SpaceX outlines plans for major expansion at Kennedy


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Capitalism in space: According to plans outlined in a draft environmental statement, SpaceX is planning a major mission control and new rocket processing facility at the Kennedy Space Center.

It will be an operational monument to Elon Musk’s vision: a towering SpaceX launch control center, a 133,000-square-foot hangar and a rocket garden rising in the heart of Kennedy Space Center.

According to plans detailed in a draft environmental review published recently by KSC, SpaceX will undertake a major expansion of its facilities at the space center sometime in the not-too-distant future. The review says SpaceX is seeking more room and a bigger presence “in its pursuit of a complete local, efficient, and reusable launch vehicle program.” The expansion would enable SpaceX to store and refurbish large numbers of Falcon rocket boosters and nose cones at the operations center down the road from NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building.

The most eye-opening detail in this environmental draft is a statement that this SpaceX facility will be designed to support an expectation of up to 63 launches per year. In the first decade of this century that’s about how many launches the entire world accomplished per year. SpaceX’s ambitions here however are not absurd. They instead hearken to the expected upcoming boom in the entire aerospace, mostly fueled by the lower launch costs that SpaceX forced on the launch industry. SpaceX might manage that many launches, but it will be only a part of the entire booming launch market.

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12 comments

  • mivenho

    Might this mean that SpaceX won’t be needing their planned spaceport at Boca Chica, Texas?

  • If SpaceX does wind up launching that many rockets from it’s two (maybe eventually 3) Florida pads, I wonder if Boca Chica will become a BFR spaceport, rather than the Falcon Heavy comsat pad originally envisioned. If BFR/BFS works out as prophesied, I wonder if it will eventually lead to inland launch sites. Edwards AFB and White Sands be two useful sites, since they have some infrastructure, and could launch east over desert until they reach eastern south Texas. By that point the instantaneous impact point would be moving quickly, and we’ve already seen having a 200,000 lbm manned spacecraft distintegrate over Texas won’t necessarily result in casualties on the ground.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    I think you misread the article, as it says “SpaceX estimates there eventually could be up 63 landings a year of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters, according to the draft environmental review.” [emphasis on landings mine]

    This could mean up to 21 Falcon Heavy launches per year — almost one every other week. However, since they are referencing landings then they likely mean the mix of Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 landings, including the autonomous landing ship. As an example, ten Falcon Heavy and 33 Falcon 9 launches would produce this much landing traffic with a total of 43 launches.

  • Edward: Your comment caused me to take a look at the actual environmental draft [pdf]. From page 2:

    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.

    That’s 63 launches per year. Quite a manifest, if it happens.

  • Edward

    I see. It is landing events, not total rocket bodies landing.

  • Edward: In reading this I could not help but think of the science fiction books I read as a child, that imagined spaceports where you watched launches happening as regularly as airplanes took off at a contemporary airport.

    It appears that Elon Musk and SpaceX is about to make that science fiction a reality, fifty years late.

  • wodun

    @mivenho & @William Barton

    IIRC, Musk said that Boca Chica was going to be used for BFR/BFS exclusively.

    That doesn’t make much sense to me because having the capability to launch their other rockets without the delays or range conflicts of the Florida facilities would be useful. However, looking at the Boca Chica property, they don’t have a lot of space to work with.

  • wodun

    Working backwards, we can look at their proposed maximum launch rates and determine how many cores they will need to build and how long that will take before they switch their production staff over to BFR/BFS. It looks like they will only need a small fleet to hit those launch numbers and still have extras for unexpected demand and to replace any cores that age out. Assuming that the number of lifetime reuses is as expected.

    At 12 cores a year, it wouldn’t take them more than several years to build what they need and they have already started.

  • pzatchok

    look at what you are all writing.
    The numbers your throwing out.

    15 years ago NASA said this was impossible. All of it.
    10 years ago everyone in the industry but SpaceX said they could never reach those numbers.
    5 years ago the world launch industry said SpaceX would never effect them much.

    Now they just sit back and quietly, begrudgingly, wait for the next big advancement of SpaceX.

    I can not remember ever reading in any science fiction books the ‘prediction’ that one private company would make this big of an impact worldwide.

    You guys are tossing out numbers that even science fiction didn’t see clearly. Without even thinking about it.

    At this rate what will SpaceX look like in 15 years?
    What is now possible and not possible.

  • Edward

    pzatchok, You asked: “At this rate what will SpaceX look like in 15 years?

    You almost answered your own question. What looks impossible to do, right now?

    I am wondering what Blue Origin, Orbital ATK (oops, Northrop Grumman), ULA, and the smallsat companies (including launch companies) will contribute in the next 15 years.

    The secret, it turns out, is not only deciding to do the impossible, but doing it without breaking the bank. SpaceX has built a heavy launch rocket for about half a billion dollars, yet the traditional space industry spends billions upon billions to make lesser launch rockets.

    I recently linked to a Robert Zubrin idea for inexpensively building a Moon base; it need not take tens of billions of dollars to do it:
    http://spacenews.com/op-ed-moon-direct-how-to-build-a-moonbase-in-four-years/

    Zubrin is better known for his similar idea for getting to Mars, called Mars Direct. That idea also can be done for at least an order of magnitude less money than NASA’s usual manned Mars mission ideas.

    Going to the Moon and even going to Mars may be affordable for businesses to do, not just governments. I believe that this affordability is due to ideas that came from We the People.

    In 1996, Zubrin presented his inexpensive Mars mission idea. The same year, Peter Diamandis created the X-Prize to encourage rocket reusability by private companies or individuals; then Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Burt Rutan created reusable rockets. In 1999, Jordi Puig-Suar and Bob Twiggs invented the cubesat, and now many companies are using it to amazing effect.

    Even though several other ideas in that decade for inexpensive use of space failed (e.g. VentureStar, Delta Clipper, and Roton), the 1990s birthed quite a revolution in the space industry. Today that revolution is growing up.

    So, as you asked, pzatchok, what is impossible?

  • Edward

    Speaking of what space will look like in 15 years, here is an essay that suggests NASA could be funded to go to Mars in 15 years. Don’t laugh too hard; it is a Congresscritter making the proposal (or does that just make it more laughable?):
    http://spacenews.com/foust-forward-what-do-we-want-mars-when-do-we-want-it-uhhh/

    On reading this essay, it occurred to me that since depending upon presidents to set long range space goals is improbable (read impossible), the better alternative is to convince Congress to set long range goals for space.

    On the face of it, this may seem ridiculous, as it is the president who proposes and the Congress who disposes (“man proposes, but God disposes”), but we have seen that SLS is hard to kill. SLS is a program created by Congress. If Congress is interested in it, then it is hard to kill. Although it is traditional for presidents to set goals, there is no reason why Congress cannot also set goals. They set the goal of creating SLS (although it has no goal itself) and refused to kill Bush’s goal of creating Orion (but killed his mission for Orion).

    Then again, this just helps to create an overwhelmingly large, overbearing, spendy government, so maybe it is not such a good idea after all.

  • Localfluff

    15 years from now NASA won’t have any human space flight program. Their plan to copy of the current Chinese mini space station orbiting in nowhere, and the SLS/Orion monster, will be abandoned quickly because of lack of interest and usefulness and extraordinary expenses and decade long delays. Many others will do real human space flight by then.

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