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Moon Express inks deal for Cape Canaveral launch site

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Jan 23, 2015, 6:09 UTC

Sen—Moon Express, one of several companies competing for the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize, has signed an agreement to use a decommissioned launch complex at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for propulsion development and test flights of its lunar lander.

The privately owned firm has been conducting tests at the space shuttle’s landing facility at the Kennedy Space Center, located just north of the Air Force base. It plans to transition operations to Launch Complex 36, an 80-acre site once used to launch Atlas rockets.

LC 36 was decommissioned in 2007 and later leased it to Space Florida, a state-backed space development agency that already has invested more than $1.8 million to return the complex into operational service.

Under a sublease arrangement with Space Florida, Moon Express intends to make an additional initial investment of up to $500,000.

“It is anticipated that capital investments will grow into the millions, some of which may become eligible for reimbursement through the Florida Department of Transportation matching funds program,” the company said in a statement.

“We’ll have our own test range, which we’re very excited about, where we can test our vehicle and build our propulsion and test our rocket engines,” Moon Express chief executive and co-founder Bob Richards told Sen.

Moon Express is working on a series of robotic spacecraft to fly to the Moon, and eventually other destinations, such as asteroids, for researchers and commercial companies.

“Pad 36 is where the Surveyors launched to the Moon, the Pioneers and the Mariners. It’s just got so much history, that’s why I love it,” Richards said.

“The gantries are torn down, but the historic dome is there and the buildings are there—they’ve been partly refurbished by Space Florida—and the administration building, which is really Mission Operations Center, is there. We’ll be doing the rest of the investment … in the next couple of months to get it operational,” Richards said. 

Complex 36, built for the Atlas/Centaur program, was operated by NASA until the late 1980s. Missions that launched from the complex include the Surveyor spacecraft that landed on the Moon, Mariner probes to Mars and Mercury, and the Pioneer 10 and 11 missions to Jupiter and the outer Solar System.

Atlas rockets now fly from the nearby Complex 41.  

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Launch Complex 36, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Image credit: Space Florida