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The Spaceport Company Demonstrates Launches From Floating Platform

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 24, 2023
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The Spaceport Company Demonstrates Launches From Floating Platform
A sounding rocket launches from a floating platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Image credit: The Spaceport Company.

The Spaceport Company announced that it launched four sounding rockets from a floating platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, marking the first time commercial boosters have been launched from US territorial waters.

“The offshore spaceport demonstration successfully tested all the procedures necessary to conduct an orbital-class launch: regulatory approvals from the FAA and US Coast Guard, scheduling, control of public access, range surveillance, hazard clearance, airspace integration, anomaly response, and remote launch vehicle ignition at sea,” the company said in a press release shared with Parabolic Arc.

“The demonstration was conducted on-schedule and within budget, proving the potential for offshore spaceports to ease congestion at existing launch ranges and expedite delivery of satellites to orbit,” the release continued.

US spaceports have become increasingly congested as the number of launches has increased in recent years. There were 78 launch attempts from six US spaceports in 2022, and US spaceports have already hosted 39 launches through May 22 of this year. The Spaceport Company’s goal is to address that congestion by offering additional launch venues.

“This demonstration provided numerous lessons which will be incorporated into our next project: building a sea-based spaceport capable of orbital operations,” The Spaceport Company CEO and Founder Tom Marotta said in a press release. “We are working towards offering the U.S.’s first truly commercial spaceport, which can best support the rapidly growing commercial launch industry and alleviate the burdens on government ranges.”

Marotta said in a LinkedIn post that the four launches used two different configurations.

Evolution Space, a startup based in Mojave, California, was brought in as a propulsion provider for the tests, company spokesman Aaron Tarnowski said.

“As this was a test of The Spaceport Company’s mobile floating spaceport prototype and procedure validation, the altitude clearance was set to 60,000 ft, and all rockets performed within those parameters,” he said in an email to Parabolic Arc.

The Spaceport Company plans to operate the floating launch platform in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, Tarnowski said. The platform will host suborbital launches as well as boosters capable of placing up to 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) into low Earth orbit, he added.

Evolution Space's Gold Chain Cowboy launch
The Gold Chain Cowboy rocket is launched on April 22, 2023. Image credit: Evolution Space.

Evolution Space CEO and Founder Steve Heller said his company was pleased with the results.

“We’re proud and grateful to be involved in what The Spaceport Company is doing. Making this type of new space innovation and technology testing possible is a core part of our mission at Evolution Space,” Heller said in a press release.

Evolution Space conducted the maiden launch of the Gold Chain Cowboy rocket on April 22 from the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) test range in the Mojave Desert. The company said the solid-fuel rocket reached an altitude of 124.5 kilometers (77.36 miles) and a top speed of Mach 5.2.

Evolution Space became the 9th privately-funded American company to reach space that day by passing the Karman line, which is the internationally recognized boundary of space at 100 km (62.1 miles). The company aims to provide affordable flights to suborbital space for researchers.

China has used a converted barge to launch four Long March 11H rockets from the Yellow and East China Seas since 2019. China has also conducted a dozen Long March 11 launches from land-based spaceports.

South Korea has launched its solid-fuel space projectile on suborbital flight tests from a sea-based platform. The booster is intended to launch small satellites into Earth orbit.

A multinational company named Sea Launch composed of US, Russian, Ukrainian, and Norwegian partners conducted 36 launches of Zenit boosters from a platform towed to the equator between 1999 and 2014.

Sea Launch used a two-stage Zenit booster built by SDO Yuzhnoye/PO Yuzhmash of Ukraine topped with an upper stage built by Energia to launch geosynchronous communications satellites. Boeing provided systems integration, payload fairings, and management services. Aker Solutions of Norway provided the launch platform and command ship.

Sea Launch compiled a record of 32 successes, three failures, and one partial failure. The company ceased operations in 2014 after Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine ruptured relations between the two countries.

Correction (May 24, 2023): This article originally stated that Evolution Space provided subscale sounding rockets for the test. In fact, the company was brought in only as an expert propulsion provider. A company spokesperson provided the following statement: “While Evolution Space does provide both propulsion and launch services, for this engagement specifically, we only provided the propulsion. For full context, the sub-scale airframes were initially developed internally at The Spaceport Company by bringing in Rick Maschek, an independent experienced small rocket builder. To further ensure a successful launch, Evolution Space was then brought in as an expert propulsion provider.” Parabolic Arc regrets the error.

2 responses to “The Spaceport Company Demonstrates Launches From Floating Platform”

  1. Thomas Matula says:

    The U.S. Navy used to do this routinely from the U.S.S. Norton Sound in the 1950’s.
    The Italians launched rockets 27 times between 1967 and 1988 from a platform off the coast of Kenya, both orbital and suborbital flights. Nice to see someone else doing it.

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