First reported by Florida Today, economic development agency Space Florida has expressed serious interest in funding the construction of two major space infrastructure projects in Cape Canaveral, a runway for a prospective Boeing spaceplane and a separate landing zone with up to three pads open for vertical rocket landings from companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and others.
KSC reviewing state proposals for new Launch Complex 48, Landing Zone 2: https://t.co/qjoWa0rNoa
— James Dean (@flatoday_jdean) August 6, 2018
SpaceX already operates its duo of rocket landing pads (Landing Zones) designated LZ-1 and LZ-2. Located on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station property, those pads have already supported 11 successful Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rocket landings, beginning with the company’s first-ever Falcon 9 booster recovery (December 2015) and ending more recently with the jaw-dropping mirrored landings of both Falcon Heavy side boosters after the rocket’s inaugural launch.
The exact operational capacity of those SpaceX-built landing zones is not entirely clear, meaning that it’s difficult to know if or when SpaceX would need access to two or even three additional pads. Built out of high-temperature concrete and serviced by a handful of automated fire control water jets, the only visible wear and tear the pads seem to suffer through is the routine destruction of their radar-reflective paint, intended to help Falcons more easily determine the vertical distance to their landing targets and thus accurately throttle and gimbal the one or three Merlin engines used to land.
It’s entirely possible that that radar-reflective coating is landing-critical, but the fact that just one of SpaceX’s two LZs was painted with it for Falcon Heavy’s dual rocket landings indicates that it’s at most a useful crutch. As such, the only thing lost by repeated and high-frequency landings at LZ-1 and LZ-2 would be a coat of aesthetically pleasing but nonfunctional paint. Over time, it’s likely that maintenance and refurbishment would be necessary, but the pads currently do not require any critical refurbishment to the landing areas themselves between Falcon landings.
As such, the only conceivable instance where SpaceX would obviously need three or even four rocket landing pads would be multiple lightweight Falcon Heavy launches just days apart or a Falcon Heavy launch followed within a few days by a light Falcon 9 launch. A need for that capability is almost certainly a year or more away, as 2019 is shaping up to be a slow period for space launch compared to recent years.
SpaceX’s next land-based rocket landing may actually occur on the West Coast, marking the debut of the company’s first Californian rocket landing zone after the late-September launch of the Argentinian SAOCOM-1A Earth observation satellite.
Space Florida is an official wing of the Florida state government tasked specifically with shepherding the region’s truly unique space industry and spaceflight infrastructure with an annual budget averaging between $10 and 20 million. More importantly, the agency has direct access to Florida legislators, allowing it to have some level of access to the entire state’s borrowing powers for the purpose of petitioning for and securing invaluable loans for companies involved in Florida’s space economy or considering joining in.
For prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket recovery fleet check out our brand new LaunchPad and LandingZone newsletters!