Cape Canaveral spaceport ready for future shuttle-like launches

Runway certified by FAA for use

Space Shuttle Endeavour takes off over the Shuttle Landing Facility mounted atop NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. In the distance is Launch Pad 39A. The 2011 flight was the last ferry flight of the Space Shuttle Program. (Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The Federal Aviation Administration recently issued a license to Space Florida that would allow commercial launch companies to use the Space Shuttle Landing Facility at Cape Canaveral for plane-style launches.

Space Florida, Florida's spaceport authority, announced Thursday that the FAA Office of Commercial Space issued a Launch Site Operated License for launch operations at the former space shuttle landing site.

Space Florida manages the 15,000-feet-long runway, one of the longest in the world, as part of a 30-year agreement with NASA.

The runway could be utilized by spacecraft such as Virgin Orbit's Launcher One. The rocket is strapped to the belly of an airplane called Cosmic Girl and is released after takeoff. Northrop Grumman's Pegasus XL, which requires a similar takeoff and landing procedure, Virgin Galactic Spaceship 2 and Vulcan Systems' Stratolaunch will also be able to utilize the runway, according to Space Florida.

Sierra Nevada Space Corporation plans to land its mini space shuttle Dream Chaser on the runway after delivering supplies to the International Space Station, a company spokesperson confirmed. The Dream Chaser was awarded a NASA contract to deliver and return six cargo missions to the space station beginning next year.

Pegasus rocket beneath carrier aircraft. Image courtesy of Florida Today.

Space Florida officials said the new license has been in the works since February 2018 and required extensive review. The license is specifically for launches, but Space Florida is working to secure a similar FAA license for landings.

After the shuttle program ended in 2011, the landing facility had been used for automotive tests, spacecraft delivery to the cape and other rocket part deliveries to Florida by plane.The Genovation Extreme Electric Z06 Corvette broke the land speed record at 205.6 mph in 2016 on the historic runway.

"One of the most famous runways in the world is now one step closer to becoming Florida’s next generation commercial spaceport,” Space Florida Senior Vice President and General Manager Jim Kuzma said. “We look forward to the new capabilities and customers that this Launch Site Operator License will draw to the state.”

Space Florida has plans to rename the landing strip and facility.

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