SpaceX Plans Major Expansion at NASA KSC

Proposed SpaceX launch and landing control center

To accommodate its growing launch operations, SpaceX has proposed a substantial expansion of its operations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, including a launch and landing control center, a processing and storage facility for its boosters and fairings, and a rocket garden.

“SpaceX estimates there may be up to ten events per year for a Falcon Heavy launch, and up to 63 landings (54 Falcon 9 single core landings and nine Falcon Heavy triple core landings) at the current CCAFS landing site or on the SpaceX drone ship,” according to a draft environmental assessment released by NASA KSC’s Integrated Mission Support Services.

Proposed SpaceX operations area

The proposed operations area would be located on a 27-hectare (67-acre) site on Roberts Road to the northeast of KSC’s Visitor Complex. The property is close to multiple SpaceX operations.

The draft environmental assessment — which examined 14 resource areas that included water resources, health and safety — concluded the impact of the new facility would be moderate.

“The Proposed Action combined with current and future actions would result in moderate cumulative effects to land use, visual resources, water resources, and utilities,” the assessment concluded. “Implementation of the Proposed Action would not likely cause any significant cumulative impacts to the remaining local resource areas evaluated.”

Conceptual SpaceX hangar for Falcon maintenance and storage

The draft environmental assessment also stated the project was in line with NASA’s plans to develop the Roberts Road property.

Commercial use of KSC real property supports NASA’s mandate to encourage the fullest commercial use of space, supports the goals of the National Aeronautics and Space Act, and advances the National Space Policy that federal agencies shall ensure that U.S. Government space technology and infrastructure is made available for commercial use on a reimbursable, noninterference, and equitable basis.

The need for the Proposed Action also aligns with NASA’s Space Act Agreement (SAA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s mission, which is to support the U.S. goal of encouraging activities by the private sector to strengthen and expand U.S. space transportation infrastructure.

The assessment also says that SpaceX plans to refurbish Area 59 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for processing Dragon spacecraft. The facility was previously used for satellite processing.

The draft assessment is open for public comment.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    “Creeping professionalism” at SpaceX? A true MCC? I like the LAN party approach with the catering tables and PCs.

  • I’ve kinda been expecting something like this. The Eastern Range’s “Drive to 48” project is woefully inadequate if SpaceX is going to be launching Starlink deployments from CCAFS/KSC (and the inclinations for Starlink are problematic for Boca Chica), to say nothing of whatever Blue Origin wants to do.

    I suspect that the soft orders for 2019 may be a blessing in disguise for SpaceX, because it gives them enough wiggle-room to get going with Starlink. Getting to 2200-ish sats by 2023 is doable, but it’s not doable if everybody using the Eastern Range maxes out on their manifest.

    I think this is the opening shot in a battle to privatize the range. Let’s see what BO answers with.

  • Michael Halpern

    Maybe not privatize the range, maybe make it the Spaceport equivalent to an international Airport, they need to get the sat production going, and quickly, particularly on the less traditionally mass produced components like phase arrays, and propulsion elements, the rest of it, can likely be built not too differently from cars, in terms of production engineering, lets say half the F9 launches are starlink, (according to the estimate thats 26) now with block 5 that is certainly doable, and in line if they think most years are going to be more like this year in activity, that will mean assuming they start in earnest mid 2019, a little over 100 launches would be starlink, assuming they pack around 20 sats in a fairing, that will get them really close. Remember the “Drive to 48” is a goal, and was selected to give them an idea of how much, provided payloads are ready (which with Starlink they would be) and primary users have AFTS on their rockets, which if those primary users are SpaceX and Blue Origin, they would, there is no reason it cant get higher.

  • Either the Air Force runs the range, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then there’s no plausible government organization to run it. You could create one, but it’ll be expensive, and it’ll have to evolve. My best guess is that a coalition of SpaceX, BO, ULA, and some USAF liaison will cobble some consortium together, and the FAA will then try to figure out how to regulate it.

    This isn’t going to be a Canaveral-unique problem. Boca Chica is clearly going to be run solely by SpaceX, but something (presumably in the FAA, but maybe in this new Commerce Dept. space organization) will have to regulate them, so they aren’t tempted to drop aborted cores on Beaumont or Lake Charles.

    As for Starlink specifically, I had the FCC license requirement wrong: per this (III.G.1, para. 66-67), SpaceX has until March 30, 2024 (not 2023 as I had above) to deploy 2213 sats.

    Since all of the orbital planes are multiples of 25 sats, it’s reasonable to assume that they can launch 25 birds + 1 spare per F9. That requires a stretched fairing, but there have been numerous hints that one is on the way. At 500 kg wet mass + 2.5 t for PAF and dispenser, that comes to 15.5 tonnes to (high-ish) LEO, which by my numbers ought to be a reusable F9 launch.

    Here are the orbital planes and likely launch sites:

    32 planes of 50 sats each @ 53° x 1150 km = 1600 sats (Canaveral only).
    32 planes of 50 sats each @ 53.8° x 1110 km = 1600 sats (Canaveral only).
    8 planes of 50 sats each @ 74° x 1130 km = 400 sats (Vandenberg only).
    8 planes of 75 sats each @ 81° x 1275 km = 600 sats (Vandenberg only).
    6 planes of 75 sats each @ 70° x 1325 km = 450 sats (probably Canaveral?)

    VAFB did 9 launches last year (their record), and are on track to do 10 this year. I suspect that that’s close to their capacity. It’s reasonable to assume that VAFB can accommodate 5 Starlink launches per year, into the 81° and 74° orbits.

    So: 40 launches from VAFB, 25 of which can likely be launched before 2024. That’s 625 birds before the deadline.

    That leaves 1588 birds–64 F9 launches–to be handled by the Eastern Range. If we assume that SpaceX starts launching in April, 2019, that requires 13 Starlink launches a year from CCAFS or KSC.

    If we assume that SpaceX has up to 20 paying customers a year for the Eastern Range, we’re now looking at 33 launches/year out of CCAFS and KSC. ULA launched 8 in 2017. If we assume that that number holds, we’re up to 41 launches/year. Assuming the “drive to 48” succeeds (which, BTW, most likely assumes AFTS is in use), that leaves only 7 launches for BO, which isn’t likely to float their boat once they get going with New Glenn.

    In summary, the Eastern Range isn’t capacity limited yet, but likely will be by 2021 or 2022. That sounds like about the right amount of lead time to get the problem fixed if the stakeholders start working it now.

  • Michael Halpern

    Which could be why they are giving them a high number of projected launches now,

  • Emmet Ford

    My understanding is that the control tower is to be fabricated offsite, possibly at the 1964 World’s Fair New York State Pavilion, and then landed propulsively on its foundation at KSC. No NASA personnel will be permitted to enter a SpaceX control tower until at least seven have been built, and then only if propulsive landings are eventually abandoned in favor of parachute assisted water landings.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The proposed tower does not replace the Hawthorne MCC. Just the small launch CC at CCAFS that SpaceX have out-grown. Think the tower’s main function is to catering to the needs of the launch customers. Since it is not in a USAF facility, easier for launch customer access.

  • Carlton Stephenson

    Link please. Are we talking multiple, self propulsive, mobile control towers? That flight plan from NY to FL along populated shorelines, NASA personnel ban — all seems curious. Maybe I misunderstand your post completely?

  • Chris

    He’s joking about the retro-futurism of the image + the hurdles/dead ends of commercial crew.

  • Carlton Stephenson

    Thanks. He surely got me for not following closely enough.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually that wouldn’t be a bad use for one of the prototype BFRs when it’s retired. The staterooms could be modified into corporate suites to watch launches from.

    It would be a great place to offer to the press covering the first crew launch of the Orion on the SLS. Really put into perspective the NASA way of doing things (4 astronauts crammed into a capsule that lands on water) to the SpaceX way. Luxury suites on a rocket that goes all the way to the Mars surface 🙂

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Boka-Chika is screwed yet again. So much to the partnerships with Texas.

  • Lee

    “Either the Air Force runs the range, or it doesn’t”

    By and large, it doesn’t. Day-to-day operations for both ranges are carried out by private contractors. Significant upgrades to either or both ranges will require SpaceX, BO, and other users to pony up some serious funds for new equipment and expanded numbers of personnel. I suspect this to start happening by 2020.

  • That sounds right, but ultimate decision-making authority rests with USAF, right? That’s a problem, because their priorities and budget don’t necessarily conform to the users’ priorities and budgets.

    I frankly don’t understand all the pieces-parts needed to operate the range, but I can make some educated guesses:

    1) There’s range scheduling and resolving squabbles between users.

    2) There’s liaison work with the FAA and Coast Guard VTS to clear the air and maritime space before a launch.

    3) There’s survey of upper-altitude winds along the launch track.

    4) There’s overland range safety monitoring.

    5) There’s radar coverage of enough of the launch track to ensure that range safety has adequate resolution to monitor the flight and provide manual self-destruct (which should be less important now that AFSS/AFTS is coming online).

    6) I assume that the Range has personnel dedicated to pad operations, and crews capable of making hazardous materials safe or cleaning them up in the event of an accident.

    7) I also assume that the range operates big chunks of the communications network needed for telemetry and vehicle control.

    What am I missing?

    None of these seem particularly onerous. The worst two seem to be scheduling and clearing out the riffraff. I can see how both the FAA and VTS would have major objections to processing and enforcing more NOTAMs (and whatever its maritime equivalent is). Indeed, I suspect that this is ultimately the major bound on range capacity.

    I completely support making the users pay for the radar, comm, and hazmat assets necessary to do their launches, but it seems inefficient to have all this strained through the Air Force for command decisions.

  • Nope, just different missions. BC can’t launch to high-inclination orbits, which is a big chunk of the commercial satellite market. AFAIK, plans for BFR/BFS operations out of BC are unchanged.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    And KSC can launch to high-inclination orbits that are a chunk of the commercial satellite market now? How much of an inclination are we talking about and what are the satellites that KSC can launch but BC can not? I am only aware of the manned program and a very occasional NROL bird (note that even Lacrosse is retrograde).

  • Canaveral can reach about 57° with current range safety criteria. There was a classified shuttle mission that doglegged to 62°, but I’m not sure if that counts (since it probably took a whole bunch of delta-v to do the dogleg). This obviously doesn’t allow commercial polar and sun-sync orbits, but it does allow for things like Starlink constellation, the bulk of whose orbits have an inclination of about 53° .

    The problem with BC is that the only clear ranges go through either the Florida Strait or the Yucatan Channel. If I did the math right, those result in inclinations of 29° and 35° respectively.

  • Lee

    A few months ago one of the Eastern range guys talked about doing polar orbits out of CCAS and KSC to the south via a multi-dog-leg trajectory that would avoid Miami. He specifically mentioned that SX already had the ability to perform such trajectories if approved.

  • That’s what I heard, too. But I don’t know how much extra delta-v it would take, which obviously factors into the payload performance and whether you could recover the core or not.