Photo caption: Ben Kellie.
Today, Kellie is the CEO and founder of a space supply chain provider called The Launch Co., based in Anchorage. Though it’s important to Kellie and his wife to be in Alaska, he also has the flexibility to take on projects that might teach him something new. He wants to help create a new commercial space industry in Alaska.
“We’ll try our best, anyway,” Kellie said. “But the dream may evolve. It’s that conversation with reality. Thank God everything you think should happen doesn’t happen.”
An education based in experience
Working at SpaceX, Kellie supervised the launch of a new generation of rocket from a pad that he helped build. He also led the field team creating the barge where the company landed its first rocket for reuse.
And he said he has UAF to thank.
“There are a lot of smart young people coming out of universities every year,” Kellie said. “When it comes to engineering, we all learn the same math and science. What SpaceX needed was people who could apply that knowledge and then go build it.”
That attitude put him on the front lines of at least a dozen rocket launches at a time when the pace of change in the industry is exponential. Rockets previously launched once every couple years, but Kellie said SpaceX has helped accelerate that rate.
As a student at UAF, he participated in the student rocket project, SRP-5, in collaboration with a university in Japan. Kellie learned how to apply a natural talent for thinking on his feet — honed during bush pilot flying lessons with his dad — when he led a team in building a simplified wind turbine for rural Alaska locations.
Denise Thorsen, UAF Alaska Space Grant Program director, did not have Kellie as a student because he was a mechanical engineering major, but she met him when he participated in a program that brings students from different backgrounds together.
“Ben participated in one of the microgravity projects involving free-fall experiments on a jet known as the Vomit Comet,” she said. “When he came to the lab as a young student, he was looking for something to do besides washing beakers in the chemistry department. He wanted to do something real.”
Photo caption: This quick disconnect fitting used to fuel rockets and spacecraft was designed by The Launch Co. Photo courtesy of The Launch Co.
Building things better
Kellie started The Launch Co. two years ago with a plan to get new space commercial companies’ hardware into orbit faster by helping them design launch sites and by building parts for their rockets.
“If every airline had to build its own airport, that would be a nightmare,” he said. “It would mean plenty of reinventing the wheel, which would come out square a lot of times. We make the wheels round. We help these launches run more like airport takeoffs, which is the ultimate goal.”