By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) - Florida's Cape Canaveral expects to be the world's busiest spaceport this year with up to 24 rocket launches, the U.S. Air Force’s operations commander said on Tuesday.
The 2015 launch lineup would give the Cape Canaveral spaceport its busiest year since 1992, said Thomas Falzarano, commander of the operations group for the Air Force’s Eastern Range.
Fourteen launches on the 2015 schedule would be for privately held Space Exploration, or SpaceX. Ten launches would be for United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.
For 2016, 36 launches already are on the schedule, Falzarano added.
In 2014, there were 18 launches from Cape Canaveral, all successful. The world’s busiest spaceport in 2014 was the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which had 21 launches, 19 of which were successful.
“In 2015, if we hit the mark, the Cape will be the busiest spaceport in the world. Business is picking up,” Falzarano said.
The first launch of the year took place on Saturday when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off to send a Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station. The freighter arrived on Monday.
SpaceX's schedule includes a test flight of its 27-engine Falcon Heavy rocket, which will launch from a refurbished space shuttle launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, just north of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Up to four more station supply runs for NASA are on SpaceX’s manifest, as well as several commercial communications satellite launches. SpaceX also is preparing for a Jan. 29 mission to put a U.S. space weather satellite into orbit for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
United Launch Alliance plans eight space missions using Atlas 5 rockets and two on Delta boosters. The missions are predominantly to put U.S. military satellites into orbit, a business SpaceX hopes to break into this year as well.
Both SpaceX and ULA also plan launches from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. ULA has one Atlas and two Delta rockets slated for West Coast flights this year. SpaceX has at least one from California – a NASA ocean-monitoring satellite that is due to fly on March 31.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)