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Go South: Cape Canaveral Explores New Launch Routes Into Orbit

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, containing the 'Curiosity' rover launches atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo: ULA / NASA

The 45th Space Wings says it has figured out a way for rockets to launch south from Cape Canaveral. That could mean more launches from Florida’s space coast.

Most launches from Cape Canaveral head east for an orbit around the equator. But some missions require launches that head north and send satellites into an orbit around the poles of the Earth.

Those launches happen from Vandenberg Airforce Base on California’s coast. 45th Space Wing Commander Brigadier General Wayne Monteith told Florida Today polar orbits could happen from Florida by sending rockets south just after liftoff and skirting Miami on the way into a polar orbit.

There’s no near-term plans for southbound launches, but it could mean more missions from Florida’s space coast. SpaceX leases a pad in California for polar missions, and future Florida launcher Blue Origin has plans to send payloads into a north-south orbit.

Safety is a concern for the new southern trajectory. Monteith says rockets using the new corridor would need to be equipped with automated self-destruct systems if they veer of course.

The Air Force began looking for other options after a wildfire delayed missions from the California base back in 2016.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »