by Douglas Messier
SpaceX would be launching up to 70 times annually from Florida by 2023, including polar orbit launches that are not currently conducted from the Sunshine State.
Elon Musk’s rocket company is also planning to construct a mobile service tower (MST) to support commercial and national security launches from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
The tower would allow for vertical integration of payloads onto SpaceX’s boosters. Currently, payloads are integrated with the boosters in a horizontal position. National security launches require vertical payload integration.
The details are included in a draft environmental assessment (EA) made public by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week. The new EA is required because of the higher launch and booster landing rates, polar orbit flights that will have boosters flying to the south, and physical changes needed at Pad 39A. (Read Draft EA)
The document forecasts a large ramp up in the number of launches SpaceX’s launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center and the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
From 11 launches last year, SpaceX forecasts conducting 38 flights this year. That number would rise to 64 annually in 2021 and 2022 and then to 70 each for the three years that follow. Seventy launches annually would equate one launch roughly every 5 days 5 hours.
The increase in launches will lead to a corresponding rise in the number of reusable first stages that land at Cape Canaveral and on drone ships off shore. The Falcon Heavy uses three first stages; the Falcon 9 uses one first stage.
The document also included a map showing SpaceX offshore booster and fairing recovery areas for polar launches to the south.
“SpaceX intends to apply to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation for new launch and reentry licenses or modifications to existing launch and reentry licenses,” the EA stated.
SpaceX also plans to launch its Starship/Super Heavy booster and spacecraft system from Pad 39A in the future. The system is being developed to take humans and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon and Mars.
“The launch vehicle is comprised of two stages using LOX and liquid methane (LCH4) as propellant,” the document said. “SpaceX intends to eventually launch the Starship/Super Heavy approximately 24 times per year.”
The service tower would require modifications to Pad 39A.
“The MST would consist of a steel trussed tower, a base, and a rail bridge. Four transport wheel assemblies located at the corners of the tower would be constructed and used to move the tower 130 feet from an integration to a launch position. The tower would have 11 floors and would be approximately 284 feet tall,” the EA stated.
The environmental assessment was made public on Thursday for public comment.