Historic Dual Pads of Launch Complex 17 Demolished, After 300+ Launches over 50 Years of Service

The towers of Launch Complex 17 pads A and B crashing down at Cape Canaveral AFS in Florida on July 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

After first echoing to the roar of rocket engines in 1957—before the Space Age even began—historic Space Launch Complex (SLC)-17 near the southern end of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., breathed its last earlier today (Thursday, 12 July), when shortly after 7:00 a.m. EDT its two nearly 200-foot-tall gantries were remotely destroyed. Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, initiated detonations of 68 pounds of explosives which brought SLC-17A and SLC 17B to the ground after a combined 325 launches in more than five decades of active service. During their storied careers, the two pads hosted the first successful low-orbiting weather satellite, Britain’s maiden satellite, the world’s earliest communications satellites, GPS satellites, as well as NASA space telescopes and Mars Rovers.

Built at a reported cost of $3.5 million per complex, SLC-17 arose in April 1956, with an intention that they would support the Air Force’s PGM-17 Thor ballistic missile. Construction was completed the following November and SLC-17B saw its first launch in January 1957, followed by the inaugural use of its twin the following August. Unfortunately, these two opening launches of the Thor ended in failure, but success lay just around the corner. In their first years of service, the pads saw the launch of Pioneer 5, which explored the interplanetary environment between Earth and Venus for the first time, and might have seen the United States’ first voyages to the Moon, had three other Pioneers not been lost during ascent from August-November 1958.

A test Thor takes flight from Launch Complex 17 at Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Dec. 5, 1959. (U.S. Air Force photo)

During the first half of the sixties, the pads saw a multitude of Thor test-flights and pioneering orbital missions. Tiros-1, the world’s first successful low-orbiting weather satellite, was lofted in April 1960 and provided the first accurate meteorological forecasts using space-based data. A month later, Echo-1 became the earliest passive communications satellite, whilst Telstar-1 in July 1962 enabled the first live broadcast of television images between the United States and continental Europe from space. The first successful communications satellite to enter geostationary orbit, Syncom-3, flew in July 1964, whilst the commercial Intelsat-1—the famed “Early Bird”—launched a few months later in April 1965 and helped provide live television coverage of the splashdown of Gemini VI-A the following December.

Britain’s first satellite, Ariel-1, flew from the 17A pad in April 1962, and the UK Ministry of Defence saw its first Skynet military communications satellites lofted in November 1969 and August 1970. Dovetailed into these missions were members of the United States’ fleet of Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) and Orbiting Geophysical Observatory (OGO) spacecraft.

ABOVE: Watch our unique beachside view of the pad implosions! Credits: Jeff Seibert / Mike Killian for AmericaSpace

Throughout the 1970s, a series of Intelsat communications satellites, Explorer science satellites, Canada’s first Anik communications satellite, Nimbus and the earliest members of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) program were placed into orbit. SLC-17’s first launch of the eighties came on 14 February 1980, when NASA’s Solar Maximum Mission (SMM)—which was subsequently retrieved and repaired by the Space Shuttle—was delivered to space on an ambitious mission to explore the Sun. Nine years later, in February 1989, the Delta II booster saw its first flight off 17A and the first Block II Navstar Global Positioning System (GPS) was put into space.

Its final two decades saw a mixture of communications, navigational and military satellites, as well as a range of scientific missions for NASA and its international partners. Astronomical observatories including the German-led ROSAT, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE), the Geotail magnetospheric science mission, the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTS) and the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) featured heavily in the first half of the 1990s, whilst the second half and beyond saw 17A and 17B with Mars acutely in their sights.

The Global Surveyor and Pathfinder missions rocketed away from the two pads during the November-December 1996 Martian “launch window”, whilst the Climate Orbiter and Polar Lander did likewise in the December 1998-January 1999 window. Mars Odyssey was launched in April 2001, NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers rose from 17A and 17B in June-July 2003 and, most recently, the Phoenix mission flew in August 2007.

The final launch to fly out of Launch Complex 17, NASA’s GRAIL mission to the moon in 2011 atop a ULA Delta-II rocket. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

Still others have included the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission to Mercury in August 2004, the Dawn spacecraft to Vesta and Ceres, the Spitzer Space Telescope—the fourth and final member of NASA’s fleet of Great Observatories—and Kepler in March 2009. Two years after Kepler, in September 2011, SLC-17B saw the complex’s final mission with the launch of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) flight to the Moon.

Plans for today’s implosions began soon after the GRAIL mission launched in 2011, and cost upwards of $2 million. Now, Launch Complex 17 is occupied by the private company Moon Express for developing and testing engines and lunar landers. No rockets, however, will be launching from LC-17 again, Moon Express will instead launch their robotic explorers on rockets from other Cape pads.

 

BELOW: Images from this morning’s implosion, with thanks to FiredUpFishingCharters in Port Canaveral for taking us out for a sweet beachside view of the implosions, check them out on Facebook too HERE!

 

Photos Credit: Mike Killian for AmericaSpace.com, all rights reserved.

 

The towers of Launch Complex 17 pads A and B crashing down at Cape Canaveral AFS in Florida on July 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace.com

 

 

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5 comments to Historic Dual Pads of Launch Complex 17 Demolished, After 300+ Launches over 50 Years of Service

  • Ted Mindeck

    Kinda sad. I worked at the air station in the early 90s and was right in these areas. I saw a few Deltas blast off in those times too. They were awesome to see, (and feel).

  • perry lewis

    sad to see them go they served as a reminder to man of the sucess that has arisen from the good thing man can do but gone now they could have been put on part of the cape canaveral launch centre tour with its rich history and lastly i used those as afishing marker offshore they rose as mighty markers but sometimes you have to let go to progress forward

  • David Legangneux

    The Thor-DM18A s/n 187 shown in the black & white photo was not launched on december 5, 1959, but on may 12, 1959. The launch took place from LC-17B.

  • Tracy The Troll

    Sad….Why?

    “in September 2011, SLC-17B saw the complex’s final mission with the launch of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) flight to the Moon.”

    So it just was not used again for any reason…Except as fishing marker…

    “Now, Launch Complex 17 is occupied by the private company Moon Express for developing and testing engines and lunar landers.”

    Moon Express is going to the Moon! This is great… This will add jobs! They are going to the Moon!

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