Florida May Reach In Its Pockets to Fund Space Launch Services Encouraging Industries and Employment

The state is proposing to chip in nearly $18 million to help SpaceX and Blue Origin build new facilities at Kennedy Space Center that are expected to add at least 140  jobs.

Next Wednesday in Tampa, Space Florida’s board of directors will consider two proposals worth $14.5 million supporting SpaceX’s proposed spaceport expansion, including a hangar for Falcon rocket refurbishment and a control tower.

Another $3.4 million would support Blue Origin’s rocket manufacturing site in Exploration Park, a state-run complex on NASA property at the south end of KSC.

If the agreements are approved, the Florida Department of Transportation would reimburse the companies for some or all of eligible expenses up to those amounts. The department budgeted about $31 million for improvements to spaceport infrastructure this year, and more than $100 million for the budget year that starts July 1, 2018.

Most of the work is described as “common infrastructure improvements,” such as access roads and utilities that could benefit multiple tenants or guests around a site, not just the two private, billionaire-led companies. SpaceX and Blue Origin have committed to investing $15 million and $30 million, respectively, of their own money in those improvements, and much more on the overall projects.

SpaceX has not revealed a budget for its “SpaceX Operational Area” on 67 acres at KSC, including a 133,000-square-foot hangar and a launch and landing control tower standing up to 300 feet tall, as well as a rocket garden, utilities yard and security office.

The company’s expansion is expected to add 90 jobs with annual wages of $75,000, according to a Space Florida meeting agenda item titled “FDOT Project Palmer/SpaceX.”

SpaceX is on pace to launch more than 20 missions this year and believes it could eventually launch and land more than 60 rockets in a year. The new facilities aim to make recovering and reusing Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets more efficient.

Blue Origin has previously said it planned to invest more than $200 million in its 750,000-square-foot factory, which is nearing completion, and at Launch Complexes 36 and 11 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where an orbital New Glenn rocket could blast off by 2020. The company has promised 330 jobs with an average wage of $89,000.

The work specified in Space Florida’s agenda would create an additional 50 jobs with annual wages of $75,000.

The FDOT money up for approval is part of a $40 million package the state committed to in 2015 when Blue Origin, founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, agreed to build and launch rockets in Florida after a multi-state competition.

The projects give the rival launch companies claims on pieces of KSC’s skyline. Blue Origin’s eight-story factory already rises above the tree line near the KSC Visitor Complex, while SpaceX’s control tower, down the road from KSC’s iconic 525-foot Vehicle Assembly Building, will be visible for miles around.

In other business next Wednesday, Space Florida will introduce a series of code-named projects including “Pine,” involving a company that would use KSC’s former space shuttle runway “for aerospace operations.”

The state now runs the former Shuttle Landing Facility, which is being renamed the Space Florida Launch and Landing Facility.

Another secret project, Blue Heron, would finance new facilities and equipment for an unspecified company, with no dollar amount disclosed yet.

by James Dean Florida Today

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