SpaceX to launch Super Heavy/Starship from Florida


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Capitalism in space: According to a SpaceX environmental report submitted to NASA, the company now plans to launch Super Heavy/Starship missions from Florida, and only Florida.

The report details the work they want to do at launch complex 39A, where they presently launch both Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies.

The facilities will be able to support up to 24 Starship/Super Heavy launches a year, the company said in the report, with a corresponding decline in Falcon launches from the complex. “Due to the higher lift capability, Starship/Super Heavy could launch more payloads and reduce the overall launch cadence when compared to Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy,” the report states.

SpaceX ruled out performing Starship/Super Heavy launches from its other two existing launch sites, Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral and Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company ruled out the sites because they would require more modifications and because the Vandenberg site didn’t support trajectories for the “vast majority” of missions.

Falcon Heavy launches especially will vanish once this new rocket is operational, as it will be cheaper to use and have greater capabilities, should it succeed in being everything SpaceX hopes it to be.

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9 comments

  • Col Beausabre

    What about Boca Chica, TX? I was under the impression they were transferring all their operations there.

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre,
    That was my impression, too.

    I see an advantage to having Super Heavy (SH) launch pads at both Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and Boca Chica (BC), because a first launch could occur at KSC (fuel?) and an hour and a half later a rendezvous launch from BC (manned? or vice versa?). In addition, a launch from BC could conceivably land its booster at KSC (boost-forward burn rather than boost-back) rather than the the Gulf.

    The article only mentions the existing launch pads and does not say anything about BC, so that may still be a possible launch site. On the other hand, a SH is quite a big rocket to launch from such a small place. On the third hand (the gripping hand), the description of the new SH pad at KSC looks as small as the pad at BC.

  • geoffc

    They are talking about building a 30m high mound to launch from at LC39A so that is a mighty bid project.

    There is a great image in the pDF, of where in LC39A they want the launch and landing pad. I would have to screen shot it to get it oout of the PDF I think.

    Be great to include the pic in this article.

  • wodun

    Not a good sign that the Texas launch facility isn’t included. It could be that it is harder and more expensive to prepare the launch site than they thought. It could also be that they don’t see much of a launch market. Who knows? I don’t like them staying at NASA facilities because it further entwines them with the government.

    Maybe SpaceX wants the job security. It’s worked well for SLS.

  • Dick Eagleson

    This Environmental Impact Report does mention that launch facilities may also be built at Boca Chica but notes that any such plan must be the subject of a separate EIR. KSC will be the first launch facility for SHS, but not necessarily the only one. The main reason for this order of construction, I suspect, is that the KSC SHS facility will be co-located at LC-39A which is already a launch facility. This makes the EIR a fairly pro forma thing that needs to deal only with the greater size and potential impact of SHS vs. F9 and FH or the Shuttle and Saturn V that preceded them all. Boca Chica has been EIRed as a launch site for F9 and FH, but will also need to have a new EIR filed because SHS is so much bigger than what had been approved heretofore and has no history as a launch facility. The KSC EIR should be approved fairly quickly while that for Boca Chica may take longer.

    SpaceX doesn’t seem to anticipate any untoward delay in getting its plan approved. Elon has said that the new launch mount, water flood system and other things needed for the adding of SHS capability to the LC-39A site are already being built in pieces, off-site. It only took a few weeks to turn Boca Chica into enough of a spaceport to handle Starhopper. It might well take only modestly longer to roll in and assemble all the bits needed to SHS-ify LC-39A. This could all be a done deal well before year’s end.

  • It only makes sense to start with the site that would take the least expense to get ready. It will take them a number of years to max out the launch capacity at 39A before investing in their next launch pad. They have a number of years yet before they:
    – complete their hops,
    – orbital mission,
    – successful landing,
    – recover from any setbacks,
    – first uncrewed mission to the lunar surface,
    – Dear Moon,
    – first crewed mission to the lunar surface,
    – first uncrewed mission to Mars,
    – start building up the lunar base,
    – and finally, ramp up flight rate to the point where LC39A is doing 24 launches per year (every other week).

  • jburn

    SpaceX followed a similar pattern with the other hopper used to develop the Falcon series of rockets. The field testing occurred in Texas but formal launching of Falcon was in Florida.

    In that regard Florida is the “space coast” with enormous resources (human and infrastructure) already in place.

  • Diane Wilson

    As jburn mentions, infrastructure and resources are the key. Boca Chica isn’t close to being ready. SpaceX has been building what they need there as they need it, but the “launch platform” is just a concrete slab, with some water facilities for flame suppression, sufficient for the one-engine hopper but as yet, no more. No mount, no tower, no flame trench, no lightning towers, nothing like pads 39A or 40 in Florida.

    Boca Chica itself is very much a sand bar, even more than the Florida space coast, and I suspect that SpaceX underestimated the construction difficulties there. They weren’t prepared for strong winds, and lost the upper section of the hopper. There are still people living at Boca Chica, well within the safety range that would be needed for a launch. They have to close state roads for any testing.

    There’s also the issues of handling methane fueling and unloading. One major difference between kerosene and methane is that kerosene (RP-1) is liquid at ambient temperatures. Methane is gaseous and highly flammable at ambient temperatures. After both the hop and the preceding static fire, there have been significant ground fires, including a brush fire that burned for several hours because there was no ground access for fire crews to the area that was burning. It’s a learning curve, and SpaceX is learning. Blue Origin and ULA will have to learn these lessons, also.

    All things considered, Florida looks a lot better for first launches.

  • Edward

    Dick Eagleson wrote: “KSC will be the first launch facility for SHS, but not necessarily the only one.

    If SpaceX is, or becomes, serious about using Starship (or a variant) for point to point Earth travel, then we definitely should expect launch facilities near some large cities that have frequent travelers between them. However, it would be prudent for Starship to be operational, or close to it, before SpaceX commits much money toward these new facilities.

    Whether any of these additional launch facilities would or could be used for orbital flights is another question.

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