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SpaceX Appetite for U.S. Launch Sites Grows

Falcon 9 Heavy. Credit: SpaceX artist's concept.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. —  Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is awaiting word from NASA about whether it can take over one of the space shuttle’s launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center here. But even if its proposal is accepted, bringing its current U.S. launch complex tally to three, the company will still pursue another site, most likely in Texas, for its growing commercial business.

“Each of the pads has its own niche and we have plenty of business to fill each pad,” said Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut who now oversees SpaceX’s commercial crew programs.

NASA is evaluating at least two proposals for Launch Pad 39A, an Apollo-era complex that was revamped for the now-retired space shuttle program.

In addition to SpaceX, privately owned Blue Origin has said it would like to lease the complex on a non-exclusive basis.

Reisman said SpaceX wants the pad whether or not it wins the next and final round of NASA’s commercial crew development program. The company is competing against Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp., both of which plan to fly their spacecraft on United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 rockets.

ULA said it did not bid for the shuttle’s launch pad.

Reisman said SpaceX wants to use Launch Complex 39A’s access tower, escape system and bunker for launching people, saving the time and cost of upgrading its existing Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch pad, located just south of NASA’s spaceport, for crewed missions.

The company also would fly its planned Falcon Heavy rockets, in addition to Falcon 9s, from the Kennedy Space Center, Reisman added.

“We want to start using it real fast,” he said.

NASA is looking for a commercial partner to take over pad 39A by Oct. 1, documents posted on the agency’s procurement website show.

SpaceX meanwhile is continuing to assess options for what would be a fourth launch site for its commercial customers. It specifically wants a site that would be licensed and overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, rather than the U.S. military or NASA.

An environmental assessment of site in  Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville, Texas, is under way.

Another site in Florida, as well as sites in Georgia and Puerto Rico reportedly are still under consideration.

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