WASHINGTON – A decade ago, the main launch pads at Cape Canaveral Space Station and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida flew only three or four missions a year. Now, after a record 31 launches in 2021, they expect to host 67 this year, or almost one every five days.

“It’s fascinating because when I give the numbers, people just don’t believe it – especially the old people,” says Brig. General Stephen Purdy, Executive Director of the Space Forces for Access to Space and Commander of the Space Launch Delta 45, which is responsible for the Eastern Range, where Kennedy and Cape Canaveral are located.

Not only the number of launches has increased, but also the number of suppliers. Purdy told C4ISRNET in an interview on April 4 that while the service will traditionally include one new launch vehicle each decade, it expects to launch seven new rockets this year alone. He estimates that if all of these companies achieve their goals, the Eastern Range could maintain an annual launch rate of about 300 missions over several years.

The West Coast space launch center at Vandenberg Space Station in California is growing more modestly, with Purdy predicting that his manifesto will increase from about five or six launches a year to 50 in the coming years.

This explosion of scope activity requires Purdy and his team to rethink the way they run the launch site, adopting automated safety systems, implementing new launch planning processes and considering legislative proposals that could allow the Space Forces to manage their launch ranges as airports.

Purdy said the service has made progress over the past year in developing a roadmap for these changes, using a 2019 initiative called “Scope of the Future” as its basis. The effort is aimed at implementing strategic changes in the space forces training grounds in four main areas: architecture, infrastructure, politics, operations. The service recently added a fifth focus on transforming its business model.

“I would say that in the last year we have really matured into actually articulating these things and moving the ball forward,” Purdy said.

Chief of Space Operations General John Raymond told the House Armed Services Committee during a budget hearing on April 27 that the service is set to present a congressional-approved report on the initiative next month, which will include proposed legislative changes and long-term infrastructure needs.

One of the more well-known initiatives of the Space Forces “Scope of the Future” and an area in which some progress is being made is flight safety. The service requires all launch providers to integrate a new automated flight safety system by 2025. AFSS uses an internal navigation system to track the path of the missile during launch and, if necessary, self-destruct. Because it is automated, it relies on fewer ground-based radars and personnel, allowing the range to streamline its launch support.

To date, two companies – SpaceX and Vox Space – have moved to AFSS.

Another big effort, Purdy said, is to develop a runway for landfills that work more like airports – or in this case a spaceport. This means moving to a mindset where launch pads are like airport terminals, launch vehicles are airlines with paying customers, and the range and military bases that operate them are like airports providing a range of services from which companies they can draw on their needs.

Moving to this model, Purdy said, will take some time and will require a lot of help from Congress. For example, under the construction of the spaceport, the service will charge companies for things like utilities and use these funds to reinvest in infrastructure. However, this is not allowed under current law.

“We can accept funds in direct quality,” Purdy said. “What we can’t do is charge them for any overheads. We cannot charge them as if we were a port or an airport administration. So we want to be able to get to that point. “

The Office outlines some of these legislative hurdles as part of its Scope of the Future report and has begun early work with the Federal Aviation Administration on a national spaceport strategy that will further explore these needs, Purdy said.

“It’s a difficult question because it’s something new in our world,” he said. “But it’s kind of the last big domino so you can cross that threshold in port authority concepts.”

Space force leaders say Congress has been receptive to these proposals and to efforts to broaden the future. Lt. Gen. Michael Gutline, head of space systems command, told a C4ISRNET conference on April 20 that the service “works very closely with Hill to achieve that vision.”

Courtney Alban is a C4ISRNET reporter for space and new technologies. Previously, it covered the US Air Force and the US Space Force.


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