Monday, February 19, 2024

SpaceX Moving to Take Over Another Cape Launch Complex

Sometime "No Later Than this summer" United Launch Alliance will launch the last Delta IV Heavy mission from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37).  This is one of the largest launch pads on the Cape - which it needs to be to handle Delta IVs - originally built to handle the Saturn 1 and 1B back in the 1960s.  After eight flights of those rockets, it sat unused until the 1990s when Boeing converted it to handle the Delta IV.  That was before Boeing merged with Lockheed Martin to form ULA and the Delta IV became a ULA vehicle.

An interesting alliance seems to be forming to try to get SpaceX to take over the complex and modify it to launch Starships.  The obvious one is SpaceX themselves; they're in the process of building a second Starship launch facility at Boca Chica. This would give them two launch pads here in Florida; the current one at Pad 39A and SLC-37.  The one you might not expect is that the Department of Defense and the US Air Force apparently want this, too.  

The environmental review for SpaceX's proposal to take over Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral is getting underway now, with three in-person public meetings and one virtual meeting scheduled for March to collect comments from local residents, according to a new website describing the plan.

Then, federal agencies, led by the Department of the Air Force, will develop an environmental impact statement to evaluate how Starship launch and landing operations will affect the land, air, and water around SLC-37, which sits on Space Force property on the Atlantic coastline.

It's worth noting that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a tougher hurdle than the "Environmental Assessment" SpaceX went through to obtain the rights to launch in Texas. It's possible that the EIS could take years to complete.  According to a source at the Orlando Sentinel, republished at

So the EIC is considering three options.

One is to transition Space Launch Complex 37 after it supports the final United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket mission, expected to fly this summer.

The second is to construct a new launch pad called Space Launch Complex 50 that would be located between SLC 40 and SLC 37 on currently undeveloped land.

The final option is to do nothing.

The next steps in the EIS process will be a series of four public meetings around the Merritt Island home of the CCSFS in the cities of Cocoa, Titusville and Port Canaveral along with an online virtual meeting, according to the EIS website. These meetings are already scheduled for March 5-7 and 12.

With the understanding that the EIS could take years to complete, this has to be regarded as something interesting we can't do much about.  We don't - can't - know if or when this could happen, but it's looking increasingly likely we will see the world's most powerful rocket launch from the Cape.  For the first time since Apollo 17's Saturn V in December of 1972. 

This 2014 photo shows a Delta IV Heavy being readied for launch at SLC-37, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  NASA Photo by Kim Shiflett.


  1. What would bureaucracy be without bureaucracy? It's already a launch pad. Why is any of this environmental crap necessary? Plus it's a military base.

    I'm sure the environmental activists will find something to whine about. Or find some new never seen before wildlife that will need protected. They stopped a telescope from being built on a mountain in Hawaii. I guess they hate science.

    1. Watermelons exist to watermelon.
      NEVER forget that.

  2. Well, considering that the original complex used to launch Apollo/Saturn systems was built in the 60's, there could be some really nasty chemicals and substances lurking there. Thus an environmental analysis is a good thing. Asbestos, that stash of benzene, things like that.

    A full EIS?

    Well, again, dismantling the Delta support equipment could also be a bit tricky.

    Though, really, should be a straight shot 'fix this, fix that, what the hell is That? Kill it with fire!!!' thingy.

    Sad that ULA isn't remodeling the pad for their Vulcan systems.

    But, well, SpaceX needs the room. Good on the DOD/Space Force for wanting another Starship pad.

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  4. Would an EIS be required for the Vulcan? Look forward to reports on the meetings. Can't help be feel Starship launch is slipping away.