Space Florida approves $26 million match to Blue Origin, other deals with secret companies


Space Florida narrowed in on deals Thursday with four space companies wanting to build their businesses in Florida. But the state-chartered space development company’s penchant to keep names of companies confidential during negotiations had board expressing nervousness about whom they’re dealing with.

One of the deals involves a company for whom the veil or confidentiality already has been lifted – the Jeff Bezos-led Blue Origin rocket company that pledged last fall to bring much of its manufacturing and launch work to Cape Canaveral.

At its meeting in Tallahassee, the Space Florida board approved up to $26.4 million state money, from various state funds, to match the company’s development efforts at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 36, and two other sites at the Cape.

Last fall, Bezos and Space Florida announced his company’s plan to develop a $200 million set of facilities at Cape Canaveral to build, prepare and launch Blue Origin’s New Shepard rockets. The pledge came with a promise of 330 high-paying tech jobs.

Before then, Blue Origin had been referred to only as “Project Panther” for over a year while Space Florida’s staff sought various board approvals for negotiations and interim agreements.

Then on Thursday the board was asked to deal with companies called “Project Sabal,” “Project Odyssey” and “Project ICE,” again giving approval to negotiate preliminary deals that require millions of dollars of state investment in exchange for development and jobs from the companies.

This time, several of the directors showed they were getting uncomfortable, peppering the staff with questions for assurance that the companies were solid and well vetted, and likely to deliver.

“I’m just telling you that these blind deals really bother me,” said board member Jason Steele, director of government affairs for Smith and Associates.

The board approved all the deals, essentially directing the staff to negotiate contracts.

“They’re very, very meaningful projects, and I think you will be particularly pleased with the outcomes from them when we can reveal who they are,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello told the board.

“We never take a project to the board that doesn’t go through a thorough due diligence … because we are investing state funds on some unusual and complex structures,” DiBello said.

Project Sabal is the biggest of the three new secret deals. The company is considering developing “a major aerospace presence” in Florida that could take $80 million in initial capital investment and lead to 250 jobs averaging $86,000 annual salaries. Space Florida has proposed building the companies facilities and leasing them back long-term.

But the company is seeking matching funds from the state of $17.5 million.

Project Odyssey calls for Space Florida to invest $1.6 million to match a company’s investments at Cape Canaveral’s launch complexes 17 and 18. That company is developing a lunar lander.

Project ICE involves Space Florida lending up to $1 million to a company planning to develop in Florida. That company was described as an entity that already has a Florida presence and wants to use the space station to “to manufacture a specialized product with a viable terrestrial market.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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