Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) is located on Merritt Island, Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was previously used by the U.S. Air Force for Titan III and Titan IV launches and to send off the Mars Observer spacecraft and the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn.
On April 26, 2007, private space transportation company SpaceX (formally called Space Exploration Technologies) was granted the use of LC-40 for the next five years by the 45th Space Wing of the U.S. Air Force Space Command.
However, the complex is still under consideration as a backup launch complex for the Ares I and Ares V rockets, which will propel NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and various other components of Project Constellation into orbit. Ares I is the replacement for the Space Shuttle fleet and Project Constellation is the replacement for the Space Transportation System (STS) program.
The Air Force retains the right to allow other companies the use of LC-40. In addition, the military requires SpaceX to make improvements and perform maintenance on the launch complex facility.
SpaceX, which produces orbital rocket launchers, expects to start launching its Falcon 9 series of rockets late in 2008, which will eventually be capable of taking cargo to the International Space Station.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk (who is also known for founding PayPal), is headquartered in El Segundo, California. Its website is http://www.spacex.com. SpaceX officials state that the company’s goal is to drastically lower the cost and dramatically improve the reliability of space launches. It uses partially reusable two-stage kerosene-liquid-oxygen launch vehicles.
SpaceX’s maiden launch was on March 25, 2006, of its Falcon 1 rocket. The vehicle was lost soon after launch. The second Falcon 1 launch was considered a success when it reached outer space, however it did not attain orbital status.
The maiden voyage of Falcon 9 is scheduled for late 2007. The rocket is expected to compete with the Boeing Delta IV and the Lockheed Martin-Boeing (United Launch Alliance) Atlas V rockets. The company also expects to develop a manned commercial space program near the end of this decade.
SpaceX was selected by NASA to provide crew and cargo to the International Space Station. It will develop this program under the name SpaceX Dragon, a ballistic capsule capable of holding seven people or an equivalent combination of people and cargo. Test flights of Dragon are expected to begin between 2008 and 2010.
NASA ends its Shuttle missions in 2010, at which time it will be unable to support mission to the station until the Orion spacecraft is functional. NASA will have to rely on such private companies as SpaceX and government space programs as Russian Federal Space Agency to maintain the Space Station.