As human and economic activities evolve and extend into space, Space Florida’s mission is to pave the way for aerospace-related industries, establishing Florida as the primary port of entry for the planet.
The Space Coast has been home to some of the country’s most ambitious achievements, but it has also seen its share of setbacks; the cancellation of the Apollo program and the retirement of the shuttle program chief among them. Even so, the demand for space travel and exploration remains— increasingly in the form of commercial enterprises, rather than projects of the federal government. Space Florida’s goal is to facilitate this commercial growth, namely by expediting the creation of a new independent spaceport authority.
“We’re transforming what a spaceport is—who runs it, how it works—to better position us for the rest of the twenty-first century and for America to become a true spacefaring nation,” says Dale Ketcham, Vice President of Government and External Relations at Space Florida.
In theory, a spaceport authority is not unlike an air- or seaport authority, but the unique circumstance that Space Florida faces is that it leases resources like hangars and facilities from NASA and the Air Force; but it does not own them. Fortunately for the commercial sector, however, this does not prevent Space Florida from sub-leasing these resources to them, which is “a lot more commercially friendly than leasing it directly from NASA or the Air Force.” Space Florida’s efforts have significantly impacted the recent Renaissance of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.
Space Florida’s current model is the culmination of three predecessor organizations—Florida Space Authority, Florida Space Research Institute, and Florida Aerospace Finance Corporation—and it is unique in its composition. Space Florida exists as a special district of the State of Florida and operates as a public, for-profit entity, but its profit is measured in jobs created and in private-sector investments.
“What we’re trying to move forward is a sustainable system so that we’re not solely reliant on the taxpayers of the state to pay our operating budget,” Ketcham explains. “That means generating revenue from the users of the spaceport.”
For this reason, maintaining and upgrading the area’s existing infrastructure—from taxiways to bridges to launch sites—has become a part of the spaceport challenge. The infrastructure needed for commercial launches is nearing capacity, and many companies’ goals involve at least doubling their number of launches in the near future. And while NASA scrambles to improve its infrastructure, Space Florida asks, Why should NASA be using its scarce resources to put in place an infrastructure so private companies can make a profit?
“That’s not really what NASA’s money should be spent on,” Ketcham says. “They should be spending it on putting footprints on Mars, or exploring Jupiter. And we’re pretty sure that Congress and taxpayers would agree with that.”
The transition from a region where the federal government owns even the roads and bridges but has not prioritized maintaining them, to a region that hosts the planet’s premier spaceport is bound to be a tricky one. But the region has faced great challenges before, and Space Florida’s ambition and innovation promise to find a way.
“We use the analogy of what the port of London was to the British Empire: people and cargo coming and going, and how important a port like that is,” says Ketcham. But unlike the Port of London of old—and in the same way that Space Florida has the wellbeing of Florida residents in mind—Space Florida wants to preserve the splendor of the area for future residents, especially those born in space.
“We want people’s first image of the planet to be attractive and beautiful. That’s much easier said than done, but that is our task.”