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Space Force grants launch facilities to four private companies

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In an announcement that could signal the beginning of a major boost to Florida’s economy, the US Space Force recently awarded the use of several launch complexes deemed “excess launch property” to four commercial launch service providers. ABL Space Systems, Stoke Space, Phantom Space, and Florida-based Vaya Space were all awarded the use of launch complexes at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Each company is engaged in the design and production of small-class launch vehicles and components.

The awards are part of the Space Force’s new Launch Pad Allocation Strategy (LPAS). According to the announcement, the objective of LPAS is to maximize opportunities for commercial launch partners, as well as to maximize the launch capability of the Eastern Range, which includes the entire Cape Canaveral complex.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy, who leads the Space Force initiative, said the goal is to give launch providers a chance to showcase their capability and to prove whether it’s viable. “Anyone that has a near-term launch capability, we want to assign them a launch pad, and then we’ll see how they do over the next few years. If they succeed, great. If not, then we’ll clean that up, and we’ll reallocate to someone else.” The Space Force said that further allocations for medium, heavy, and super heavy launch vehicles might occur in the future.

The announcement is important because it signals the willingness of the United States government to continue to invest resources in commercial space flight development. Experience with private companies like SpaceX has shown that many of the country’s strategic space objectives can be accomplished faster and with far less expense through the use of public-private partnerships. Additionally, the country benefits from the scientific, technological, and medical advances made through commercial space flight development and research. A statement issued by Space Launch Delta 45, which oversees the Eastern Range complexes, noted, “Offering excess launch property to commercial launch service providers fosters development of new space launch systems and helps to ensure a strong space launch industrial base for the nation.”

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The Eastern Range is already the world’s busiest launch hub and has seen 92 launches this year. That number represents an increase from 57 in 2022 and 13 in 2021. There are currently four active launch complexes being utilized by NASA, United Launch Alliance, and Space X. Additional complexes are reserved for future missions and partners such as Relativity Space, Blue Origin, and Moon Express. Over thirty launch complexes were originally built, several of which were abandoned after their original use and have fallen into disrepair. Some of those complexes are of historical significance, such as Pad 34, the site of the 1967 Apollo 1 fire that killed three US astronauts.

ABL Space Systems, whose RS1 rocket is designed for small launch missions, is one of four companies to access excess launch capacity from the U.S. Space Force. (Photo Credit: ABL Space Systems).

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