Polar Launches Could Be Coming to Florida

Minotaur-C launch from Vandenberg. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Already experiencing a surge in launches, Florida’s Space Coast could become even busier with the additional of polar orbit launches.

The Air Force has opened a “polar corridor” that would allow certain rockets to launch spacecraft from Cape Canaveral into north-south orbits circling the poles, a development that could bring more launches to Florida.

Polar launches historically have been flown from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s Central Coast, where a small number of missions each year fly south over the Pacific Ocean toward Antarctica.

Cape launches most often head east to send satellites on their way around the equator. Polar trajectories have been avoided since a 1960 Navy launch inadvertently dropped a Thor rocket stage on Cuba, reportedly killing a cow.

But now, says Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the 45th Space Wing, “We can shoot south.”

No near-term missions plan to use the new polar corridor, but over time it could lead to more Cape launches and consolidation of the nation’s launch infrastructure.

This change would not be very good news to Vandenberg or the Pacific Space Complex — Alaska, which both host polar orbit launches.

Read the full story.

  • Interesting. The Cape as your one-stop launch capability! And offering competition to other sites. It’ll be fun to watch!

  • Stephen L. Thompson

    I’ve figured that there would be an increase of launches into polar orbits for the simple fact of orbital hotels in polar orbits would let the guests see all of the Earth. I’d assumed there would probably need to be a new West Coast spaceport to handle that, but maybe not.

  • Lee

    My guess is that the change in policy reflects SpaceX recovering first stages, thus minimizing the danger of overflying Cuba and Panama (and Southern Florida). If that’s the case, then “certain rockets” would only include F9 at the moment and FH soon.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Just for laughs. Maybe SpaceX could lease a landing facility in Cuba for recovering Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy cores for southward Polar orbit launches. Too bad the current US administration will freaked over such an idea.

  • DJN

    That would be another good reason for helping the long suffering Cuban people regain their freedom.

  • I’m willing to bet it has less to do with SpaceX specifically and more with the range itself and when staging events occur more generally. A 30-second early shut down of Thor could lead to the stage dropping on Cuba. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor-Ablestar

    If no current rockets are staging so close to a ballistic-Caribbean trajectory (which is probable considering how Thor was NOT stage-optimized for space launch at that point), then it makes sense to revisit the question.

  • Elliot R.

    This will never happen. Look at the launch corridor they’re talking about in the article. They’ll have to hug the coast. Not only does this take them over inhabited Bahama islands but who wants their rocking blowing up as a fireworks display for downtown Miami.

  • therealdmt

    It’s gonna be a rough time for cows…

  • therealdmt

    I agree with you about the visual attraction of polar orbit vs. just going endlessly over the equator, especially as most of the developed world is in mid latitudes and one would expect that tourists (most of whom would likely be from the developed world) would want to look down on their hometown and other places familiar to them.

    However, the radiation environment would be much worse for a polar or even high latitude space station. Also, payload capability for a given launcher is significantly less. But the biggie would be radiation.

    Here’s a link to a related research paper, with a summarizing quote below:
    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1511.03837.pdf

    *(LEO/NEqO = Low Earth Orbit/Near Equatorial Orbit, GCR = Galactic Cosmic Radiation, SEP = Solar Energetic Particles)

    “4. Summary and Conclusion
    The radiation environment in the LEO/NEqO of the RazakSAT-1 satellite was assessed by evaluating the fluxes of three space radiation sources: GCR, SEPs and trapped particles. The fluxes of GCR, SEPs, trapped protons and trapped electrons were predicted using the CREME96, ESP-PSYCHIC, AP-8 and AE-8 models, respectively. GCR dominated the
    34
    LEO/NEqO in the high-energy range of 10 -10 MeV, whereas no SEPs were detected
    because of the effective shielding effect. The maximum GCR flux in the LEO/NEqO was approximately 3,333 times less than that in the polar orbit. For trapped particles, the energies of trapped protons and electrons were below 400 MeV and 4 MeV, respectively. The fluxes of trapped protons and trapped electrons in the NEqO were 100 and 1,000 times less, respectively, than those in the polar orbit”

    As can be seen, the differences are pretty substantial

  • SamuelRoman13

    I ran a line pole to pole on my globe and a rocket N. would pass over Georgia and S.C., D.C. not Newfoundland. The jog to clear Miami would take 2 gimbals of the engines. One SE and then S. The rocket would get some side loads as it would skid. Just rotate on the CG and point sideways to the flight path.. No wings. DARPA space plane does have wings. It should be able to do it. Could be reason for this. Being USAF they know about skids though. They did tests to see if the air flow would handle OK I guess. BO says they will do it.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    They would go South not North, just like at Vandy. Seems reasonable to put an LZ right next to the cells at Gitmo.