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

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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 Super Heavy booster on a launch pad in South Texas.

One of the biggest launch pads at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station will grow to be vacant later this yr after the ultimate flight of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket. SpaceX is trying to make the sprawling facility a brand new dwelling for the Starship launch automobile.

The environmental overview for SpaceX’s proposal to take over Space Launch Complex 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 line with a new web site describing the plan.

Then federal companies, led by the Department of the Air Force, will develop an environmental influence assertion to judge how Starship launch and touchdown operations will have an effect on the land, air, and water round SLC-37, which sits on Space Force property on the Atlantic shoreline.

Environmental research for rocket launch services usually take greater than a yr, so it is going to be some time earlier than any main building begins to transform SLC-37 for Starship launches. In this case, federal officers anticipate publishing a draft environmental influence assertion by December, then a ultimate report by October 2025.

More 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 National Reconnaissance Office. Once that launch is full, ULA will wind down operations at SLC-37, and ultimately flip over the ability again to the Space Force, which is able to search for a brand new tenant. For a number of months, trade sources have pointed to SpaceX because the main contender to take over SLC-37 after ULA is completed with the launch pad.

But that is not fairly a finished deal but. Last yr, a senior official at ULA informed Ars on background that the corporate was additionally all for sustaining a presence at SLC-37.

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

Details are scarce about the whole lot SpaceX needs to do with SLC-37, however officers wrote on the environmental overview web site that SpaceX would “modify, reuse, or demolish the prevailing SLC-37 infrastructure to help Starship-Super 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 Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

The historical past of SLC-37 dates again to the Nineteen Sixties, when NASA used the location for eight flights of the Saturn I and Saturn IB rockets to organize for the Apollo program. The facility 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 at present features a 330-foot-tall (100-meter) cell gantry, a hard and fast erector, a hard and fast 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 ability 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 Space Launch Complex 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 Space Launch Complex 40.

Goodbye to LC-49, hey to SLC-37

SpaceX’s curiosity in establishing store at SLC-37 exhibits the corporate is getting severe about creating a second base for Starship on Florida’s Space Coast. In 2022, SpaceX constructed a launch tower and launch mount for Starship at Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), positioned at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. But the corporate made little progress there final yr as groups centered on Starship check flights from South Texas.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, says Starship is the rocket that can 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. Both levels of Starship are designed to be totally and quickly reusable, with the Super Heavy booster and Starship higher stage returning to Earth for propulsive landings. Starship launch pads will double as touchdown pads.

Before any of these goals are realized, Starship must get into orbit. The first two full-scale Starship check flights final yr did not make it that far, however SpaceX obtained shut on the second launch in November. SpaceX hopes to realize a near-orbital mission with the third Starship check launch, maybe as quickly as early March.

Eventually, Musk envisions Starship launching a number of occasions per day on quite a lot of missions, carrying individuals, satellites, cargo, or refueling tankers into orbit. In order to do that, SpaceX will want quite a lot of launch and touchdown pads. SpaceX has toyed with the thought of floating offshore launch and touchdown platforms, however these plans are on maintain.

In the near-term, SpaceX plans to construct a second Starship launch tower on the firm’s Starbase check 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 Space Center. NASA environmental research for this location, often known as Launch Complex 49, kicked off in 2021. Patti Bielling, a NASA spokesperson, informed Ars on Friday the company is not engaged on Launch Complex 49.

“At this time, there aren’t 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 the primary operational functions for Starship can 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 must be refueled in low-Earth orbit. This would require maybe 10 or extra refueling flights utilizing a model of Starship referred to as a tanker, all launching in a matter of weeks. Those tanker flights will launch on Super Heavy boosters from pads in Texas and Florida.

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

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