WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force will allocate launch pads at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to four commercial launch companies as part of a broader effort to use excess range capacity to support the burgeoning market.
Space Launch Delta 45, the unit that oversees operations at the Florida station, announced March 7 it assigned launch pads to ABL Space Systems, Stoke Space, Phantom Space and Vaya Space as part of its launch pad allocation strategy.
“Offering excess launch property to [commercial launch service providers] fosters development of new space launch systems and helps to ensure a strong space launch industrial base for the nation,” the unit said in a statement.
The announcement comes as the Space Force sees growing demand at the Eastern Range, which supports civil, commercial and national security launch missions. The complex is the world’s busiest launch hub and is on track to host 92 launches this year, an increase from 57 in 2022 and 13 in 2021.
The service is eyeing similar growth at its West Coast range, located at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, though at a smaller scale. The range, which hosted 11 launches in 2021, is poised to execute 42 this year.
In light of this growing demand, the Space Force has worked to accommodate as many launch providers as possible on both of its major ranges. Over the last year it evaluated requests from companies, and plans to announce additional partnerships in the coming months.
Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy, who leads the service’s launch enterprise, said the goal is to give launch providers a chance to showcase their capability and to prove whether it’s viable.
“How can we cram them all in? That is literally our strategy — to cram them all in,” Purdy said at a space industry day event in Los Angeles last October hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. “Anyone that has a near-term launch capability, we want to assign them a launch pad and then we’ll see how they do over the next few years. If they succeed, great. If not, then we’ll clean that up and we’ll reallocate to someone else.”
The companies selected in the first round of allocations all develop small launch vehicles, which can lift up to 4,400 pounds. Future phases of the strategy will focus on larger classes of rockets, according to Space Launch Delta 45.
The Space Force isn’t allowed to collect user fees from the companies under existing laws, which means the providers will only pay for their direct costs, which includes utilities. The service is in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration and other stakeholders to develop a business model that would allow it to operate its ranges more like airports, where users would fund infrastructure and other support services.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.