Launch Complex 17 is the first of the complexes built on Cape Canaveral that has multiple launch pads supported by a single blockhouse where the launch pads are labelled A and B. Previous complexes were assigned individual numbers. Dual pads on a complex became more common after LC-17 was built.
Launch Complex is split into two pads: 17A (LC-17A) and 17B (LC-17B).
LC-17B is half of the United States Air Force Launch Complex 17, built in the mid 1950s for the Thor ballistic missiles. When the Thor program completed in 1965 the Launch Complex was transferred to NASA.
LC-17A is the other half of the Complex and was run by the United States Air Force until August 2009 when the last Delta II was launched.
The Space Shuttle program was intended to launch satellites into low earth orbit, but with the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the suspension of Shuttle operations the site was re-assigned to the Delta 2 expendable launch vehicle.
In particular the Air Force transferred all launches of the GPS satellites from the Space Shuttle programme to the Delta 2 rockets. This meant that the Air Force regained ownership of the Launch Complex. All the GPS satellites were launched from this location up until the last of the GPS block 2R modified space ships was launched on the 17th August 2009, marking the end of the Delta 2 program for the USAF. This was the last Launch from LC-17A. The new GPS satellites are now launched from LC-37B onboard the newer Delta IV and LC-41 on the Atlas Rockets.
I was there for the last USAF launch, and along with most of the rest of the press we witnessed the launch from Cocoa Beach, just after dawn.
Since then there have been a few NASA Delta II Launches, but although the complex is still active there is little activity here. As we found out when we visited the AFB we found that security were still very active on LC-17B.
The best off-base viewing locations for LC-17 are the Jetty Park pier in Port Canaveral, though this can often get very busy, or anywhere on the beach at Cocoa Beach. This is about 6 miles south of the launch complex with no full view of the rocket on the pad.
Over the years there have been 158 launches from LC-17A and 161 from LC-17B making a total of 319 flights and one of the most prolific complexes on the base. Given that there were so many launches it is not surprising that there have been a couple of incidents, the most spectacular being the failure of a Delta II carrying a GPS payload which exploded a few seconds after launch. This “anomaly” rained tons of burning fuel and metal over a large area, destroying an entire parking lot or press vehicles.
On the other hand there have been a phenomenal number of successes here as well with a wealth of missions to explore our solar system launching from this complex. These include: GOES American earth weather satellite, Telstar & Intelsat American communications satellites, Pioneer American solar satellite, TOS American earth weather satellite, GPS Global Positioning System, Mars Polar Lander and Pathfinder, DAWN American asteroid probe, Genesis American solar satellite, and GLAST American gamma ray astronomy satellite plus my others.