SpaceX's competitors are crying foul over Starship launch plans


SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rockets from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The company plans to develop Starship launch infrastructure at pad 39A and pad 37. United Launch Alliance flies Vulcan and Atlas V rockets from pad 41, and Blue Origin will set up its New Glenn rocket at pad 36.
in great shape , SpaceX launches Falcon 9 rockets from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The company plans to develop Starship launch infrastructure at pad 39A and pad 37. United Launch Alliance flies Vulcan and Atlas V rockets from pad 41, and Blue Origin will set up its New Glenn rocket at pad 36.

NASA (labeled by Ars Technica)

United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin are concerned about SpaceX's plans to launch its huge Starship rocket from Florida.

In documents submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration last month, ULA and Blue Origin raised concerns about the impact of Starship launch operations on their activities on Florida's Space Coast. Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin urged the federal government to limit the number of Starship launches and landings, test-firings and other operations and consider restricting SpaceX's activities to specific times.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk called Blue Origin's application to the FAA a “clearly fraudulent response. It's not good for them to try (for a third time) to legally impede SpaceX's progress.” We'll get to that in a bit.

The FAA and SpaceX are preparing an environmental impact statement for the launch and landing of the Super Heavy booster and Starship rocket at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), while the US Space Force is working with SpaceX on a similar environmental review for Starship flights from Space Launch Complex 37 at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS).

These reviews likely won't be completed until late 2025, and only then will SpaceX be allowed to launch Starships from Florida. SpaceX will also have to build launch infrastructure at both sites, which could take a few years. This is already underway at Launch Complex 39A.

Big rocket with a big footprint

During the environmental review process, the FAA should consider how regular flights of the reusable Starship — 120 launches per year, according to TechCrunch — would affect other launch providers operating at Cape Canaveral, ULA and Blue Origin said. SpaceX's final proposed launch cadence from each site will be part of a draft environmental assessment released for public comment later this year.

SpaceX plans to launch Starlink satellites, customer payloads and missions to support NASA's Artemis lunar landing from a launch pad in Florida. Getting the launch pad ready and operational in Florida is one of several hurdles facing SpaceX's program, which aims to develop a human-rated lunar lander version of Starship, as well as demonstrate orbital refueling.

“Starship-Super Heavy launches and landings are expected to have a greater environmental impact than any other launch system currently operating at KSC or CCSFS,” Blue Origin wrote. In its current configuration, Starship is the most powerful rocket in history, and SpaceX is developing a larger version, 492 feet (150 meters) long, with about 15 million pounds (6,700 metric tons) of propellant. This larger version would fly from Cape Canaveral.

“This is a very, very large rocket, and getting bigger,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno wrote in a post on X. “Fueling that amount of propellant requires an evacuation zone that includes other people's facilities. One (weekly) launch causes harmful sound levels everywhere in the city. The Cape is not for monopolies.”

SpaceX's Starship rocket launches from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on November 18, 2023, during its second test flight.
in great shape , SpaceX's Starship rocket launches from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, on November 18, 2023, during its second test flight.

At SpaceX's privately owned Starbase launch site in South Texas, the evacuation zone is set at 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) when Starship and Super Heavy are filled with methane and liquid oxygen propellants. During an actual launch, the checkpoint is more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) behind the pad.

“If other providers are forced to vacate their facilities when a vehicle is out of fuel, the Cape’s overall launch capacity would be reduced,” Bruno wrote.

We don't yet know the radius of the keep-out zone for Starship operations in Florida, but Blue Origin wrote that the impact of Starship activities in Florida “could be even greater than Starbase,” possibly due to the larger rockets SpaceX plans to launch from Cape Canaveral. If that's the case, neighboring launch pads would need to be vacated during Starship operations.

Based on Cape Canaveral's geographical location, ULA appears to have more concerns. Its launch pad for Vulcan and Atlas V rockets is located less than 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). ULA said SpaceX's proposal for up to 44 launches from LC-39A would result in “substantial airspace and ground closures, acoustic impacts to nearby operations, and potentially debris, particulate matter and property damage.”

ULA said these threats could prevent it from fulfilling contracts to launch critical national security satellites for the US military.

“This is the largest rocket ever built, so an accident could cause serious or even catastrophic damage, while normal launch operations would have a cumulative impact on structures, launch vehicle hardware and other critical launch support equipment,” ULA said.

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