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SpaceX to upgrade 2nd Kennedy launchpad for manned launches

In order to create some increased redundancy, SpaceX and NASA have agreed to upgrade the company’s second launchpad at Cape Canaveral, LC-40, so that both it and pad LC-39A can launch manned Dragon capsules.

This plan grew out of concern by NASA that the new Starship orbital launchpad was too close to LC-39A, and could possibly damage it during a launch. Should that happen, and no back-up launchpad was available, the agency would have no way to get astronauts up to ISS, since Boeing’s Starliner is not yet operational. Because of that concern, NASA made it clear that no Starship launches could occur in Florida until this issue was resolved.

The solution? Make LC-40 a manned launchpad too.

Nothing is known about the nature of the modifications that LC-40 will require. But more likely than not, NASA will require SpaceX to develop something similar to Pad 39A’s facilities. That would involve building a new crew access tower, crew access arm, escape system (39A uses baskets and ziplines), and an on-site bunker for astronauts.

It is also likely that no Starship launches at Kennedy will occur until this work is done and a manned launch from LC-40 takes place. Though this could delay Starship somewhat, I expect not significantly. Before SpaceX is ready to launch operationally in Florida, it still has to do a lot of testing and development of Starship/Superheavy in Boca Chica, work that could take several years. I also suspect that it will get the launchpad work done relatively quickly, especially if NASA agrees to pay for it.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • geoffc

    The guys who track the tower build at LC39A, seem to think SpaceX has the parts to start building another tower, and look like they are starting. Question was, where would it go? LC49 is not even past environmental assessment hell for the next decade.

    They are speculating that it is for the Crew Access tower at LC 40. They have all the parts, orders, specs for a launch tower, why design a new one? Reuse the current design.

  • Col Beausabre

    Why would NASA pay to upgrade LC-40? SpaceX is a private company and will reap the profits, so why not expect it to pay the costs? It seems to me were taking corporate welfare

  • Doubting Thomas

    I see nothing in Roberts post or the attached article that says NASA is going to pay for the second pad, nor even split costs with SpaceX.

    SpaceX is caught in a protection racket.

  • Richard M

    SpaceX is not going to pay for this upgrade, if you catch my drift: One way or another, the customers will pay for it, just as the Space Force basically had to pay (via an inflated price on the first launch contracts) for the mobile vertical service tower for Falcon Heavy’s NSSL missions.

    SpaceX basically has a captive market at this point. And plenty of price point maneuver room.

  • Gary

    I’m thinking SLC is more likely to destroy 39A than Starship.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Richard – Good for SpaceX. Clearly companies will recover their costs. I believe that even with the inflated launch facility and larger fairing covers cost recovery, that SpaceX launch costs are cheaper than ten years ago.

  • Edward

    Richard M wrote: “SpaceX is not going to pay for this upgrade, if you catch my drift: One way or another, the customers will pay for it

    Unless NASA explicitly pays for it, then NASA will not pay for it as a customer, as the contract with NASA is a fixed price contract. If SpaceX has to pay, then it will come out of SpaceX profits, just as Starliner’s extra costs come from Boeing’s profits. It is possible that SpaceX would not reduce costs for Dragon seats as soon as they would have done otherwise, to make up for this extra cost. This would be the only way for SpaceX to make up for the cost if NASA sticks to the fixed price contract. (Please note that NASA added one or two payments to Boeing above the fixed-price contract, so it is possible that they would do the same for SpaceX.)

  • Scott_T

    It’ll all depend on who “owns” LC-40. SpaceX has a ?? year lease on LC39A, so they do what they please.

    If LC-40 is still NASA property, and they want SpaceX to build their own facilities on it, NASA will have to essentially sign over the property to them via a lease agreement. for $1 (?), the SpaceX can go hog wild and build what needs to be done.

    A Very Big BUT, then NASA can’t use LC-40 at all (or any other customer), because it’ll be SpaceX property. If NASA’s plan was to “rent” out LC-40 to various companies (Blue Origin, SpaceX, etc) they might fund the Crew stuff, just to keep it as their property so they can continue leasing it out (admittedly at a higher rate).

    It’ll all depend on NASA’s plan for LC-40’s ownership.

  • pzatchok

    If NASA demands a contract change then NASA will pat one way or another. Either up front or in increased launch costs.

  • Star Bird

    When can we start sending Liberal Democrats to Mars to found a Colony of like minded idiots?

  • pzatchok

    Star Bird’

    ‘They can not go unless they have capitalists to steal from in order to do their projects and a slave class to do the work.

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