Shipman pulls out of planned satellite launch facility

  • Tribune-Herald file photo Mark Lester, Alaska Aerospace Corp. president, speaks with residents Feb. 6 at the Grand Naniloa Hotel in Hilo during an informational meeting about a proposed spaceport.

HILO — A proposed satellite launch facility near Keaau will not go forward after the owner of the potential site pulled out from the project.

The Pacific Spaceport Complex Hawaii was proposed to be built on W. H. Shipman land near Keaau by the Alaska Aerospace Corp., which operates a similar satellite launch in Alaska.

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However, Shipman President Peggy Farias announced Wednesday that Shipman has ended discussions with the Alaska Aerospace Corp. after determining that the project does not represent a suitable use of Shipman’s land. All rights of entry to the land that were granted to Alaska Aerospace have since been revoked.

“We’ve said all along that we wanted to make the most responsible decision based on the most accurate information,” Farias said. “We’ve listened to a lot of people, including the feelings of our families and the community, and we decided this wasn’t the right fit.”

Farias said the project was terminated recently, and Shipman informed Alaska Aerospace and the remaining stakeholders of the decision within the last two weeks. Those involved, including the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, and several state government agencies are “disappointed but understanding,” she said.

Shipman had always withheld its final decision to participate in the project, Farias said, and had not made a long-term commitment to Alaska Aerospace.

The spaceport has been unpopular among some in the nearby community. An informational meeting about the project in February was overwhelmed by negative testimony from residents concerned about the impacts a space launch facility would have on the area.

Concerns about the project ranged from safety concerns — a 2016 launch at the Alaska facility ended with the intentional detonation of a craft, damaging nearby facility buildings — to noise concerns, to greater concerns about how the project was authorized.

The spaceport, which would sit on a 12.5-acre site not far from the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm and launch 40- to 60-foot-tall rockets about 24 times a year, was announced in late 2018 without any communication with the public, said Panaewa activist Terri Napeahi.

“I’m just really happy to hear this,” Napeahi said. “I was always unhappy about how it was brought to our community.”

Napeahi said the project should have been introduced by meeting with the community first. Instead, she said, the state Legislature allocated $250,000 to fund an environmental assessment of the project, which has yet to be released.

Farias said the public backlash to the project was a factor in Shipman’s decision to part ways, but not necessarily the most significant one.

“There’s not one specific thing that we looked at,” Farias said. “But everything together was enough to make the decision.”

Although the spaceport project has been nullified, Farias said Shipman remains committed to developing educational and employment opportunities in Puna and advancing the Hawaii aerospace industry.

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Representatives of Alaska Aerospace did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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