Florida Seeks NASA Land For Commercial Launch Site

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Space Florida, the state-backed aerospace development agency, is requesting NASA transfer 60 hectares of land north of the space shuttles’ launch pads for possible development of a new commercial launch site.

In a Sept. 20 letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Space Florida chairwoman and Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll asked for the land, along with the shuttle’s landing facility, documents released on the state’s Sunburst public records website show.

“The state proposes to develop and operate this site as a commercial launch complex independent of the neighboring federal range and spaceports,” Carroll wrote.

The land is part of an old citrus-growing community in northern Brevard County and southern Volusia County.

The request follows Space Florida board’s approval to spend up to $2.3 million for environmental studies, land surveys, title searches, appraisals and other activities to lay the groundwork for Cape Canaveral Spaceport, the proposed state-owned commercial complex.

Florida looked at developing a commercial launch site at Shiloh in the late 1980s under Space Florida’s predecessor agency, Spaceport Florida.

“This site is not exactly the same,” Space Florida president Frank DiBello said. “We were going after a lot more land then.”

Environmentalists concerned about scrub jay habitats and other issues quickly mobilized, forcing the state to back away from Shiloh right after the plan was unveiled.

DiBello hopes that including the Department of Interior, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other interested parties early in discussions will keep history from repeating itself.

The first potential customer for the launch pad would be Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which is scouting for a third launch site for its Falcon rockets. The company currently launches from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and has a second launch pad under development at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

“Right now we hope that we could keep SpaceX here, but there are others that will be coming into the marketplace, I’m convinced,” DiBello said.