- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, CALIF. (AP) - SpaceX is renovating an old launch pad at the Vandenberg Air Force Base for the world’s most powerful rocket.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk will gather with state and local elected officials Wednesday for a groundbreaking ceremony at the seaside base northwest of Los Angeles.

The Hawthorne-based company is building the Falcon Heavy designed to be large enough to send cargo or even people beyond Earth’s orbit. Only the retired Saturn V rocket that ferried astronauts to the moon was bigger.

Crews have demolished existing structures and will soon build a new hangar to store the Falcon Heavy. They will also have to retrofit the launch pad to fit the rocket. The work was expected to cost between $20 million to $30 million and will last 18 months, Musk said.

Vandenberg has several working and inactive launch pads. The one that SpaceX will use was built in the 1960s. A Titan 4 rocket last launched from there in 2005.

SpaceX expects the Falcon Heavy to make its maiden launch from Vandenberg in 2013. After the company refurbishes its facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., the rocket will launch from both coasts. The first launch will be paid for by SpaceX as it courts potential business from customers including NASA, the military, foreign governments and satellite builders.

“What we’re seeing is the beginning of a new era in space exploration,” said Musk, who co-founded PayPal.

SpaceX already has a NASA contract to supply the International Space Station with cargo using its smaller Falcon 9.

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