May 14, 2020

Building the Space Range of the Future

Florida’s historic, 16,000-acre spaceport on the Eastern Seaboard is filling up with companies and partnerships as a new space age unfolds.

Launchpads that sat vacant for years are now stretched so thin that newcomers are referred to NASA’s neighboring Kennedy Space Center. While United Launch Alliance (ULA) assembles one of its Delta IV Heavy rockets at the Cape, Blue Origin’s growing facilities are under construction nearby. Cape Canaveral hosts five companies at its launch facilities, three more than it had a decade ago. Fifteen new companies have asked for launch property on the coast in the past year, compared to three in 2015 and zero in 2010. The Eastern Range in 2020 expects to hold more than three times the number of launches than it saw in 2010.

“Everyone wants to come to Cape Canaveral,” said Tom Eye, the plans and programs chief for the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. “If you look at our little ‘We’re Busy’ chart, there’s two vacant spots.”

The installation’s disappearing real estate is a visible metric of the commercial race to space that is transforming how the Space Force manages launches across the country and is driving a plan to modernize those facilities known as “Range of the Future.”

The Space Force plans to update Cape Canaveral and its sister range at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in terms of both infrastructure and processes over the next decade, clearing the way to accommodate what could be daily launches for everything from manned spaceflight to military and commercial communications and surveillance payloads. Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques and multi-payload launches, the cost of launching hardware into space is plunging, and military-run launch facilities want to shoot systems into orbit as fast as the commercial sector can churn them out.