SpaceX needs to take over a Florida launch pad from rival ULA

SpaceX's fully-stacked Starship rocket and Super Heavy booster on a launch pad in South Texas.
Enlarge / SpaceX’s fully-stacked Starship rocket and Tremendous Heavy booster on a launch pad in South Texas.

One of many largest launch pads at Cape Canaveral Area Pressure Station will turn out to be vacant later this yr after the ultimate flight of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket. SpaceX is seeking to make the sprawling facility a brand new dwelling for the Starship launch automobile.

The environmental evaluate for SpaceX’s proposal to take over Area Launch Advanced 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral is getting underway now, with three in-person public conferences and one digital assembly scheduled for March to gather feedback from native residents, in response to a new web site describing the plan.

Then federal businesses, led by the Division of the Air Pressure, will develop an environmental affect assertion to guage how Starship launch and touchdown operations will have an effect on the land, air, and water round SLC-37, which sits on Area Pressure property on the Atlantic shoreline.

Environmental research for rocket launch amenities usually take greater than a yr, so it will likely be some time earlier than any main building begins to transform SLC-37 for Starship launches. On this case, federal officers anticipate publishing a draft environmental affect assertion by December, then a closing report by October 2025.

Extra instantly, ULA nonetheless has another Delta IV Heavy rocket to launch from SLC-37 in March with a categorised spy satellite tv for pc for the Nationwide Reconnaissance Workplace. As soon as that launch is full, ULA will wind down operations at SLC-37, and finally flip over the power again to the Area Pressure, which can search for a brand new tenant. For a number of months, business sources have pointed to SpaceX because the main contender to take over SLC-37 after ULA is completed with the launch pad.

However that is not fairly a executed deal but. Final yr, a senior official at ULA informed Ars on background that the corporate was additionally inquisitive about sustaining a presence at SLC-37.

ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, which debuted final month and can substitute the Delta IV and Atlas V launch automobiles, makes use of a distinct launch pad a number of miles up the coast from SLC-37. ULA is upgrading and increasing its floor amenities at Cape Canaveral to ramp up the Vulcan launch cadence, and the ULA official informed Ars the corporate could need to proceed utilizing a rocket processing hangar simply south of the Delta IV launch pad for storage and horizontal processing of Vulcan rockets.

Particulars are scarce about the whole lot SpaceX needs to do with SLC-37, however officers wrote on the environmental evaluate web site that SpaceX would “modify, reuse, or demolish the prevailing SLC-37 infrastructure to assist Starship-Tremendous Heavy launch and touchdown operations.”

This aerial view shows a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket awaiting liftoff from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
Enlarge / This aerial view exhibits a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket awaiting liftoff from Area Launch Advanced 37 at Cape Canaveral Area Pressure Station, Florida.

The historical past of SLC-37 dates again to the Sixties, when NASA used the location for eight flights of the Saturn I and Saturn IB rockets to organize for the Apollo program. The ability sat dormant for 30 years till Boeing moved in to prepared SLC-37 for the Delta IV rocket, which has now flown 34 occasions from SLC-37. The launch pad presently features a 330-foot-tall (100-meter) cellular gantry, a set erector, a set umbilical tower, and a flame trench for Delta IV missions.

Starship, the world’s largest rocket, wouldn’t want any of that that infrastructure, so if SpaceX takes over the pad, the power will doubtless endure in depth demolition and building.

If SpaceX is not cleared to make use of SLC-37, the corporate may construct a model new launch pad designated Area Launch Advanced 50. If that is the trail SpaceX takes, SLC-50 could be constructed on undeveloped land north of SLC-37 and south of SpaceX’s main launch pad for the Falcon 9 rocket at Area Launch Advanced 40.

Goodbye to LC-49, hey to SLC-37

SpaceX’s curiosity in organising store at SLC-37 exhibits the corporate is getting severe about creating a second base for Starship on Florida’s Area Coast. In 2022, SpaceX constructed a launch tower and launch mount for Starship at Launch Advanced 39A (LC-39A), situated at NASA’s Kennedy Area Heart. However the firm made little progress there final yr as groups centered on Starship take a look at flights from South Texas.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, says Starship is the rocket that may make attainable his dream of constructing a settlement on Mars. He has additionally touted Starship as a automobile for point-to-point journey on Earth. Each phases of Starship are designed to be totally and quickly reusable, with the Tremendous Heavy booster and Starship higher stage returning to Earth for propulsive landings. Starship launch pads will double as touchdown pads.

Earlier than any of these desires are realized, Starship must get into orbit. The primary two full-scale Starship take a look at flights final yr did not make it that far, however SpaceX bought shut on the second launch in November. SpaceX hopes to realize a near-orbital mission with the third Starship take a look at launch, maybe as quickly as early March.

Finally, Musk envisions Starship launching a number of occasions per day on a wide range of missions, carrying folks, satellites, cargo, or refueling tankers into orbit. In an effort to do that, SpaceX will want plenty of launch and touchdown pads. SpaceX has toyed with the concept of floating offshore launch and touchdown platforms, however these plans are on maintain.

Within the near-term, SpaceX plans to construct a second Starship launch tower on the firm’s Starbase take a look at website in Cameron County, Texas. There’s additionally the partially-built launch tower at LC-39A, and now SpaceX has set its sights on SLC-37.

SpaceX was beforehand taking a look at constructing one other Starship launch pad from scratch on NASA property on the Kennedy Area Heart. NASA environmental research for this location, often known as Launch Advanced 49, kicked off in 2021. Patti Bielling, a NASA spokesperson, informed Ars on Friday the company is not engaged on Launch Advanced 49.

“Presently, there are not any actions involving LC-49 on Kennedy,” Bielling mentioned. “Any earlier actions concerning LC-49 have been suspended, and no actions have been taken.”

One of many first operational functions for Starship will likely be to function a human-rated lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis program. SpaceX is creating a model of Starship to ferry astronauts to and from the Moon’s floor, however to ensure that Starship to achieve the Moon, it needs to be refueled in low-Earth orbit. This may require maybe 10 or extra refueling flights utilizing a model of Starship known as a tanker, all launching in a matter of weeks. These tanker flights will launch on Tremendous Heavy boosters from pads in Texas and Florida.

In parallel with continued Starship take a look at flights and demonstrating in-space refueling expertise, SpaceX must construct extra launch pads to make all this attainable. Though SpaceX has backpedaled on a number of of its Starship launch pad concepts, the corporate’s curiosity in SLC-37 suggests it nonetheless has huge plans for Starship in Florida.

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