Headquartered at the nearby Patrick Space Force Base, the station is the primary launch site for the Space Force's Eastern Range with three launch pads currently active (Space Launch Complexes 37B, 40, and 41). The facility is south-southeast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center on adjacent Merritt Island, with the two linked by bridges and causeways. The Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip provides a 10,000-foot (3,000 m) runway close to the launch complexes for military airlift aircraft delivering heavy and outsized payloads to the Cape.
Cape Canaveral was known as "Cape Kennedy Air Force Station" from 1963 to 1973, and as "Cape Canaveral Air Force Station" from 1949 to 1963 and from 1973 to 2020. The facility was scheduled to be renamed "Cape Canaveral Space Force Station" (CCSFS) in March 2020, but the renaming was postponed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The facility was eventually renamed by vice-presidentMike Pence on December 9, 2020.
The CCSFS area had been used by the United States government to test missiles since 1949, when President Harry S. Truman established the Joint Long Range Proving Ground at Cape Canaveral. The location was among the best in the continental United States for this purpose, as it allowed for launches out over the Atlantic Ocean, and is closer to the equator than most other parts of the United States, allowing rockets to get a boost from the Earth's rotation.
Air Force proving ground
A Bumper V-2 was the first missile launched at Cape Canaveral, on July 24, 1950.
Following the Soviet Union's successful Sputnik 1 (launched on October 4, 1957), the United States attempted its first launch of an artificial satellite from Cape Canaveral on December 6, 1957. However, the rocket carrying Vanguard TV3 exploded on the launch pad.
However, the geographical name change proved to be unpopular, owing to the historical longevity of Cape Canaveral (one of the oldest place-names in the United States, dating to the early 1500s). In 1973, both the Air Force Base and the geographical Cape names were reverted to Canaveral after the Florida legislature passed a bill changing the name back that was signed into law by Florida governor Reubin Askew (D-Fla.).
The two-man Gemini spacecraft was launched into orbit by a derivative of the Air Force Titan II missile. Twelve Gemini flights were launched from LC-19, ten of which were crewed. The first crewed flight, Gemini 3, took place on March 23, 1965. Later Gemini flights were supported by seven uncrewed launches of the Agena Target Vehicle on the Atlas-Agena from LC-14, to develop rendezvous and docking, critical for Apollo. Two of the Atlas-Agena vehicles failed to reach orbit on Gemini 6 and Gemini 9, and a mis-rigging of the nosecone on a third caused it to fail to eject in orbit, preventing docking on Gemini 9A. The final flight, Gemini 12, launched on November 11, 1966.
The Apollo program's goal of landing a man on the Moon required development of the Saturn family of rockets. The large Saturn V rocket necessary to take men to the Moon required a larger launch facility than Cape Canaveral could provide, so NASA built the Kennedy Space Center located west and north of Canaveral on Merrit Island. But the earlier Saturn I and IB could be launched from the Cape's Launch Complexes 34 and 37. The first four Saturn I development launches were made from LC-34 between October 27, 1961, and March 28, 1963. These were followed by the final test launch and five operational launches from LC-37 between January 29, 1964, and July 30, 1965.
The Saturn IB uprated the capability of the Saturn I, so that it could be used for Earth orbital tests of the Apollo spacecraft. Two uncrewed test launches of the Apollo command and service module (CSM), AS-201 and AS-202, were made from LC-34, and an uncrewed flight (AS-203) to test the behavior of upper stage liquid hydrogen fuel in orbit from LC-37, between February 26 and August 25, 1966. The first crewed CSM flight, AS-204 or Apollo 1, was planned to launch from LC-34 on February 21, 1967, but the entire crew of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a spacecraft test on pad 34 on January 27, 1967. The AS-204 rocket was used to launch the uncrewed, Earth orbital first test flight of the Apollo Lunar Module, Apollo 5, from LC-37 on January 22, 1968. After significant safety improvements were made to the Command Module, Apollo 7 was launched from LC-34 to fulfill Apollo 1's mission, using Saturn IB AS-205 on October 11, 1968.
In 1972, NASA deactivated both LC-34 and LC-37. It briefly considered reactivating both for Apollo Applications Program launches after the end of Apollo, but instead modified the Kennedy Space Center launch complex to handle the Saturn IB for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz Test Project launches. The LC-34 service structure and umbilical tower were razed, leaving only the concrete launch pedestal as a monument to the Apollo 1 crew. In 2001, LC-37 was recommissioned and converted to service Delta IV launch vehicles.
The Air Force chose to expand the capabilities of the Titan launch vehicles for its heavy lift capabilities. The Air Force constructed Launch Complexes 40 and 41 to launch Titan III and Titan IV rockets just south of Kennedy Space Center. A Titan III has about the same payload capacity as the Saturn IB at a considerable cost savings.
Launch Complex 40 and 41 have been used to launch defense reconnaissance, communications and weather satellites and NASA planetary missions. The Air Force also planned to launch two Air Force crewed space projects from LC 40 and 41. They were the Dyna-Soar, a crewed orbital rocket plane (canceled in 1963) and the USAF Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL), a crewed reconnaissance space station (canceled in 1969).
From 1974 to 1977 the powerful Titan-Centaur became the new heavy lift vehicle for NASA, launching the Viking and Voyager series of spacecraft from Launch Complex 41. Complex 41 later became the launch site for the most powerful uncrewed U.S. rocket, the Titan IV, developed by the Air Force.
With increased use of a leased launch pad by private company SpaceX, the Air Force launch support operations at the Cape are planning for 21 launches in 2014, a fifty percent increase over the 2013 launch rate. SpaceX has reservations for a total of ten of those launches in 2014, with an option for an eleventh.
On August 7, 2020, U.S. military contracts referred to the installation as Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The installation was formally renamed on 9 December 2020.
NASA has also launched communications and weather satellites from Launch Complexes 40 and 41, built at the north end of the Cape in 1964 by the Air Force for its Titan IIIC and Titan IV rockets. From 1974 to 1977 the powerful Titan IIIE served as the heavy-lift vehicle for NASA, launching the Viking and Voyager series of planetary spacecraft and the Cassini–Huygens Saturn probe from LC-41.
NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) is responsible for oversight of launch operations and countdown management for all uncrewed launches at Cape Canaveral which it does not operate.
The Boeing X-37B, a reusable uncrewed spacecraft operated by USSF which is also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), has been successfully launched four times from Cape Canaveral. The first four X-37B missions have been launched with Atlas V rockets. Past launch dates for the X-37B spaceplane include April 22, 2010, March 5, 2011, December 11, 2012, and May 20, 2015. The fourth X-37B mission landed at the Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 2017, after 718 days in orbit. The first three X-37B missions all made successful autonomous landings from space to a 15,000 foot (4,600 m) runway located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California which was originally designed for Space Shuttle return from orbit operations.
Operations, infrastructure and facilities
Cape Canaveral Space Force Station; click on a label to read more about it.
Of the launch complexes built since 1950, several have been leased and modified for use by private aerospace companies. Launch Complex SLC-17 was used for the Delta II Heavy variant, through 2011. Launch Complexes SLC-37 and SLC-41 were modified to launch EELVDelta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles, respectively. These launch vehicles replaced all earlier Delta, Atlas, and Titan rockets. Launch Complex SLC-47 is used to launch weather sounding rockets. Launch Complex SLC-46 is reserved for use by Space Florida.
On September 16, 2015, NASA announced that Blue Origin has leased Launch Complex 36 and will modify it as a launch site for their next-generation launch vehicles.[needs update]
In the case of low-inclination (geostationary) launches the location of the area at 28°27'N put it at a slight disadvantage against other launch facilities situated nearer the equator. The boost eastward from the Earth's rotation is about 406 m/s (908 miles per hour) at Cape Canaveral, but 463 m/s (1,035 miles per hour) at the European Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana.
In the case of high-inclination (polar) launches, the latitude does not matter, but the Cape Canaveral area is not suitable, because inhabited areas underlie these trajectories; Vandenberg Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral's West coast counterpart, or the smaller Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) are used instead.
A tenant command located at Cape Canaveral SFS is the U.S. Navy's Naval Ordnance Test Unit (NOTU). As a major shore command led by a Navy captain, NOTU was created in 1950 and initially directed almost all of its efforts towards the development and subsequent support of the submarine-launched Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) program. This resulted in NOTU being assigned to the Director, Special Projects (now Strategic Systems Programs) with a mission to support the development of the Polaris missile and later the Poseidon missile programs.
NOTU's mission is the support and testing of sea-based weapons systems for the United States Navy and the Royal Navy in a safe environment utilizing the airspace and waterspace of the Eastern Range. The command directly supports the mission capability and readiness of the United States Navy's Trident Submarines as well as the Fleet Ballistic Missile program of the United Kingdom. NOTU operates the Navy Port at Port Canaveral, supporting submarines and surface ships of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, NATO, Allied and other foreign navies, and assets of the Military Sealift Command. NOTU is composed of over 100 active duty U.S. Navy personnel and over 70 defense contractors.
The base obtains potable water from the city of Cocoa. A single potable water line from Cocoa runs under the Sykes Creek Bridge at Sea Ray Drive.
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Media related to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at Wikimedia Commons
Patrick Air Force Base
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Virtual Tour
Air Force Space and Missile Museum Web site
"Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Shines Again" article and video interview about the lighthouse
Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms, a National Park Service Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
The short film "The Cape (1963)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive