The Florida state government will rent a long-unused launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to create a spaceport for commercial spaceship launches.
This move comes as the nearby Kennedy Space Center has less than two years of space shuttle flights remaining before the shuttle fleet is mandated to retire.
Many public officials in Florida have voiced concern that thousands of jobs will be lost, causing unemployment for many people in Central Florida.
From the 2010 retirement of the shuttles until the first manned flight of the next-generation Orion-Ares U.S. spacecraft system in 2015, the United States will have no way to take its astronauts into space.
Rather, they will have to ride on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to visit the International Space Station, a $100 billion U.S. investment. And cargo will be carried to the station by commercial logistics spaceships being developed now by private firms.
Some officials in Florida are concerned that those firms might launch their cargo spacecraft from other areas, such as Wallops Island, Va., in the West or at sea or overseas. If private logistics missions instead are launched from Central Florida, that would help ease at least some of the unemployment problem.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee space, aeronautics and related sciences subcommittee, has said the half-decade gap between the shuttle fleet retirement and the first launch of Orion-Ares should be eased by adding at least one more shuttle flight to the current manifest, and by luring private space firms to launch in Florida.
That move by Florida to create a Canaveral spaceport run by a space agency, Space Florida, would be a step in that direction.
The Air Force Space Command announced a proposed action to make Space Launch Complex (SLC) 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station available for operational use by the state of Florida, subject to completion of an environmental impact analysis.
That means the agreement can’t be concluded until the environmental analysis is completed.
The proposed action would grant the state access to the property under a real-estate license for an initial term of five years.
After reviewing the proposal and commitment to commercial space launch, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the Space Command commander, voiced his support for the assignment because it makes it easier for commercial space transport providers to launch from the United States.
"The proposal encourages, facilitates, and harnesses entrepreneurial space achievement," Kehler said. "Enabling a dynamic, globally competitive commercial space sector is in line with national policy and is mutually beneficial to the Air Force and the state."
"We take great pride in fostering a vibrant commercial space sector and expect the spirit of innovation and attitude of cooperation that made this idea into a reality to be prevalent in the years to come," Kehler said.
The proposal is also in line with the mission of the 45th Space Wing, said Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, 45th Space Wing Commander. "Our primary mission here is to assure access to the high frontier. This proposal better enables us to execute that mission."
Through its Space Florida organization, the state will be the broker for the complex to commercial space launch companies, setting user priorities and schedules to ensure that commercial users have an ability to use existing launch base and range capabilities without the need to make large investments or long-term commitments. SLC-36 is capable of accommodating light- to medium-lift vehicles.
Space Florida would be responsible for developing, managing and paying for operations and maintenance of the facility, being the broker for the facility, complying with all required real property, environmental, safety, security, and all other tenant requirements, and reimbursing the Air Force for the services Space Florida uses.
The actual launch would be handled like any other commercial launch mission. The commercial program work force would perform launch vehicle processing and day-of-launch operations in partnership with the payload owner’s ops team and the 45th Space Wing, responsible for Eastern Range support.
The launch pad was deactivated in 2004. Atlas-Centaur, Atlas I/II/IIA/IIAS/III/IIIA launched from there since 1961.