Defense Act Calls for Upgrades to Eastern & Western Launch Ranges

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandates the Department of Defense to undertaken a program to modernize the infrastructure and improve support services on the Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California. The measure, passed by Congress, awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

“The program….shall include investments to improve operations at the Eastern and Western Ranges that may benefit all users, to enhance the overall capabilities of ranges, to improve safety, and  to reduce the long-term costs of operations and maintenance,” the bill reads.

The act also includes measures to improve processes across both ranges to “minimize the burden on launch providers” and “improvements in transparency, flexibility, and, responsiveness for launch scheduling.”

The NDAA allows the DOD to consult with current and anticipated users of the two ranges and to pursue partnerships if appropriate. The DOD is given 120 days after enactment of the act to submit a report on planned improvements to congressional defense committees.

The commanders of the U.S. Air Force space wings that run the ranges have said they need more funding to maintain and upgrade aging infrastructure as they cope with a surge in commercial launches. The failure of Congress to pass budgets in time for the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 and automatic budgets mandated under sequestration have also hindered long-term planning, the commanders said.

The Eastern Range, which handles launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, was recently closed for two weeks to tackle 85 high-priority maintenance projects. The western range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California uses radar systems that were built in the 1950’s.

A Tale of 2 Launch Ranges: The Best & Worst of Times

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

America’s Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California are struggling to keep up with increasing demand from the nation’s booming commercial launch industry while dealing with budget uncertainties in Washington, U.S. Air Force officials said last week.

The Eastern Range has been dealing with a surge of flights this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX has increased its launch cadence. Elon Musk’s company and rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched 18 times from Florida thus far, with two more SpaceX flights on the schedule for later this month.

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Spaceport Camden Adds General to Steering Committee

WOODBINE, Ga., Oct. 16, 2017 (Spaceport Camden PR) — Major General Robert S. Dickman, the former commander of the 45 Space Wing and Director of the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral, FL is joining the Spaceport Camden Steering Committee.

An executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and corresponding member of the International Academy of Astronautics, General Dickman also served as vice commander of what is now the 50th Space Wing at Schriever AFB, CO, responsible for operating all Air Force on-orbit satellite systems; Director of Air Force Space Systems in the Pentagon; the first Department of Defense Space Architect; the senior military officer at the National Reconnaissance Office and the Deputy for Military Space in the office of the Undersecretary of the Air Force.

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SpaceX Pad Explosion Endangered NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

“No sooner had we accomplished the securing of the pumps when I was approached by another one of our range users who explained they were losing pressure on the chillers at a neighboring launch complex. Without those chillers the spacecraft for the next launch would be lost. [Emphasis added] Needless to say at this point I had to reestablish our priorities and get a team working on a way to get our IRT into Space Launch Complex 41 to allow access for technicians to enter in order to make the necessary repairs.”

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx was sitting on top of an ULA Atlas V on Space Launch Complex 41. Read the full story below.

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USAF Welcomes Blue Origin to Cape Canaveral

Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)
Brig. Gen. Steven Garland, 14th Air Force vice commander, left, provides remarks at a Blue Origin media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept 15, 2015. (Credit: USAF/Matthew Jurgens)

by 1st Lt. Alicia Premo
USAF Public Affairs

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., September 16, 2015 — The 45th Space Wing expanded commercial space launch operations by welcoming Blue Origin to the Eastern Range during a media event held at Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Sept. 15, 2015.
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USAF Signs Agreement for SpaceX Landing Pad at Cape Canaveral

Proposed SpaceX landing facility (Credit: Gator Engineering & Aquifer Restoration, Inc.)
Planned SpaceX landing facility (Credit: Gator Engineering & Aquifer Restoration, Inc.)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Feb. 10, 2015 (USAF PR)  — Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno, commander, 45th Space Wing, recently signed a five-year leasing agreement with SpaceX that will allow for the creation of the first-ever “Landing Pad” at Launch Complex 13 at historic Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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