Canaveral’s Delta II launch site demolished, paving the way for Moon Express
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A piece of the Cape’s launch history came to an end on Thursday, July 12, with the demolition of Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 17. The site where NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers began their epic voyage to the Red Planet have been reduced to rubble – paving the way for use by Moon Express.
In the early morning hours, at around 7 a.m. EDT, Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith the commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Space Wing that manages the Cape’s launches – pushed the button that activated the explosives that demolished the site’s two launch towers.
“Keep your fingers crossed that I won’t mess this up and we’re getting ready to leap into the future,” Monteith said.
There are two pads at SLC-17, “A” and B” – each of which has supported more than 150 launches.
The site’s first launch took place on pad 17B on Jan. 25, 1957 with the first flight of a PGM-17 Thor ballistic missile. Eight months later, on Aug. 30, 1957, 17A saw its first flight when it also was used to send a PGM-17 Thor aloft.
Space Launch Complex 17B’s final launch, that of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft, lifted off atop the mission’s United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II 7920H-10C rocket. The Sept. 10, 2011 flight closed the book on decades of space history.
Some of NASA and the U.S.’ most pivotal missions got their start from the pads located at the historic launch site. These include, but are not limited to, the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, NASA’s Dawn and Messenger missions, all of the Orbiting Solar Observatories, several GOES satellites (for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and numerous others.
In fact, the site was the point of departure for no fewer that 325 missions. In terms of being the most active of the two pads, 17B narrowly edges out 17A with 164 flights. Some 161 launches took place at 17A.
SLC-17 might have got its start launching PGM-17 Thor missiles, but the variety of rockets that SLC-17 supported – didn’t stop there. Thor Ablestar, Thor Delta, Thor DSV-2F, Thor DSV-2G, Delta A, B, C, D, E and G rockets as well as Delta 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 boosters and the Delta III all were launched from SLC-17.
While it might have enabled a wealth of successes, Space Launch Complex 17 has also been the site of some spectacular failures.
On Jan. 17, 1997 a Delta II rocket left the pad at SLC-17A and for the first 13 seconds, it looked like the GPS IIR-1 satellite would be safely placed into orbit. Then one of the rocket’s solid rocket boosters that was affixed to the Delta II’s first stage exploded. This resulted in the complete loss of the $40 million satellite. Even worse, flaming debris and wreckage came raining down on the local area which ended up destroying cars. Fortunately the accident resulted in no injuries.
SLC-17 won’t stay dormant for long, Moon Express, a former contestant in the Google Lunar XPRIZE has already laid claim to the site with plans to use it for tests of a lunar vehicle that the NewSpace firm hopes might be able to provide services to NASA and other potential clients.
“Operations at SLC-17 will now move from Delta to Moon Express, it’s part of history which is what we’re doing every single day out here on the Range and we’re doing it with our partners from NASA, from the NRO, our commercial partners and our contracting partners,” Monteith said. “This is an exciting time as we continue to drive toward 48 launches a year and eventually what I believe will be over a hundred launches every single year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center.”
While long time Cape residents might have become accustomed to seeing the half-century old site rising into the sky and mourn its loss. Montieth noted that today’s events were the opening for potentially rewarding new paths.
“There is no better place to be and we have no better partners than our partners across the river at Kennedy to take us into the future. Steven Jobs once said that innovation is the opportunity…to be able to see change as an opportunity – not as a threat. This is opportunity,” Monteith said.
SpaceFlight Insider’s Senior Photographer Michael Howard’s company Cocoa Beach Photography was contracted via the demolition company to capture imagery of this event and at the same time provide SpaceFlight Insider with elements of the story and image within the article as well as those images within our Photo Gallery
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.