This past holiday season has been a vibrant and busy one on the Space Coast.
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) successfully launched on Nov. 18 for its rendezvous with the Red Planet. Launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the spacecraft will explore Mars atmosphere, climate history and potential habitability. It will take MAVEN 10 months to reach Mars orbit and then will begin its year-long research mission. “NASA’s focus is on exploration beyond earth and eventually putting boots down on Planet Mars,” says Robert Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center. He views MAVEN as a precursor to being able to send humans to the Red Planet.
SpaceX Marks the Spot
On Dec. 3, after two scrubbed launch attempts, SpaceX’s upgraded Falcon 9 rocket launched into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40. Carrying the rocket’s first commercial satellite for Luxembourg-based SES, the SES-8 (telecommunication satellite) weighed 6,918 pounds and launched 22,000 miles up into geostationary orbit. The satellite will operate at 95 degrees east and deliver television broadcasts to India and Southeast Asia. The commercial satellite industry has certainly taken notice and the Hawthorne, Calif., company is well positioned in the commercial space race.
Iconic Launch Pad 39A
In another win for billionaire entrepreneur and CEO Elon Musk, his company SpaceX was selected by NASA to lease its historic Launch Complex 39A at KSC. Announced on Dec. 13, formal negotiations have begun. “Permitting the use and operation of this valuable national asset by a private-sector, commercial space partner will ensure its continued viability and allow for its continued use in support of U.S. Space activities,” NASA said in its statement regarding the selection.
The Kennedy Space Center (its facilities and talented workforce) is the crown jewel in the Super Region’s Space Coast, contends Cabana, noting that as the age of commercial spaceflight dawns, this area offers companies unparalleled opportunities in the Sunshine State. “From a safety point of view, you’ve got a large range of orbits that are available with the ocean out there. Plus you’re fairly close to the equator, so you have a good assist with velocity getting to payload orbit,” he notes.
As if there weren’t enough activity at the launch pads at KSC, it was confirmed that filmmakers for George Clooney’s upcoming movie, “Tomorrowland,” filmed for several nights at the famous launch pad 39A in late November. The Disney film, co-starring Hugh Laurie, will be released in 2015 and has been shooting at different locales throughout Central Florida.