Fact Check: Has NASA asked SpaceX to not launch Falcon Heavy from LC-39A?
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A recent post on Reddit has suggested that SpaceX had been asked by NASA to not launch its Falcon Heavy rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As is so often the case on the Internet, unconfirmed rumors can often spread misinformation that is then taken as fact. Is there any credibility to this rumor?
The Reddit post read as follows and can be viewed here:
“In a recent visit to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, a tour guide informed me of the current status of Space Launch Complex 40. He said he had heard through official CCAFS meetings and through talks with employees from the nearby SpaceX Launch and Landing Control Center that SLC-40 is being built up to support Falcon Heavy. He elaborated, saying that NASA was forcing SpaceX to move their maiden flight of Falcon Heavy from LC-39A to SLC-40 because they don’t want a pad RUD to damage the historical landmark. Given how risky Elon has said the first flight is going to be, the request seems reasonable. My thought is that the changes to pad architecture and GSE might explain why SLC-40 has taken so long to come back online.”
SpaceFlight Insider reached out to both SpaceX and NASA about the veracity of this statement and received responses from both of these organizations suggesting that this rumor does not appear to be based on fact. NASA directed us to SpaceX as they are the manufacturer of the Falcon Heavy and SpaceX provided SpaceFlight Insider with the following: We are targeting no earlier than the end of 2017 for Falcon Heavy’s inaugural flight from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
Other sources, who requested anonymity, have told SpaceFlight Insider that SpaceX is planning to use LC-39A as a site to launch the Falcon Heavy from, with Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 handling some launches of their highly successful Falcon 9 – all this, apparently, refutes the above statement. SpaceX also has launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and is having a launch site developed in Boca Chica, Texas.
Over the past several years, NASA has developed a flexible and supportive working relationship with SpaceX. The company has won contracts to fly not only cargo but also crews to the International Space Station (ISS) under the space agency’s Commercial Resupply Services and Commercial Crew Programs. The NASA’s support of SpaceX hasn’t stopped there, with the agency helping the company develop PICA-X – a variant of NASA’s Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) heat shield – for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft which has carried out a number of cargo runs to (and from) the ISS.
In April 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA for use of Launch Complex 39A. The Hawthorne, California-based company then went on to renovate the pad for use with its Falcon family of launch vehicles. After the Sept. 1, 2016, explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket and its payload of the $85 million Amos-6 satellite at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40, SpaceX moved its launch operations to LC-39A and has, to date, sent 10 payloads to orbit from the historic launch site.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.