SpaceX set to resume launches from Space Launch Complex 40
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Commercial launch service provider SpaceX appears to be ready to resume launches from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station located in Florida.
A recent announcement regarding accreditation for the upcoming launch of the CRS-13 resupply mission flight to the International Space Station indicated that the launch would occur from Canaveral’s SLC-40:
The uncrewed Dragon cargo spacecraft, which was flown on SpaceX’s sixth commercial resupply mission to station for NASA, will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch will be the first this year from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.
The CRS-13 mission will utilize a previously flown Dragon resupply spacecraft that carried some 4,387 pounds (2,015 kg) on the CRS-6 mission in 2015. The Falcon 9 booster that will propel the mission off the pad is slated to return to CCAFS, landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (formerly Cape Canaveral’s SLC-13).
Originally built for launching Titan rockets, SLC-40 was leased to SpaceX by the U.S. Air Force in 2007. The first Falcon 9 flight from the complex occurred on June 4, 2010. The flight was a qualification flight for the new rocket and carried a dummy payload.
Launches from SLC-40 were disrupted when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a routine fueling on Sept. 1, 2016, destroying the rocket and its payload, the $185 million Amos-6 satellite. The explosion also caused extensive damage to the launch facility. The cause of the explosion was determined to be the rupturing of a cold helium pressure vessel in the rocket’s second stage. SpaceX resumed flights after a five-month period while the accident was investigated.
With SLC-40 out of commission, all East Coast flights of the Falcon 9 have occurred from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
Previously used to launch all of the manned Apollo missions to the Moon except for Apollo 10, as well as some 80 Space Shuttle missions including the first and final flights of the program, NASA leased the launch complex to SpaceX for 20 years. The company was already prepping it for launches when the accident occurred at SLC-40.
The first Falcon 9 flight from the historic launch facility was a resupply mission to the ISS – CRS-10. The CRS-10 mission launched on Feb. 19, 2017, and was the first flight from the complex since STS-135, the last shuttle mission which flew on July 8, 2011.
With launches set to resume at SLC-40, SpaceX will have two active launch pads on Florida’s Space Coast; this should allow the Hawthorne, California-based company to process launches quicker and possibly increase their flight rate even more next year (2018).
Perhaps more importantly, this should clear the path for SpaceX to make their first attempt at launching their Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. SpaceX previously stated that they would not attempt a launch of the new rocket until LC-40 was operational again to ensure they would have an operational pad in case LC-39A was damaged during a launch attempt of the heavy-lift rocket.
The Falcon Heavy is, essentially, three Falcon 9 rocket cores strapped together to make one massive launcher similar to what United Launch Alliance does with its Delta IV Heavy rocket.
First announced in 2011, the Falcon Heavy debut has been delayed many times as SpaceX engineers work out the complexity of strapping three vehicles together and coordinating the firing of 27 Merlin engines. The last estimated date of when the Falcon Heavy was to fly was late this year (2017), and, depending on the readiness of the vehicle for a test flight, the activation of SLC-40 may clear the path for this latest deadline to be met.
Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.