Florida Taking Steps To Carve Commercial Spaceport out of KSC

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Update Sept. 24: Space Florida is requesting 60 hectares of Kennedy Space Center land, located north of the shuttle launch pads in the old citrus-growing community known as Shiloh, for possible use as a new commercial launch site. A letter dated Sept. 20 from Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who also serves as chairwoman of Space Florida, to NASA administrator Charles Bolden and Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood was released after Space News went to press.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Florida unveiled a multifaceted legal and regulatory strategy for acquiring selected Kennedy Space Center (KSC) lands and facilities no longer needed by NASA to create Cape Canaveral Spaceport, a proposed commercial state-owned complex.

Space Florida, the state’s arm for aerospace-related economic development, allotted $2.3 million for environmental studies, land surveys, title searches, appraisals and other activities to support the effort, a resolution passed by the agency’s board of directors Sept. 12 shows.

High on the state’s wish list is the Shuttle Landing Facility, which features one of the largest runways in the world. NASA’s final use of the runway for the shuttle program occurred Sept. 19, when Space Shuttle Endeavour and its Boeing 747 carrier jet took off for Los Angeles. The shuttle will be put on permanent display at the California Science Center.

Florida wants to convert the Shuttle Landing Facility into a commercial horizontal space facility and will seek U.S. Department of Transportation assistance to do so. Under Title 51 of the United States Code, which deals with national and commercial space programs, the secretary of transportation is authorized to “take actions to promote public-private partnerships involving the U.S. government, state governments and the private sector to build, expand, modernize or operate a space launch and re-entry infrastructure.” The code also authorizes the Department of Transportation to “facilitate and encourage the acquisition by state governments of launch or re-entry property of the United States government that is excess or otherwise not needed for public use.”

The title searches and land surveys commissioned by Space Florida may support state efforts to obtain other NASA properties by other means.

“I was trying to put in place the charter to allow us to pursue any path that makes sense with the government without having to go back to the board or to the state, for that matter,” said Space Florida President and Chief Executive Frank DiBello.

The state already owns more than 22,000 hectares of land within Kennedy Space Center’s boundaries. These lands, many of which are submerged, comprise about 40 percent of the 57,000-hectare space center and surrounding wildlife sanctuary.

Decades ago, Florida gave NASA use of the state-owned lands for the space program and related purposes. Now that all of those lands may not be needed by NASA, the state may be interested in taking them back.

Sorting out who owns what is a complicated and delicate issue that also involves the U.S. Department of Interior, Canaveral National Seashore and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Spaceport Florida, a predecessor agency to Space Florida, proposed in 1989 building a commercial launch pad in Shiloh, located on Kennedy Space Center land north of Complex 39, the shuttles’ launch pads. Environmentalists, concerned about scrub jay habitats and other issues, nixed those plans.

Spurred by Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) desire to build a launch pad in a commercial zone, Florida may be taking a new look at lands north of Complex 39.

“If there’s a market need for it, we would do that, but right now we have an excess of pads at the Cape that are underutilized. I don’t want to have to go build infrastructure out of whole cloth if we don’t need to do that,” DiBello said. “Infrastructure is a millstone and we’re going to be very careful to not take on infrastructure unless there is solid market and business to support it.”

SpaceX may fit that bill. The company, which has a backlog of $4 billion in business, most of which is for commercial and non-U.S. government customers, is scouting locations for a third launch site.

It presently flies from a leased and refurbished pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located just south of Kennedy Space Center, and expects to activate its West Coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California before the end of the year.

“We are trying to down-select a commercial launch site to add to our repertoire,” Brian Bjelde, SpaceX director of product and mission management, said at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2012 conference in Pasadena, Calif., this month. “There’s a few in consideration. We’re looking at a site in Texas, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and there’s a few others. We’re hoping to select that soon. Maybe this time next year, at Space 2013, we’ll report that.”

Space Florida has been looking at sites throughout the state that could fit SpaceX’s expansion plan.

“For the next five years, they’re able to meet every one of their launch needs right where they are,” DiBello said. “Five years out, the marketplace may change. We may be able to make the sites that we have available so commercially friendly that they don’t need to go outside the gate. There are so many factors that have to evolve, so it’s way premature to lock in on any one site.”