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Thrilling Revelation: SpaceX’s Remarkable Strategy Against ULA in Florida

Now, SpaceX has two launch pads in Texas and two in Florida, totaling at least four Starship launch platforms.

Following the last launch of the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy rocket later this year, one of the main launch pads at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station will be unoccupied. The huge complex is intended to serve as the new home for SpaceX’s Starship launch vehicle.

According to a new website describing the plan, the environmental review for SpaceX’s proposal to take over Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral is getting started now. Three public in-person meetings and one virtual meeting are planned for March to gather feedback from locals.

Subsequently, an environmental impact statement will be produced by federal agencies, spearheaded by the Department of the Air Force, to assess the potential effects of starship launch and landing operations on the surrounding land, air, and water of SLC-37, located on Space Force property along the Atlantic coastline.

Converting SLC-37 for starship launches won’t happen anytime soon because environmental evaluations for rocket launch facilities usually take more than a year. In this instance, federal representatives plan to release a preliminary report by October 2025, followed by a final environmental impact statement by December.

More immediately, ULA still has one more Delta IV Heavy rocket scheduled to launch in March from SLC-37 carrying a National Reconnaissance Office-class surveillance satellite. Following the successful launch, ULA will shut down operations at SLC-37 and eventually return the building to the Space Force, which will then seek a new occupant. Industry insiders have been pointing to SpaceX as the front-runner to take over SLC-37 once ULA completes the launch pad for a number of months.

However, it’s not completely finalized yet. A top ULA official revealed to Ars last year that the business was considering keeping a presence at SLC-37.

Launched last month, the Vulcan rocket from ULA will supersede the Delta IV and Atlas V spacecraft. Its new launch pad is located several miles up the coast from SLC-37. In order to increase the frequency of Vulcan launches, ULA is modernizing and growing its ground facilities at Cape Canaveral. An official from ULA informed Ars that the firm might wish to keep storing and horizontally processing Vulcan rockets at a hangar located immediately south of the Delta IV launch pad.

Although specifics of SpaceX’s plans for SLC-37 are lacking, the company stated on the website for environmental reviews that it will “modify, reuse, or demolish the existing SLC-37 infrastructure to support Starship-Super Heavy launch and landing operations.”

SLC-37’s history began in the 1960s, when NASA utilized the location for eight Saturn I and Saturn IB rocket flights to train for the Apollo mission. After 30 years of inactivity, Boeing came into the site to prepare SLC-37 for the Delta IV rocket, which has now taken 34 flights from SLC-37. Currently, the launch pad has a permanent umbilical tower, a 330-foot-tall (100-meter) mobile gantry, a flame trench for Delta IV flights, and a fixed erector.

All of that infrastructure would not be needed for Starship, the largest rocket in the world, so if SpaceX takes over the pad, there will probably be a lot of construction and demolition work done.

Should SpaceX not receive authorization to utilize SLC-37, the business may construct a completely new launch pad called Space Launch Complex 50. If SpaceX follows this course, SLC-50 would be constructed on undeveloped territory to the north of SLC-37 and to the south of SpaceX’s main Falcon 9 rocket launch pad at Space Launch Complex 40.

Goodbye to LC-49, hello to SLC-37

SpaceX is becoming serious about building a second base for Starship on Florida’s Space Coast, as seen by their interest in relocating to SLC-37. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), SpaceX built a launch tower and launch mount for Starship in 2022. However, the corporation didn’t make much headway in that area last year as crews concentrated on Starship test flights out of South Texas.

The CEO and founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, claims that Starship is the rocket that would enable him to realize his goal of establishing a colony on Mars. Additionally, he has promoted Starship as a means of point-to-point transportation on Earth. The Super Heavy booster and the upper stage of Starship are intended to be completely and quickly reusable, with both stages making propulsive landings back on Earth. Landing platforms will be converted into starship launch pads.

Prior to achieving any of those aspirations, the ship must enter orbit. Although SpaceX came very close to success on its second launch in November of last year, the first two full-scale Starship test flights didn’t go very far. Possibly as early as March, SpaceX plans to use the third Starship test flight to accomplish a near-orbital mission.

Musk eventually sees Starship launching several times a day on a range of tasks, including refilling tankers and transporting people, cargo, and satellites into orbit. SpaceX will require a large number of launch and landing pads to accomplish this. Although it has considered it, SpaceX has shelved plans to float offshore launch and landing sites.

SpaceX intends to construct a second Starship launch tower at its Starbase test site in Cameron County, Texas, in the near future. In addition, there is the half-constructed launch tower located at LC-39A. Recently, SpaceX has focused on SLC-37.

Previously, SpaceX considered constructing a second Starship launch pad from the ground up on NASA land at the Kennedy Space Center. Launch Complex 49 is the site of NASA’s environmental investigations, which began in 2021. NASA has stopped operations on Launch Complex 49, a spokesman for the agency told Ars on Friday. The person is Patti Bielling.

“At this time, there are no activities involving LC-49 on Kennedy,” Bielling stated. “Any previous activities regarding LC-49 were suspended, and no actions were taken.”

Starship will be used as a human-rated lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis program as one of its initial operational uses. In order to transport astronauts to and from the Moon, SpaceX is building a version of Starship that requires low-Earth orbit refueling in order to reach the Moon. This will require ten or more refueling trips, all of which must launch in a few weeks, using a tanker variant of Starship. The Super Heavy rockets for those tanker flights will take off from pads in Texas and Florida.

To make all of this feasible, SpaceX needs to construct more launch pads in addition to carrying out more Starship test flights and showcasing in-space refueling capabilities. Despite having retracted a number of its proposed Starship launch pad concepts, SpaceX appears to still have ambitious intentions for the Florida location of Starship based on its interest in SLC-37. For more Technews click here!

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