Before joining Alaska Aerospace in 2007, Nash spent 14 years in NASA’s Space Shuttle programs and served as director of launch operations for the Kennedy Space Center. He also served as an executive with Thiokol, a builder of solid-rocket motors.
Gambell said approving Campbell, who joined Alaska Aerospace one year ago after serving as Lieutenant Governor, leaves the corporation’s options open. Anyone hired to replace Nash could serve either as a new CEO or as a strong No. 2 with rocket launch experience. “We want to keep our options open, so we make Craig the acting (CEO) and see what we’ve got,” Gambell said.
The change at the top comes at a crucial moment for Alaska Aerospace, which earlier this year announced a partnership with Lockheed Martin to develop a medium-lift launch pad at the Kodiak Launch Complex.
The $125 million project would be funded with $25 million from the state of Alaska and $100 million in financing backed by Lockheed launches. Lockheed is still developing a business plan for the launch pad and the new rocket it plans to use in Kodiak, and work awaits Lockheed’s plan.
Also interested in Kodiak is Orbital Sciences, which is looking for a West Coast launch site for its new rocket. Kodiak is in competition with California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base to become that site.
“We couldn’t have picked a worse time to have to deal with this,” Gambell said. “This is a very fragile but important time for us.”
Speaking from Washington, D.C., Campbell praised Nash’s skills and said Alaska Aerospace needs to find someone on that level. “From the senior perspective of operating rocket launches, Dale was the best we had and we need to look for a replacement of that capability,” Campbell said.
As CEO, Campbell said he intends to continue to press the new medium-lift launch pad. In Washington, he met with the CEO of Orbital Sciences, and next week he expects to visit Lockheed Martin in Denver for an update on its progress.
The Alaska Aerospace Corporation board of directors is scheduled to next meet Sept. 20 in Kodiak, but an interim meeting is possible before then, depending on the pace of the search for Nash’s replacement.
While Alaska Aerospace begins its search to replace Nash, it is continuing work on other projects. In the same meeting that approved Campbell as CEO, the board approved a plan to work with Virginia’s Wallops Island spaceport on standardizing rocket handling and launch procedures and equipment.
That agreement has not yet even reached a draft format, but Alaska Aerospace intends to ask Gov. Sean Parnell to work with his counterpart in Virginia on the idea.
“It’s part of the board’s strategic look to expand Alaska Aerospace,” Gambell said.
Wallops Island is the primary launch site for Orbital Sciences’ new rocket, and any agreement could help Kodiak gain a leg up on the competition to host that rocket on the West Coast.
Orbital is not expected to decide its West Coast site until its new rocket has its first flight from Wallops, something expected by December.