110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Dec 14, 2012 - 7:33:47am
Some might say the glory days of the space program in Florida are dead. Long gone is the excitement over Atlas and Saturn launches, the days of landing on the moon, and even the space shuttle.
CBS News reported April 12, “Fact is, we couldn’t launch an astronaut today if we had to.”
Now, Space Florida is lobbying federal agencies and local governments in a bid to bring two commercial-launch complexes to the Space Coast, including a spaceport in Southeast Volusia that could bring new aerospace businesses and thousands of jobs to local residents.
Florida’s Space Coast has been in economic decline, with 7,000 jobs lost in the wake of the space shuttle’s finale in 2011, and other cuts to the space program. Although most of the jobs were in Brevard County, the cuts affected many Space Coast employees who live in Volusia County.
Also, Florida lost much of the private-sector space industry to California, Texas and Georgia — and to other countries. Commercial satellite launches are being made from French Guiana, Brazil, India, China and Japan, Space Florida Chief of Strategic Alliances Dale Ketcham told The Beacon during a Dec. 11 phone interview.
“Up to the 1980s, the U.S. had 100 percent of the commercial-payload market,” he said. “Now, that’s dropped 100 percent.”
For the new commercial-launch venture, Space Florida looked at property near the launch complex at Cape Canaveral, and settled on around 15,000 acres of NASA’s undeveloped property in the area of a former citrus community called Shiloh.
The land is north of Haulover Canal, right on the Volusia-Brevard line, along the Indian River. The property has been managed by Cape Canaveral Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Only 150 acres — or 1 percent of the property — would be developed into a commercial spaceport, Ketcham said. The rest would remain in a state conservation easement.
NASA has already declared the property as not useful to its mission.
A vertical-launch facility would be built on the site — sending vehicles more or less straight up, like the old rockets. Space Florida’s No. 1-targeted customer for the project is SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, who was a founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, before turning his talent and billions to the space industry. Musk is now 10 years into the space industry, and is committed to it, Ketcham said.
SpaceX has a pad at Kennedy Space Center, and has already delivered cargo to the International Space Station under a federal contract. The company is looking at sites in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico for its commercial launch facility.
Initially, SpaceX would bring fewer than 100 jobs to the Volusia County site, because SpaceX builds super-efficiently, Ketcham said. But, Musk’s business model includes reusing the boosters, and that could bring a refurbishing facility with 1,500 to 2,000 jobs to the area. And if Musk is using launch facilities here, Ketcham said, “Then it’s pretty darn unlikely he’s going to put the refurbishing facility in Texas.”
Plus, he said, “the whole supply chain” would build facilities in the area, bringing more jobs and economic development to the Volusia-Flagler area.
An aerospace-education triangle — Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne — will supply a skilled workforce and research and technology that will support that spaceport, plus another.
For the second spaceport, Space Florida wants Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility for a horizontal-launch airport/spaceport.
Ketcham said aerospace businesses such as Paul Allen and his Stratolaunch Systems and Blue Origin will be targeted for this facility.
NASA has already signed off on the shuttle facility, saying it is surplus and can be transferred, abandoned in place, or demolished.
Space Florida wants it transferred to the state.
Why private aerospace, rather than traditional NASA launches?
Cape Canaveral does and should put priority on military and national-security launches, Ketcham said. A state-run spaceport can focus on its commercial customers, without the red tape of the federal bureaucracy, and without commercial customers getting bumped.
The spaceports will still come under the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration. All U.S. airspace is controlled by the FAA.
Space Florida is already lobbying for support and approval of the land transfers. Representatives met with Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen and the county attorney’s office in October.
In September, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll sent a letter to NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, formally requesting Space Florida’s acquisition of the properties.
The state also wants to reacquire right of way and improvements to State Road 3 from U.S. 1 in Volusia County to the proposed Shiloh launch complex.
Space Florida will not close State Road 3 to public use, as some have feared, Ketcham said.
It takes a while for federal agencies to process requests, he noted, but Space Florida is not just sitting back.
In January, representatives will be meeting with Audubon and Sierra Club representatives and other stakeholders.
Kennedy Space Center has had a good environmental record for 60 years, and has worked well with environmental groups. Space Florida wants to continue that, Ketcham said.
He noted Volusia County may not have seen the more tangible benefits of the space program in the past, but will benefit from a partnership in the commercial spaceport at Shiloh, and from the spaceport at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
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