Private companies keep coming, expanding 21st century space port
SpaceX, Blue Origin, Firefly Aerospace compete for missions to moon, beyond
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – As NASA continues to reveal more details about its Artemis program with plans to return humans to the moon as soon as 2024, the agency is also quick to credit its many commercial partnerships with revamping the excitement about space exploration.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was 5 years old when Apollo 11 astronauts reached the moon July 16, 1969. Now, at 55, the world’s richest man and Amazon founder is constructing his own launch pad to get to the moon.
Bezos spoke about Apollo 11 earlier this month at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Massachusetts.
“It had a huge impact on me. I remember I could tell how excited all the grownups around me were," Bezos said.
The billionaire has the concept of not just launching mega rockets from Cape Canaveral, but also building them on the Space Coast. Blue Origin’s rocket factory outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island is building its reusable, nearly 300-foot-tall rockets called New Glenn.
A few miles from the rocket factory, Blue Origin is renovating Launch Complex 36 where it will launch New Glenn starting in 2021.
“We’ve got so many launch pads out there at the Cape, some that are still not being used, and one-by-one, we’re starting to see them come back to life," said Derrol Nail, NASA public affairs officer.
It’s also an exciting new era in aerospace for the Air Force and Port Canaveral.
This month, the rocket booster powering NASA’s key Orion abort test came from the Air Force’s stockpile of decommissioned Cold War-era missiles.
As large crowds watched the launch at the Port, guests once again could also see a rocket in the Port Canaveral channel.
Reminiscent of the Space Shuttle boosters being towed back to the Cape, SpaceX recovery operations are happening just across from the Cove waterfront district.
“When you think about the scope of what we’re doing -- going to the Moon and then on to Mars -- it’s such an immense and expensive effort that we need the partnerships of other countries and other commercial partners in order to pull this off," Nail said.
Meanwhile, other spaceflight companies want to cash in on the market for small satellites in low-Earth orbit.
Space startup Firefly Aerospace could start launching from its Space Launch Complex 20 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the next two years.
Down the road, Relativity Space is renovating Launch Complex 16 to begin launching its fully 3D-printed rocket Terran 1 as soon as the end of next year.
Also utilizing 3D printers is Rocket Crafters, a company testing its 3D printed rockets on the same road in Cocoa where SpaceX is building a test version of its interplanetary spacecraft Starship.
Inside the Rocket Crafters facility, even the rocket fuel is 3D printed.
Rocket Crafters Director Sean Mirsky believes the technology will help revolutionize space access.
“Our engineers will sit here and create a brand new fuel design in an afternoon, print it out the next day and we can test it the same week," Mirsky said.
The new companies arriving to Florida’s space port mean more jobs and in turn a better economy for Brevard County, which seems a world away from the first years after the end of the space shuttle program.
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