Florida Seeks to Run Shuttle Landing Facility, Build Commercial Launch Complex

The Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. (Credit: NASA)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

The state of Florida is looking to not only build a new commercial launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) but also to manage and develop the center’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) as an airport/spaceport.

In a letter to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood, Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll requested the conveyance 150 acres of unused land at the north end of KSC near the former citrus community of Shiloh for the new launch complex. She also asked NASA to transfer the SLF to Florida.

The letter comes a week after Space Florida approved the expenditure of $2.3 million for land surveys, title searches, environmental reviews and other activities designed to facilitate the transfer of federal property and facilities to the state for commercial space operations.

“Florida intends to manage the development and operation of this asset as a combined special-purpose public airport/spaceport facility in a manner compatible with the KSC’s continued operation as a NASA launch complex,” Carroll wrote of the SLF.

NASA has put out a request for information on how the SLF might be run as a public-private partnership. The Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority, which operates three local general-aviation airports, also is interested in running SLF.

Carroll wrote that Florida has the experience to build, manage and operate SLF and the new commercial launch center. Transferring the properties would reduce NASA’s facilities and land footprints while contributing to the space agency’s mission.

“Florida has directly invested in, or facility the private financing for, approximately one half billion dollars in constructed assets for KSC and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and Florida’s Department of Transportation leads the nation in integrating space transportation in statewide systems planning,” Carroll wrote.

“The State of Florida has consistently demonstrated our commitment to the U.S. space program through strategic investments supporting U.S. government mission capabilities and the U.S. space industry,” she added.

“If the requested conveyances of real property are granted, Florida will seek appropriate operating license(s) from the Federal Aviation Administration in order to manage both operations in coordination with, but jurisdictionally independent from KSC, and the U.S. Air Force Eastern Range,” Carroll wrote.

Carroll does not mention any users of the new launch base. However, it is widely believed that the project is being pursued for SpaceX.  The company is looking for a purely commercial launch site for its Falcon rockets to supplement its operations from government-owned complexes at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

SpaceX has been looking at locations in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. A seaside location near Brownsville, Texas, is considered to be a leading contender.

The fact that the new Florida launch complex would operate outside of the U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Range is a key point. The range has been widely criticized as being slow, bureaucratic and difficult to work with, which has discourages commercial launches from Florida. Scheduling issues involving U.S. government launches also have caused problems for commercial operators.

In her letter, Carroll said the property and services should be conveyed on a “direct cost” basis.

“I request your joint cooperation and consultation…. to facilitate Space Florida’s access to U.S. government launch and re-entry property and launch and re-entry services, with accordance with the principles of ‘direct cost’ pricing,” she wrote.

Under law, direct costs are defined as “the actual costs that

(A) can be associated unambiguously with a commercial launch or reentry effort; and
(B) the Government would not incur if there were no commercial launch or reentry effort.”

Carroll also requested the involvement of the Interior Department to ensure that there would not be any significant environmental impacts from the new launch complex.

Florida Today notes that environmental issues could loom large in this effort.

In 2008, a NASA study of potential commercial launch complex sites, including one located in the northern part of KSC, drew opposition from residents concerned about wildlife and loss of refuge access.