Space Force assigns three historic Cape Canaveral launch pads to four companies

WASHINGTON — The US Space Force is allocating three launch complexes at Cape Canaveral, including one used for several NASA Mercury missions six decades ago, to four small launch vehicle startups as the service tries to keep up with growing demand for launches hold.

Space Launch Delta 45, which operates the Eastern Range, announced late March 7 that it has assigned three locations on the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to four startups, only one of which has previously attempted an orbital launch.

Space Launch Complex 15, used for Titan 1 and 2 launches in the 1960s, will go to ABL Space Systems, which made its first, unsuccessful orbital launch attempt from Kodiak Island, Alaska, in January. The company announced this a tweet that it will temporarily conduct launches of its RS1 rocket from SLC-46, a platform briefly used by several vehicles, including Astra’s Rocket 3.3, while it refurbishes SLC-15.

The Space Force assigned SLC-14 to Stoke Space, a company developing a fully reusable launch vehicle. The launch complex was used for Atlas launches from 1957 to 1966 and was where John Glenn launched Mercury-Atlas 6 in February 1962 and became the first American to orbit the earth. Three consecutive Mercury missions have also been launched from the platform.

“Needless to say, this is incredibly humiliating,” said Andy Lapsa, Stoke Space’s managing director. called. “We will work tirelessly to make his legacy, our country and our world proud.”

SLC-13, the Space Force announced, would go to two small launch vehicle developers, Phantom Space and Vaya Space (formerly known as Rocket Crafters). Both companies are working on small launch vehicles.

The SLC-13 order raised questions because this facility, which was used for Atlas launches from the late 1950s to the late 1970s, is now operated by SpaceX. This company built two landing pads there, called Landing Zones 1 and 2, for landing Falcon boosters. This included a Falcon 9 launch from OneWeb satellites on March 9th.

A spokesman for Space Launch Delta 45 on March 10 asked the company questions about SpaceX’s continued use of the launch complex. SpaceX did not respond to questions about future use of SLC-13 on March 8; The company rarely responds to media inquiries.

None of the four companies have given details on what infrastructure they intend to build at the launch sites and when they expect to start using it. ABL Space Systems, for example, has minimized the ground equipment it needs for its RS1 rocket and designed it to fit in shipping containers for transport.

Space Launch Delta 45 said it made the allocations as part of an initiative called Launch Pad Allocation Strategy, which aims to maximize opportunities for commercial launch providers in the Cape and increase Eastern Range launch capacity.

The growing pace of activity in the Eastern Range, which includes Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and neighboring NASA Kennedy Space Center, has strained infrastructure, including available launch pads. “Today, every single platform that we have in the Cape is manned by someone or people,” Col. James Horne, deputy director of operations for the Space Force’s Space Systems Command, said during a panel at the SpaceCom conference in Orlando on March 22. February “There are massive traffic jams, tons of construction work going on.”

When asked during the panel if the Space Force plans to open up historic pads like SLC-14 to new users, Horne said it does, but he didn’t elaborate on those efforts.

A Space Force spokesman said the four companies selected for the pads are “already accepted programs” on the Eastern Range that have been reviewed for safety considerations and financial and technological capabilities. The service also released a request for information last September to identify other potential users, but those efforts failed to find suitable companies.

Space Launch Delta 45 said it may consider future rounds of Launch Pad Allocation Strategy that could include support for larger launch vehicles “after further operational analysis.”

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