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SpaceX Drives Sharp Increase in Projected Launches at Cape

“With fewer resources, it’s time to change the way we do things. We cannot continue to throw money at our problems,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno said. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Matthew Jurgens

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The busiest U.S. spaceport is planning to support up to 21 rocket launches in 2014, a 50 percent increase from 2013, the commander of the 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., said Jan. 14. The planned uptick in activity comes as the Air Force contends with personnel and financial cutbacks at the facility. 

“With fewer resources, it’s time to change the way we do things. We cannot continue to throw money at our problems,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Nina Armagno said during a meeting of the National Space Club’s Florida Committee.

Most of the projected boost in the Cape’s launch business is due to Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which is ramping up its commercial satellite launching services. SpaceX, which launched the Thaicom-6 commercial satellite from the facility Jan. 6., has reservations for an additional nine launches, with an option for a 10th, according to the Air Force. 

But whether SpaceX will be able to carry out that many launches remains to be seen — the company in previous years has fallen short of its launch projections. Customers on SpaceX’s 2014 Cape Canaveral manifest include satellite operators Orbcomm and Asiasat, NASA — SpaceX is scheduled to launch the first of three space station resupply missions Feb. 22 — and the Air Force. 

U.S. government launch services provider United Launch Alliance, meanwhile, has 10 missions planned, four of its Delta 4 rocket and six of the Atlas 5. The first Atlas 5 is slated to launch a NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite Jan. 24. 

The increase in commercial activity at the Cape is not expected to affect the military’s overall launch budget because SpaceX reimburses the Air Force for all support costs, Armagno said. But the Air Force is nonetheless looking at making changes to increase its operational efficiency. 

“We need to think outside the box and to find new efficient ways of doing business,” Gen. Armagno said. “We’re looking into our own processes, infrastructure, equipment and even our overall culture to see where we can make improvements.”

Article Comments

There is no indication here of consideration of the main cultural change that might be best considered - that of getting the USAF out of the range 'business' totally. That is not an inherently military function. In fact, just as the safety of the airspace is an FAA function, one could argue that the FAA, who already regulates commercial rocket launches, might be the best long-term alternative for range operations. Either that, or possibly setting up a private corporation. Either one is likely to be more responsive to launch demand needs than the military, since it is not one of their core functions and will never rise to be such.

This is not correct. Just like military airports control the airspace around them, military ranges control their airspace. We currently do not have any purely commercial launch pads. They are all located either next to or within military ranges. In these instances it only makes sense to not duplicate facilities.

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