The first stage of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is at the Mobile Service Towernear Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

A New Starship Launch Pad Could Born at Cape Canaveral

SpaceX's Starship undergoes environmental review with Space Force for potential launches at Cape Canaveral's existing Delta IV facility or a new site

The U.S. Space Force is gearing up to conduct environmental assessments that could pave the way for SpaceX Starship launches from Cape Canaveral, potentially utilizing the existing Delta IV facility or a new site altogether.

The first stage of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is at the Mobile Service Towernear Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky
The first stage of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is at the Mobile Service Towernear Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. Credits: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

A recent announcement on a dedicated website by the Department of the Air Force (which includes the Space Force), reveals plans to initiate an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) concerning Starship launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act necessitates such scrutiny for significant and big actions, such as the establishment of a new launch complex or major changes to an existing one.


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The study and the background

The proposed study aims to anticipate the environmental repercussions of repurposing Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station into a Starship launch facility.

As per the website, “SpaceX would modify, reuse, or demolish the existing SLC-37 infrastructure to support Starship-Super Heavy launch and landing operations.”

Originally constructed in the 1960s for Saturn 1 and 1B rockets, SLC-37 later underwent modifications by Boeing to accomodate Delta IV launches. To date, the launch pad is still active, operated by ULA, but the retirement of the Delta IV is imminent, with a single launch left to execute.

A Copernicus Sentinel-2 image taken on 2021 over Cape Canaveral, in the region known as the Space Coast. Credits: Copernicus Sentinel/ESA
A Copernicus Sentinel-2 image taken on 2021 over Cape Canaveral, in the region known as the Space Coast. Credits: Copernicus Sentinel/ESA

The Department of the Air Force has scheduled three public meetings in Cocoa, Titusville, and Cape Canaveral, Florida, respectively, from March 5 to March 7. An additional virtual meeting is slated for March 12.

Those meetings are the very start of the process, and the purpose is to discuss the scope of the EIS. SpaceX followed that same process back in 2021 for its private launch site down in Starbase, Texas.

The whole process is anticipated to extend over eighteen months. According to the outlined schedule, a draft EIS will be released in December for public feedback. The final EIS, along with the selection of the preferred alternative among the three options, is expected by September 2025, followed by the formal record of decision a month later.


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Alternative plans

SpaceX planned two more alternatives in addition of SLC-37. One alternative under consideration involves the creation of a new launch site, designated SLC-50.

The new launch complex would be positioned between SLC-37 and its adjacent pad, SLC-40, which is currently utilized by SpaceX’s Falcon 9, and recently was upgraded with a new tower to accomodate cargo and crew Dragon missions.

This option is under evaluation alongside a “no action” alternative, where no Starship launch sites are developed at either location (a standard practice for EIS processes). Additional info regarding the infrastructure to support Starship launches at SLC-37, or the proposed SLC-50, are not provided on the website.

Starship Rocket and Super Heavy Booster stacked at SpaceX's Starbase Launch Site. Credits: SpaceX
Starship Rocket and Super Heavy Booster stacked at SpaceX’s Starbase Launch Site. Credits: SpaceX

Furthermore, SpaceX is progressing with the construction of a Starship launch pad at Kennedy Space Center‘s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), adjacent to the existing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy facilities.

Additionally, while environmental reviews were initiated for a proposed Starship launch complex at KSC’s LC-49 in December 2021, the study is currently on hold, and SpaceX seems to not be interested anymore.


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No more spare launch pads

In recent years we saw the rise of a lot of space startups and companies, and many of them have shown interest for a slot in the space coast.

Therefore, back in 2023, the Space Force made a reassignment of its launch pads to new companies. Due to this new plan, SpaceX’s will loose its landing zones (LZ-1 and LZ-2), used for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster landings, which are built on the former SLC-13.

The available land for additional launch sites at Cape Canaveral is scarce. In fact, SpaceX’s expansion plans have focused firstly on its existing private owned Starbase facility in South Texas.

In a January company meeting, Elon Musk disclosed intentions to construct a second launch pad there, emphasizing the need for dual-tower capability to support the anticipated high launch cadence needed to achieve the company’s objectives.


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Edoardo Giammarino

Edoardo Giammarino

Co-Founder & Administrator. Drummer and Red Cross Volunteer, born in 1997. I like analog photography and videomaking. Firmly music-addicted.

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