Kennedy’s Newest Launch Complex Ready to Serve Smaller Class of Rockets
Launch Complex 48 expands the scope of the agency’s premier multi-user spaceport by creating a dedicated launch site to accommodate launchers generating 500,000 pounds of thrust or less. Complex 48’s “clean pad” design and basic infrastructure offer flexibility for small-class vehicle customers whose rockets have varying needs.
“Launch Complex 48 fills a need for new, low-cost launch systems with very fast turnaround cycles,” said Keith Britton, a senior project manager in Kennedy’s engineering directorate. “The site was built as a ‘blue-sky’ concept – companies can come in and work as they please.” The 10-acre complex is located about a mile south of Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A, a relatively isolated area where activities are less likely to disrupt operations at other launch sites. The concrete pad measures 42 by 54 feet and is 4 feet thick. The site offers access from Cape Road, the main roadway connecting the oceanside launch complexes. It includes the pad itself, an area where customers may stage fuel tankers or other commodities, and a basin to capture sound suppression water, if needed.
“This complex creates a significant savings for companies,” said Tom Engler, director of Kennedy Center Planning and Development. “They are looking for that clean pad concept, not having to develop the infrastructure we have developed.” The site’s flexibility also means multiple commercial launch service providers and commercial research and development efforts can conduct testing and launch operations. Each customer can truck in the power, water, support equipment, and communications resources their vehicle requires, then depart with it, leaving behind a clear pad for the next user. “Other launch pads are unique pads for unique rockets,” Britton said. “Complex 48 is different – it allows any commercial provider to have a dedicated space. The infrastructure is there for them to launch at a single point, and it offers a huge decrease in turnaround time.” The project was created in 2017, and the design was completed in May 2019. Construction began in November 2019 but was delayed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Work resumed in June, and construction was completed in October. “This is the first truly new launch pad built at Kennedy since the 1960s,” Britton said. Companies are getting ready to take advantage of this new capability. “A number of folks have come to us about Launch Complex 48 who aren’t in a position to use it just yet, but are getting close,” Engler said. “We’re continuing those discussions. My expectation is that during the 2021 timeframe, we will start to see companies launch from 48.”