The Air Force is studying the use of enormous oil-drilling platforms as offshore launch pads.
One plan would be to tow the world's largest type of drilling platform, known in the oil industry as a Gorilla, into Vandenberg harbor, load a rocket aboard and tow it several miles offshore. At the launching spot, the floating platform's legs would be lowered until it was standing on the ocean floor. The rocket could then be fueled and launched by remote control from Vandenberg."SAMTO is interested in pursuing the offshore concept, and this is one method," said Capt. David Blehm of the Air Force's Space and Missile Test Organization, which is working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop a new advanced launch system.
Other offshore ideas include launching rockets from a remote Pacific isle, a ship, a man-made island or one of the Channel Islands.
"There is a certain giggle factor associated with it," said John Pike, associate director for space policy at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. "On the other hand, why not?"
Cutting costs and conserving land at Vandenberg are two motivations for the offshore plan. The never-used space shuttle launch pad cost $3.3 billion. A rig offshore supposedly could be built for $100 million and be connected by cable to existing launch control facilities.
Spurring the studies are plans for up to 50 launches a year, beginning in 1996. Pike said the Strategic Defense Initiative and planned space station would be potential major users of the advanced launch system rockets.