Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX pursuing additional landing pads in Florida

The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 v1.2 rocket lands at Cape Canaveral's Landing Zone 1 on Dec. 21, 2015. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lands at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1 on Dec. 21, 2015. A second ground landing occurred July 18, 2016. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

A July 18 Orlando Sentinel article reported SpaceX is seeking U.S. government approval to access two new landing areas at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to support returning stages for the future Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

According to the Sentinel:

“SpaceX expects to fly Falcon Heavy for the first time later this year,” the company said in a statement responding to questions. “We are also seeking regulatory approval to build two additional landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We hope to recover all three Falcon Heavy rockets, though initially we may attempt drone ship landings” at sea.

This announcement comes after SpaceX’s latest successful ground landing of a first stage following the CRS-9 launch to the International Space Station. The story did not indicate which specific sites the NewSpace firm was requesting for its operations. Currently, the company lands boosters at Landing Zone 1, a re-purposed Space Launch Complex 13, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

While SpaceX’s activities occur on a U.S. Air Force facility, the public still has the opportunity to comment on or request additional information about the plans by contacting Eva Long of the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at or by mail at 45CES/CEIE, Attn. Eva Long, 1224 Jupiter St. Patrick AFB FL 32925.

The CRS-9 launch was the 13th major launch operation for the Eastern Range in what has already been a busy 2016. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will mean larger payloads and more business on the Florida Space Coast. However, there will be increased noise concerns, as the reentering stages create sonic booms when they return to Earth.

It’s been five years since the last Space Shuttle returned to Kennedy Space Center—with it came the last iconic double sonic booms from the program. Some locals, alarmed by the unfamiliar shock from a returning Falcon 9 first stage, called 911.

The earliest time the triple-core Falcon Heavy will fly is no earlier than November of this year (2016). That launch will see at least the two side boosters return to land, causing multiple sonic booms or, depending on timing, one large boom. Whether the center core returns to Cape Canaveral or on a drone ship at sea will depend on the mission profile.

“Can’t wait to see all three cores of Falcon Heavy come back for landings!” tweeted Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO and founder. “[The] two [side boosters] will be almost simultaneous.”

Video courtesy of SpaceX Technical Webcast


Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

Reader Comments

I know LZ1 had multiple pads but they were only authorized to use one. IIRC there was one large one in the center and 3 or 4 smaller ones around it. Are they asking for permission to use these smaller pads or another site entirely? Are the small pads far enough apart to prevent exhaust plumes or explosions from damaging other landing boosters?

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