SpaceX to Launch Majority of 4,000 Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.

That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.

It’s not known exactly how many launches will be required to fill out Starlink, which is designed to provide global Internet access. SpaceX has also proposed a second constellation that would bring the total number of satellites to about 12,000.

The company’s expansion at KSC is designed to facilitate a major increase in launches from its launch pads on the Cape, according to the assessment.

“SpaceX estimates there may be up to ten events per year for a Falcon Heavy launch, and up to 63 landings (54 Falcon 9 single core landings and nine Falcon Heavy triple core landings) at the current CCAFS landing site or on the SpaceX drone ship,” the document said.

SpaceX is also expanding its operations at CCAFS at an abandoned U.S. Air Force satellite processing facility known as Area 59 for the processing of Crew Dragon vehicles.

“Existing facilities will be re-utilized to support Dragon processing requirements,” the environmental assessment said. “No major construction will be required. It will support Dragon processing requirements including hypergolic propellant (monomethlyhydrazine [MMH] and nitrogen tetroxide [NTO]) load and offload; post flight and static fire helium and propellant tank ullage venting; and system and component decontamination and checkouts.”

The rise in SpaceX has boosted Cape Canaveral’s launch totals in recent years. Last year, KSC tied the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the most number of orbital launches with 12. The seven launches from CCAFS brought Cape Canaveral’s total to 19.

Of course, SpaceX is not the only launch provider operating in Florida. United Launch Alliance (ULA) uses LC-41 for Atlas V launches and LC-37 for Delta IV flights. The company is also developing a new Vulcan booster that will replace both launchers in the early 2020’s.

Atlas V booster launches the GOES-S weather satellite. (Credit: ULA)

Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) used LC-46 last August to launch the U.S. Air Force’s ORS-5 mission aboard a Minotaur IV booster. it was the first launch of a Minotaur rocket from the Cape.

Space Florida holds the launch license for the facility, which is located at CCAFS and is configured for small solid and liquid-fuel boosters. The state agency is looking for additional companies to use the pad.

“The proposed launch vehicles and their payloads would be launched into low earth orbit or geostationary orbit. All vehicles are expected to carry payloads, including satellites,” the assessment stated.

“LC-46 will also be used by NASA for the Orion Ascent Abort-2 test mission,” the document added. “This mission, scheduled for 2018, will launch an Orion mock-up using a first stage booster from a Peacekeeper missile modified by Orbital Sciences Corporation to demonstrate a successful abort under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience in flight.”

Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft on Pad 39B. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is also preparing LC-39B for flights of the Space Launch System. The pad is being refurbished for multiple uses. Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems would use it for its planned OmegA booster.

Adjacent to LC-39B is KSC’s newest launch pad, LC-39C, which was built for small launch vehicles.

“Launch Pad 39C will serve as a multi-purpose site allowing companies to test vehicles and capabilities in the smaller class of rockets, making it more affordable for smaller companies to break into the commercial spaceflight market,” the assessment stated.

“As part of this capability, NASA’s Ground Systems Development and Operations Program developed a universal propellant servicing system, which can provide liquid oxygen and liquid methane fueling capabilities for a variety of small class rockets,” the report added.

Credit: NASA

KSC’s long-term master plan also calls for the construction of a new launch pad, LC-48, for small-class launch vehicles near LC-39A.

“Development could also include construction of a Horizontal Integration Facility, Manufacturing and Refurbishment Facility, and Vertical Landing Facility near the launch complex, on other undeveloped areas at KSC, in an area sited for industrial use, on CCAFS, or elsewhere off Center property,” the assessment said.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin is preparing LC-36 for the planned debut of the company’s New Glenn orbital booster in 2020. The company is also modifying the adjoining LC-11 complex to accommodate testing of the BE-4 engine, which will be used in the new rocket.

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin is also building a manufacturing and processing facility on 139 acres (56 hectares) of land in Exploration Park Phase 2 “to support development of reusable launch vehicles utilizing rocket-powered Vertical Take-off and Vertical Landing systems,” the assessment stated.

“There are also plans for additional development by Blue Origin on a parcel of land south of the current development site for expansion of their manufacturing, assembly, and test facilities,” the report added.

Global satellite Internet provider OneWeb is constructing a 100,000 ft2 (9,290 m2) satellite integration facility at Exploration Park that will open this year.

RUAG Space USA, a subsidiary of a Swiss company, will be manufacturing satellite structures for OneWeb at a manufacturing plant in nearby south Titusville, the report said.

Moon Express has leased LC-17 and LC-18 from the U.S. Air Force for the development of commercial lunar landers. Renovations to the launch complexes include engine test stands and flight areas for testing landers.

Officials are also hoping to attract more business for the former Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). Possible users of the long runway include two air-launch companies, Virgin Orbit and Stratolaunch.

On Wednesday, Space Florida agreed to spend up to $1 million to upgrade utilities at the landing strip to support test flights by an unidentified company that is developing a horizontal launch and landing system.

The environmental assessment says that former SLF could be utilized for a broad range of programs, including “commercial spaceflight program and mission support aviation, aviation test operations including unmanned aerial vehicles, airborne research and technology development and demonstration, parabolic flight missions, testing and evaluation of experimental spacecraft, ground based research and training, and development and demonstration of future supersonic passenger flight vehicles.”

It’s likely that not all of the planned programs will come to pass. However, it appears that Cape Canaveral’s role as one of the world’s leading launch sites — if not the leading site — is assured.

  • Michael Halpern

    That picture of Cape Canaveral is old, LC-13 on icbm road isn’t there anymore, two pads with the letter “x” in the middle have replaced it

  • ThomasLMatula

    Wonder when Senator Nelson sees that SpaceX will bring many more jobs to Florida than SLS will with its once a year flights.

  • Lee

    A lot of those launch complexes aren’t really “there” anymore. Many have been out of use for decades. Those have little to no working infrastructure anymore. The map is intended to show where all the launch complexes are or were, not show currently operational LCs.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Of course that implies there are many opportunities for expansion by rebuilding for new private system. Have they fixed the turnaround problem yet? I understand it used to take 2-3 Days to reset the tracking systems on the range for the next launch.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yes i think so, mostly, so long as one of the rockets is equipped with an AFTS, they say they can do 2 in 24hrs

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    More like once in 18 months, in some future time period. That thing needs to die so bad.

  • Tom Billings

    “….SpaceX will bring many more jobs to Florida than SLS will….”

    But those jobs will not depend on the power of the Senators in Florida, and that dependency is what is valuable to Nelson.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Wonder what will be done with LC-37 after the last Delta IV Heavy flight in 2022.

    Just for fun, can the LC-37 flame trench handle the BFR booster with some renovation?

    More realistically NG O-ATK might launched upgraded Antares from LC-37 to attracted more customers. (The lady senator from MD have retired)

  • envy

    All the active pads are shown in a different text color, so I’m guessing it is intended to show currently operational pads at the time it was created. I’d say pre-2011 because that’s when the last Delta II launched from SLC-17.

  • Sounds like on the Drive to 48, the Eastern Range guys need to keep on driving.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    The BFR booster may be too big and loud for the entire Cape complex. This is why the animations show it being launched from an off-shore platform. The Saturn V really pushed the limits when they were flying.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    The tracking system is still needed. If launches are relatively near to each other, they don’t have to move the gear, but if they are widely separated, the equipment needs to be repostitioned.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    That’s what I was talking about with regards to Space Florida investments. The Cape could use 2 additional tracking systems which would allow a much more crowded manifest and allow for much more rapid rescheduling if a mission is delayed on one site.

  • Tom Billings

    The one Saturn V I saw launched in 1970, from 3 miles away, shook the vehicles we came in so badly that spare cameras placed on the flat hoods were shaken off onto the ground, and broke. At 11,800,000 pounds thrust the BFB should have that much effect at 3.75 miles. (multiply distance by square root of the thrust ratio)

    A circle on the map that stays 3.75 miles distant from 39-A barely includes LC-40 and the VAB, but only barely. It would seem that even initial launch noise should not be *too* bad if this is the case.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    The exposure limits are much less now then they were in the 70’s and a government project gets more leeway than a private venture. There are more people in the area too.

    The low frequency energy also has a huge affect on structures. One of the people I used to work with was at LTV way back when and was one of the designers of the pneumatic throat compression drivers that were developed to sonically test missile structures. I did some work back in the 80’s with Rohr industries on their acoustic test stand for aircraft engine nacelles. It’s surprising what high sound pressure levels can to to structures. I worked at a sound company where we once nearly took out the glass of the press booth at the Rose Bowl when testing a sound system we had just loaded in for a show. That would have been bad (and expensive).

    The estimates I have seen for sound levels from the BFR are higher than you have. I don’t think I kept the reference as I’m not finding anything on the computer.

  • ThomasLMatula

    If so then it won’t be possible to fly from Brownsville, with houses less that 3 miles away and the condos on South Padre Island only about 5 to 6 miles.

    That said, if Elon Musk needs a remote place with no conflicts with existing housing I would recommend the abandoned Matagorda AFB on the north tip of Matagorda Island. No one lives on the island and few on the mainland. Best of all it will be easy to build on it. Although the base has been abandoned since the 1980’s, the foundations for runways, buildings, etc. could be used as fill, unlike the Brownsville site which is in a river delta area.

  • Michael Halpern

    then they will need more or faster to set up mobile tracking equipment, most of the active and soon to be active launch pads are relatively close, the 39 pads (a b and c), 40, 41, 49 farthest active pads from that group are the former LC-13 now Lz 1 and 2, and those dont need the tracking equipment moved,

  • Zed_WEASEL

    You do realize that most if not all of the abandon launch pads at CCAFS qualifies as super fund site?

    There will be no cheap rebuilding at the old pads. Green field sites will be likely more the norm.

  • Michael Halpern

    More tracking equipment and personnel will be acquired as needed, interesting investment in 39c, with addition of methalox lines and a new standardized prop load system for small rockets, as far as I know at least of the US small launchers only one is currently planning to use methalox and is meaningfully far along, in Relativity Space,

  • Michael Halpern

    Depends on interest, I can see many of the pads on ICBM road being claimed by small launchers if 39c gets too crowded or the planned facilities there due not suit the needs of a company, possibly as landing sites as SpaceX has done with one of those. However, most of this is just infrastructure that will be useful regardless of what pads are used, based on currently used and soon to be in use sites,

  • Lee

    Have you ever seen the old pads? There is no “infrastructure” left at them to speak of. The coastal environment isn’t kind to things that aren’t maintained. Only the continuously active pads have had the necessary upkeep to keep them from totally deteriorating.

  • Michael Halpern

    Roads not the pads

  • Zed_WEASEL

    I believed most of the flight paths from the Matagorda site have drop zones too close to oil facilities.

    Plus there is a nuclear power plant (South Texas Nuclear Generation Station) nearby. About 18 km NNW from the town of Matagorda.

  • Robert G. Oler

    it is not about the jobs…its about control over what NASA does…

  • duheagle

    I think you’d find that EPA tends to favor placing new “dirty” usages on existing “dirty” sites. That’s especially true if whatever site remediation is needed can be made a condition of the new use thus removing the government’s last-resort responsibility to do clean-up. Except to the north, there isn’t what you’d call a lot of greenfield at Canaveral/Kennedy anyway.

  • duheagle

    Perhaps SpaceX and Blue Origin will indulge in a lively bidding war for SLC-37 when it is finally rendered redundant by ULA. SpaceX could rebuild it for BFR. Blue could rebuild it to serve New Armstrong.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yup and often that clean up for new use ends up not being that much extra compared to complete remediation, for instance there’s opportunity to recycle the concrete, and as CCAFS is getting busier, while it may be unlikely that all the pads return to service for launch/landing, it is likely other uses will be found,to support the ones that will be used for launch

  • Michael Halpern

    BFR can fly out of 39a, I remember hearing that the newer slightly smaller version can use 39a’s flame trench with little to no modification, being about as much thrust and exhaust as the proposed 8 f-1 Saturn rocket the pad was originally built for (first stage of that version was too big to be built in existing facilities and would have pushed it past the 10 year time limit).

    Antares has a couple problems attracting customers, commercial in medium lift is firmly held by Falcon 9, and for NSS launches, Russian engines and a less than spotless record, not to mention, the engines aren’t the only parts not from the US, its basically just assembled here, other than the upper stages.