NASA Picks Space Florida To Take Over Shuttle Runway

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Florida is expanding its footprint at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, which is shedding excess shuttle-era facilities in an attempt to cut costs and remake itself into a hybrid spaceport supporting civilian government, military and commercial programs. 

Through Space Florida, an aerospace-oriented economic development agency, the state already has a lease on one of the shuttle’s processing hangars and a signed tenant, Boeing, to use the facility for its commercial spaceships, the CST-100.

On June 28, NASA announced its intention to add the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) to Space Florida’s expanding domain, saving itself more than $2 million a year in operations and maintenance costs.

Terms of the agreement, which has not yet been finalized, were not disclosed. 

NASA is working on a heavy-lift launcher and deep-space capsule for human expeditions to asteroids and other destinations beyond low Earth orbit and has no immediate or planned need for the shuttle’s runway. 

Space Florida intends to use the 4,572-meter-long runway, one of the longest in the world, for a variety of winged passenger spaceships, including XCOR Aerospace’s two-seater Lynx suborbital space planes and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s planned Stratolaunch, an airplane-launched orbital system.

The state also is eyeing the military’s X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles (OTV), one of which is presently in orbit on a classified mission. The Air Force is considering consolidating the program in Florida to cut costs. The unmanned vehicles are launched aboard Atlas rockets from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station adjacent to Kennedy Space Center. The two previous OTV missions ended with runway landings at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in December 2010 and June 2012, respectively. 

In addition to space vehicles, Space Florida sees the shuttle runway as an ideal location for testing and flying drones for civilian and other users. The agency has applied to become one of six planned Federal Aviation Administration drone test sites.

Besides the shuttle’s runway, the SLF includes an aircraft parking ramp, a landing aids control building, a 27-meter-wide shuttle tow way, an air traffic control tower and a 2,137-square-meter enclosure used by convoy vehicles that serviced the shuttles after landing.

It also includes the 4,645-square-meter Reusable Launch Vehicle hangar that Space Florida already owns. A commercial flight services company, Starfighters Aerospace, currently operates there.

Documents on NASA’s procurement website show the agency wants to have a partnership agreement in place for operation of the SLF by Oct. 1. Space Florida’s proposal was one of five vying for the award, agency spokeswoman Tracy Young told SpaceNews.

“NASA is just now beginning negotiations with Space Florida for the agreement, but no money is expected to be involved other than Space Florida paying for electricity, water, etc.,” Young wrote in an email.