Cape Canaveral’s Titan launch pad gantry was demolished on Sunday. The tower was built in the 1990’s to support the US Air Force Titan 4 rocket program. The site has been used for NASA missions as well, including the launch of the Cassini-Huygens Saturn mission in 1997. Launch Complex 40 is being demolished and then refurbished to make way for the new SpaceX Falcon rocket launch facility. Now the gantry is rubble, the clean up operation can begin…
At 9am on Sunday, April 27th, 200 pounds of high explosives brought the Complex 40 mobile service tower crashing down. The tower was responsible for housing and preparing the highly successful Titan rockets for launch. Mainly used for military payloads, the Titan 4 series also sent the NASA Cassini probe on its way to Saturn on October 15th, 1997. A Titan 4 rocket was also used to send the ill-fated Mars Observer mission to the Red Planet on September 25th, 1992. Mission controllers lost contact with Observer when it was three days away from orbital insertion.
The gantry weighed nearly 6500 tonnes and was installed with an advanced satellite processing clean room. The tower supported a total of 17 launches, deploying sophisticated surveillance and communication satellites for the US government. Two of these launches were devoted to the NASA interplanetary missions. The last Titan 4 was launched three years ago, handing heavy launch duties over to the modern Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rocket systems. In its glory days Titan 4 was the largest rocket available carrying the heaviest payloads into space.
Now that the tower has been removed, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) can begin to set up the commercial launch site as the East Coast base of operations for its Falcon 9 rocket system which is currently under development. But why can’t the tower be renovated for SpaceX launches? The Falcon 9 rocket system will be assembled horizontally and rolled to the launch pad shortly before launch; the gantry is therefore superfluous to the company’s needs at Complex 40.
However, not all the infrastructure of the site will be removed. The launch pad’s concrete deck and flame duct, water deluge system, electrical systems, lightning towers and instrumentation in the bay under the pad will be reused. The existing office space will also be renovated for SpaceX use. Since last October, SpaceX employees have been working at the site, removing any equipment not compatible with the Falcon system. The site will be up and running in time to begin supplying the International Space Station when NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet is retired in 2010. Complex 40 will live on, minus gantry, for NASA contracted launches and other commercial satellite orbital insertions by SpaceX.