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NASA blocks Starship/Superheavy launches at SpaceX’s new Florida launchpad

Capitalism in space: NASA officials revealed yesterday that it will not allow any Starship/Superheavy launches at SpaceX’s new Florida launchpad, at least for the moment, because of the threat a launchpad failure might have on the launchpad SpaceX uses to launch manned Falcon 9 missions to ISS.

The NASA statement said the agency “is responsible for ensuring SpaceX remains compliant with the requirements of the property agreement for the use of Launch Complex 39A.”

“These requirements include those related to construction, safety and environmental conditions,” the statement said. “At this time, NASA has only provided approval to build. Additional review for hazards, operational impacts and supportability will be required prior to a launch.”

The new Starship launchpad is 1,000 feet away from pad 39A, which is SpaceX’s manned Dragon launchpad. NASA management thinks this is too close. However, the managers have also not ruled out future launches, only that they wish to do a thorough review of the issue with SpaceX.

Because NASA and the federal government is also relying on Starship to land its astronauts on the Moon, it can’t block Starship flights outright. It could be however that this issue might shift Starship operations back to Boca Chica, after federal government opposition there forced SpaceX to shift more operations to Florida.

In other words, the government wants its cake and eat it to. Some factions within the Biden administration and the Washington bureaucracy want to block Starship, others want it to fly. The result is a tug-of war, with SpaceX in the middle.

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16 comments

  • Richard M

    It could be however that this issue might shift Starship operations back to Boca Chica, after federal government opposition there forced SpaceX to shift more operations to Florida.

    It’s pretty hard to deny, though, that the Cape is a better location for Starship operational launches than Boca Chica, and I feel confident that NASA senior management groks this as well as anyone.

    I obviously don’t have access to any of the risk analysis at LC-39A, but in the abstract, I don’t think it is *unreasonable* for NASA to be concerned about the possibility of losing what is, for probably at least 12 more months, its sole certified means of crew access to orbit.

    But then again, it’s surely going to be at least 12 months (probably more) before the LC-39A Stage Zero is even in a position to launch a Starship – assuming that the Roberts Road facility has even cranked one out yet!

    Which gives time for SpaceX and NASA to work out solutions. The obvious one really is going to be upgrading SLC-40 to handle Crew Dragon launches. And honestly, I think NASA should help pay for it, because it is their needs – for both Crew Dragon, and for Starship’s role in Artemis – that are dictating this move.

    In the longer run, if I were SpaceX, I’d build a whole set of Stage Zeros up at the proposed LC-49 location. It’s far enough away from everything to be the optimal place to carry most of the Starship launch cadence, and there is plenty of room there to work with.

  • Ray Van Dune

    This adds to my growing concern about the “Stage Zero” philosophy as applied by SpaceX. From a SpaceX corporate economic perspective, Stage Zero (SZ) makes perfect sense.

    But from a NASA and a US National security perspective, the advantages of SZ should be tempered by its constraints. The dependence of new-generation heavy-lift boosters and ships on extensive ground infrastructure may be a mistaken direction. Of course, rockets have always been uniquely dependent on ground facilities, even compared to aircraft. Is this a healthy trend to further, or is it time to break with it? Rockets will take us to other worlds that have absolutely no infrastructure, after all.

    I have more thoughts on this related to national security. As reusable rocket technology becomes more central to military affairs, large and rare SZ installations will represent a vulnerability, just like fixed air bases.

    Of course, SZ may be required to make point-to-point rocket flight economically feasible, in the same way international airports are.

    So I don’t think there is a clear answer here, but I wanted to surface the issue and not assume SZ’s ability to deliver maximum payload at minimum cost makes its desirability unquestioned.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The highest operational cadence that Cape Canaveral has ever demonstrated is lower by orders of magnitude than the aspirations expressed by Musk. Starship needs multiple dedicated launch facilities.

    Given the Boca Chica experience, that means seaborne platforms with ultra-high throughput. That also probably means dedicated specialized platforms, such as ones for tankers, comm satellites, lunar cargo, etc. This is a whole new industry, needing a whole new set of business models.

  • This is a whole new industry, needing a whole new country.

    Between the off-shore oil platforms and Mexico, I think Space-X will do fine. Musk just needs to get out of the US. It took him a while to realize what a mess California was and move to Texas. A move to Mexico, which I’d bet would be thrilled to host him – and, if not, I’d bet there are more than enough people willing to accept bribes and pretend to be thrilled – is the next obvious step.

  • markedup2: If you think Musk can just pick up and move his company, you are living in a fantasy. Musk does not have the freedom to move SpaceX out of the U.S. Not only would it be difficult for him to find the right staffing, the federal government would come down on him hard, much harder than you can imagine. As a rocket company, SpaceX’s actions are tightly controlled by ITAR regulations.

    I find it amazing that now, after decades of more and more government control, so many people keep making this mistake. I must have said the same thing to more than two dozen commenters in just the last two years.

    We do not live in a free America. When are Americans going to finally realize this?

  • Richard M

    The highest operational cadence that Cape Canaveral has ever demonstrated is lower by orders of magnitude than the aspirations expressed by Musk. Starship needs multiple dedicated launch facilities.

    While I don’t deny the probability that the two offshore platforms will play an important role in Starship operations, the reality is that the Eastern Range has no choice but to continue upgrading its capabilities to accommodate growth in launch operations. And they know this!

    Because it is not just Starship that is coming to town. ULA is going to have to increase its launch cadence to accommodate all those Kuiper launches. Blue Origin will be launching before long, too. And then there’s Relativity, Astra, and Firefly.

    And after all, the Space Force has a vested in interest in much of this launch activity, because it will include payloads for itself!

  • Mitch S.

    Wonder how that press conference went:

    NASA spokesperson:
    “We have to block SpaceX from using pad 39A for Starship because it imperils our vital manned access to space.”

    Crowd mutters: “Yeah can’t have Musk put our vital rocket’s launchpad in danger, who does he think he is?, this is The Cape where serious rockets launch, let him go back to Texas to play with his toys”

    Reporter: “Which vital rocket is this, SLS?, Starliner?”

    NASA spokesperson: “uh, um, no, it’s SpaceX’s other rocket, the one that’s been providing our only manned access to space…”

    Really, at this point NASA should face reality and offer pad 39B for Starship…

  • GaryMike

    “We do not live in a free America.”

    I would like to think that humanity expanding into the solar system would decrease the reach of Earth-based controlling influences.

    Sadly, we carry the virus within us. We’ll never be free from ourselves.

    Damn. The sun just came up and already the day is ruined.

  • Milt

    Robert writes: “Some factions within the Biden administration and the Washington bureaucracy want to block Starship, others want it to fly. The result is a tug-of war, with SpaceX in the middle.”

    The real question is whether or not the people presently running this country “want” the kind of lower cost, democratized access to space that SpaceX is offering. This is, of course, a radically different vision of the future than SLS / Artemis represents, with its tightly controlled — and infrequent — flight schedule that can never put more than a tiny handful of human beings into space at enormous and unsustainable cost. It is not a “next step,” but rather a shroud over the possibility of a different and better future for average people.

    But which vision do we want? As in so many other areas of American life, we are now ruled by a small group of interconnected elites who have a radically different perspective about what is “good for” ordinary people and what kinds of things they should be allowed to think, say, and do. Allowing Americans and the ingrained entrepreneurial spirit that they harbor to go into space, as seen form their perspective, is such a radical departure from their Great Collective Plan for our future that this development can hardly be looked at with favor. Thus the ongoing tug-of war at NASA.

    If the midterm elections (should they actually be held) result in the expected turnover in Congress, perhaps we will see the scales tilted in favor of SpaceX and everything that its lower cost approach to going into space portends. With all of the other pressing issues that the new Congress will need to address in the course of undoing the lunacy of the last several years, providing a firm direction to NASA might not seem that important, but — in truth — it is one of the most important things that it can do with respect to charting the future course of our Republic.

    Imagine if you will (picture Rod Serling with Twilight Zone theme music) a Congress that actually sets US priorities in space and directs NASA and the sitting administrative branch to accomplish them in a timely and expeditious fashion. You know; how a representative democracy is supposed to work. All just science fiction, of course.

  • Col Beausabre

    “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”

    – Mark Twain

    Could you imagine, he called the “mentally challenged” idiots! Take him out of America’s schools and libraries!!

  • Concerned

    It’s really just this simple: Entrepreneurial, commercial modern SpaceX versus Soviet-style centrally-planned government NASA. If we really want progress, NASA should be demobilized and sent back to its NACA research roots and most of its assets and field centers sold off. Of course I’m dreaming and it may never happen, but people must talk about it if it ever has any chance of happening.

  • Edward

    Robert asked: “We do not live in a free America. When are Americans going to finally realize this?

    I realized this when the Supreme Court ruled that the government, by attaching a tax to any law, is allowed to tell us what to buy, what to do, what to say, what to wear, who to be, where to go and when, and what experimental drugs we are mandated to take as a whole population (not as study groups and control groups). But we probably lost our freedom back when the Congress and Supreme Court decided that the U.S. government can use the Commerce Clause to tell farmers (and by extension any business) how to run their businesses.

    Now, with government controlling American businesses in the name of “green energy,” we live in a world with high gas prices; uncontrolled inflation; shortages of everything from baby formula to fertilizer; wars that our fearful leaders fear could escalate into a nuclear world war three; unpunished crime, violence, and looting of everything from our store shelves to our train cars; and intimidation and outright death threats to our Supreme Court Justices, as well as violent injurious attacks on Republican congressmen and at least one senator. Where are the “January 6th” investigations on those attacks, the threats, and the several illegal intimidation-actions at the Supreme Court building and in front of Justices’ homes?

    Welcome to Obama’s fundamentally transformed Amerika, land of the formerly free, with liberty and justice only for Democrats: The Party of slavery, Jim Crow, and the KKK.

  • Robert Pratt

    As to Mexico, I have to tell you that it is very anti business and investment at the moment. Drug cartels run much of the country and the Leftist president likes it.

  • Jeff Wright

    Japan would accept him.

    The latest Green plot against space

    https://phys.org/news/2022-06-climate-space-tourism-urgent-mitigation.html

  • pawn

    I keep mentioning Vieques as a possible location for The Starbase. Maybe it will filter up to Musk if I keep it up.

    Musk should look at rehabilitating the unpopulated eastern half of the island that used to be a gunnery and bomb range. Anyone in charge would probably give it away, it being such a scared wasteland.

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