Florida Lawmakers OK $42.5 Million for Space Projects

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Florida legislators authorized $42.5 million for space-related programs for the state’s 2015 budget year that begins July 1, including revamping the space shuttle’s runway and landing facilities at the Kennedy Space Center for commercial users. 

The proposed aerospace spending includes $20 million in the Florida Department of Transportation budget for space transportation infrastructure; $9.5 million for operations and programs of the Space Florida economic development agency; $5 million for Space Florida financing funding, half of which can be used on the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF); and $3 million for educational programs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. 

“I think it was a vote of confidence by the legislature that what Space Florida is doing is what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida.

The aerospace initiatives are included in a $77.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2015 that Florida legislators passed May 2. The spending bill next goes to Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who has the authority to veto any specific appropriation. 

As NASA seeks to divest facilities idled by the shutdown of the shuttle program, Space Florida is positioning itself to become de facto landlord to a broad range of commercial companies and other entities interested in Kennedy Space Center’s amenities. Space Florida already has agreements with NASA for Orbiter Processing Facility hangars and is in negotiations to lease the SLF, whose 4,500-meter runway is one of the world’s longest.

“It was not unanticipated that this was going to be a long and agonizing process, but we both have a vested interest in success and we’re pretty confident we’re going to get there,” Ketcham said. 

“NASA’s having to come to grips with something it has not had to do before, but Space Florida was pretty much created, empowered and chartered to do exactly this. That doesn’t make it any easier for NASA and the gods that it has to answer to,” Ketcham added. 

Prospective customers for the SLF include XCOR Aerospace, which is developing the two-seater Lynx suborbital spaceplane, and Stratolaunch Systems, an orbital space vehicle venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

In anticipation of new facilities being built near the runway, NASA has submitted an application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to dredge and fill about 16 hectares of wetlands located near both ends of the shuttle’s runway. 

“There are a number of customers who are interested in using the Shuttle Landing Facility. In order to accommodate them, we’re going to need some additional hangars, taxiways, utilities, sewer, water and all that other stuff. That’s going to be needed one way or another,” Ketcham said. 

The process, which can take years, began before NASA decided to try to turn over SLF operations to another entity to manage, Ketcham said. 

Public comment on the permit request closes May 22.

Other projects funded by Florida legislators include $2 million to continue development of a commercial spaceport at Jacksonville’s Cecil Field; $1.5 million for space tourism and marketing campaigns; $1 million for a Space Florida partnership with Israel; and $500,000 for a space transportation research project.