SpaceX wants to launch up to 120 times a year from Florida — and competitors aren’t happy about it

SpaceX’s ambitious plans to launch its Starship mega-rocket up to 44 times per year from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center are causing a stir among some of its competitors. Late last month, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance submitted comments calling on regulators to ensure minimal disruptions to other launch providers in the area, with Blue Origin even suggesting limiting Starship operations to particular times — and giving other launch providers a right of first refusal for conflicting launches. 

But SpaceX may have even more ambitious plans for a second launch pad right next door: Space Launch Complex (SLC)-37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS). At a series of public meetings held in March, the public was invited to comment on plans to launch Starship from SLC-37 up to 76 times per year. That would mean SpaceX aims to launch its next-gen rocket up to 120 times per year within a six-mile area on the Florida coast.  

The U.S. Space Force is currently preparing the draft environmental assessment that will be released to the public this winter, and that document will contain SpaceX’s final anticipated launch cadence. A Space Force representative stressed to TechCrunch that launch cadence numbers could change from now until then. Such numbers could be influenced by the pace of Starship’s development in the coming months or even by the number of scrub jay nests discovered during the EA process. Scrub jays, a bird native to Florida, are listed as threatened on the Endangered Species list.

However, as recently as a few weeks ago, SpaceX’s competitors were still using the number 76 as a benchmark for the company’s plans, according to a person familiar with the talks. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.

Scaling in Florida and Texas 

SLC-37 is a historic launch pad at CCSFS, home to NASA’s Saturn rocket in the 1960s and, more recently, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV series rockets. The pad is now inactive after ULA flew its Delta IV Heavy for the final time in April. The Space Force announced in February that it was preparing to kick off what’s known as an environmental impact statement, a sweeping regulatory document that examines the environmental impacts of the proposed activities, regarding Starship launches from that pad. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing a separate impact statement for SpaceX’s Starship launch plans at Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A. Both studies are meant to examine the environmental impacts of Starship launches and landing operations, which will involve the Super Heavy boosters returning to the launch site, similar to how SpaceX’s Falcon rockets operate. 

The Space Force’s environmental impact statement for SLC-37 is also considering an alternative — having SpaceX construct an entirely new launch pad currently designated SLC-50. Either way, there would likely be significant construction, including deluge ponds, fuel tanks, a catch tower — and then upwards of 120 launches per year from both sites combined. 

SpaceX Starship CC Boards English web
Image Credits: U.S. Space Force (opens in a new window)

The two Florida launch pads would join an existing Starship launch tower at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in southeast Texas, as well as a second tower that’s currently under construction at the same location. In the near future, SpaceX could have four operational Starship launch sites. 

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has incredibly ambitious plans for Starship, which he sees as a key enabler for colonizing Mars and “expanding the light of consciousness” through the cosmos. He eventually wants to launch Starship multiple times per day, with each launch delivering hundreds of tons of cargo to low Earth orbit or beyond. The company has a separate goal of beefing up its Starship manufacturing facilities to enable producing one Starship second stage per day. 

Blue Origin, ULA push back

As part of the preparation process, the public is invited to comment on the scope of the plans before a draft environmental impact statement is published. While the public comments on SLC-37 have not yet been released, the comments on pad 39A at Kennedy were — and they included strong statements from Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance on the plans there. Both companies expressed particular concern on the effects such a high flight rate would have on other launch providers with infrastructure at Kennedy and Cape Canaveral.

“Just one Starship launch site is likely to disrupt other launch operations in the area and cause significant environmental impacts, as discussed in detail below. The impacts are certain to be amplified if coming from two launch sites in such close proximity,” ULA said in its comment. 

“For example, SpaceX intends to conduct up to 44 launches per year from LC-39A. If SpaceX aims for a comparable number at SLC-37, that would lead to nearly 100 launches per year—or one every three days or so,” the comment continued. 

Blue Origin, which aims to launch its New Glenn rocket from LC-36 at the Cape Canaveral site, proposed a number of mitigating factors that made it clear it views the launch operations across both sites as a zero-sum game. Those included a suggestion to require SpaceX (or the government) to indemnify third parties for losses caused by Starship operations — including commercial disruptions. 

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