Will Florida spaceports take flight?


NASA’s shuttle program may have come in for a final landing in Florida, but dreams of commercial space flight around the state are refusing to stay grounded.

The CEO of Space Florida says the demand is growing for a commercial spaceport without the constraints of government bureaucracy. This, even though Senator Bill Nelson seems to be nixing talk of expansion.

Last week, Nelson told a Chamber of Commerce group in Daytona Beach that the state’s proposed commercial spaceport at the north end of Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge wouldn’t be needed.

The site, known as Shiloh, is being reviewed for environmental feasibility. Space Florida, the state’s aerospace authority, wants to build one or two pads there for commercial rocket launches.

Two other companies are reportedly interested in the site, Blue Origin and SpaceX.

Meanwhile, in North Florida, it’s been a waiting game to see if and when commercial space flight will actually develop at the Cecil Airport and Commerce Center on the city’s West Side.

After years of discussion, the Jacksonville Airport Authority received a spaceport license a few years back, and signed the Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch, or GO Launch as a tenant on the site of the old Navy base.

The first flight is projected to take off from Cecil by the end of 2016.

And in more encouraging news, the most recent round of funding from Tallahassee included $1.5 million for Cecil’s spaceport development.

Space tourism as a potential new market sector for Florida isn’t just pie in the sky. Over the next 10 years, the Federal Aviation Administration projects, there will be demand for some 4,500 flights — and if interest grows, that number could top 13,000.

Cecil has been called the “the best airport for aircraft-like launch vehicles” — or horizontal launches — because of its 12,500-foot runway and lack of dense development around the site.

Space shots from Cecil would theoretically take off horizontally in a “corridor” that heads out over the Atlantic Ocean before launching satellites upward.

Melissa Ross

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at [email protected]


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