NASA Efforts To Revamp KSC Get $20 Million Boost from Florida

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — In its quest to downsize the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), NASA has found a friend in Florida, which intends to spend $20 million over the next year to help shift shuttle-era facilities into private sector hands.

The money for spaceport infrastructure projects is tucked into the $74.5 billion budget that Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law May 20. Florida’s new fiscal year begins July 1.

In addition, the state agreed to give Space Florida, its Brevard County-based aerospace economic development agency, $10 million for operations and business development, $7 million for financing projects, $1.5 million for space tourism marketing and $1 million to nurture fledgling space research and business ties with Israel. 

Space Florida has not yet determined how it will allocate the $20 million earmarked for projects at the newly emerging Cape Canaveral Spaceport, a commercial zone that is gradually taking over real estate and facilities at the Kennedy Space Center, the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and other regions falling under Space Florida’s expanding footprint. Its most recent acquisition is the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville.

For 2013, Space Florida earmarked $15 million for spaceport infrastructure that was divided among three initiatives: $5 million to support Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s (SpaceX) commercial heavy-lift launch program; $5 million for revamping the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bay 3, a project backed by Boeing’s Commercial Crew Development efforts; and $5 million for work on OPF Bays 1 and 2 under a project code named “Coyote” that also is backed by Boeing, which is believed to be the U.S. military’s X-37B spaceplane. The program is built around two reusable miniature robotic shuttles, designated Orbital Test Vehicles, one of which has been in orbit since December on a classified mission.

Space Florida had requested $36.5 million to continue work on those and several other new projects, including the Paul Allen-backed Stratrolaunch Systems and XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital spaceplane, both of which would make use of the shuttle’s runway. Space Florida also is looking at nanosatellite launchers, such as the Army’s Soldier-Warfighter Operationally Responsive Deployer for Space, or SWORDS, program. 

“The small launch vehicle market is really starting to heat up,” said Mark Bontrager, vice president of spaceport operations for Space Florida. “Most of the time, we’re more ready than a lot of these companies are to execute, which is I guess the right place to be. As we try to divide the baby here, we keep in mind what is the maximum return to the people of Florida and what will grow the industry. That’s our primary metric. We want to put infrastructure in place at the right time to grow the industry.”

The spaceport development projects, which are funded through the Florida Department of Transportation, must be matched dollar-for-dollar by nonstate funds. In addition, Space Florida has $7 million it can use for financing. 

A clearer picture of which projects move to the front of the funding line will come after June 7, the due date for what Space Florida calls “advocates” to update their proposals and make pitches for fiscal 2015 initiatives. 

One of the most visible projects is Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A, one of two complexes NASA used for the now-retired space shuttles. ATK, which pitched its Liberty rocket to NASA for the Commercial Crew Program, last year submitted a proposal to Space Florida for Pad 39A development, but the project has been dormant. Another potential customer for the pad is SpaceX. 

Use of the launch complex may not be exclusive, NASA wrote in a solicitation notice released May 23, which also noted that the agency is looking for a commitment that begins no later than Oct. 1 and lasts at least five years.

“With the completion of shuttle retirement activities, NASA will no longer fund the maintenance of the dedicated infrastructure and systems located at LC-39A. In order to maximize the utility of the facility and avoid the deterioration that results from lack of regular maintenance,” NASA wrote. 

Proposals are due July 5.

NASA already has whittled down the number of facilities at KSC from more than 400 during the shuttle program to about 240, center director Robert Cabana said at the May meeting of the National Space Club Florida.

“We got rid of 1,000 square feet [93 square meters] that we would have to pay for to maintain. A lot of that transferred to commercial use and that’s our goal. If it’s a good facility and we don’t have a use for it, we want to transition it to commercial operations and make a commercial spaceport,” Cabana said.