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U.S. Air Force, SpaceX Strike Deal for Cape Canaveral Launches

U.S. Air Force, SpaceX Strike Deal for Cape Canaveral Launches
A SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket launches on the firm's second test flight on March 20, 2007. (Image credit: SpaceX.)

WASHINGTON- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has been granted a five-year licenseto launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Station, the U.S. Air Force SpaceCommand announced April 26.

Accordingto the release, the Air Force Space Command's 45th Space Wing will grant alicense to SpaceX to operate on Space Launch Complex 40, which was previouslyused for Titan 4 launches.

"The SpaceXlicense agreement is a good news story for the Air Force and nation," U.S. AirForce Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, commander of Air Force Space Command, said in astatement. "These types of agreements encourage entrepreneurial spaceachievement which can benefit both the [Department of Defense] and commercialspace industries."

"We arevery appreciative of the support of the Air Force and Gen. Chilton in giving uslaunch pad 40," SpaceX President Elon Musk said in an April 26 telephoneinterview. "It was important for us to get launch pad 40 because that allows usto do both the Falcon 9 and Falcon 9- heavy from the Cape. It was really theonly launch pad that could support our Falcon 9 heavy activities."

To date,SpaceX has been operating from a privateisland launch complex in the Pacific Ocean's Kwajalein Atoll, conductingtwodemonstration flights of its smaller Falcon 1 rocket. Both missions failedto reach orbit, but SpaceX was sufficiently pleased with the rocket'sperformance during its March flight that it has declared the rocket operationaland is pressing ahead with its plans for the launch of a Pentagon satellitethis fall.

Under theterms of the license, the Air Force retained the rights to let entities besidesSpaceX use the launch complex, but Musk said he does not expect any competitionfor use of the pad in the next five years. "Who else expects to build aheavy-lift launcher in that timeframe?" he said.

The licenseagreement requires SpaceX to pay for "all improvements, construction, andmaintenance associated with their operations at SLC-40," the release said,referring to Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape, which had been previouslyused for Titan 3 and Titan 4 launches.

Musk saidSpaceX expects to spend "several tens of millions of dollars" getting the padready for the Falcon 9's planned late 2008 debut. That launch is beingconducted, Musk said, for a classified U.S. government payload.

Once thelaunch complex renovations are completed, Musk said the pad will be able tohandle "the full range of commercial and government payloads."

Musk saidall six Falcon 9 launches SpaceX has manifested through 2010 will be flown fromthe Cape, including a launch for Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace and threeflights the company plans to conduct for NASA to demonstrate therocket's ability to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

For now, atleast, Musk said SpaceX has no plans to launch Falcon 1 from the Cape and wouldcontinue to operate that vehicle from Kwajalien and eventually California'sVandenberg Air Force Base.

Meanwhile,Musk said SpaceX tentatively is shooting for October to conduct its next Falcon1 launch, a Pentagon-funded mission to deliver the experimental TacSat-1 toorbit.

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Brian Berger

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.