Environmental Concerns About Florida’s Proposed Commercial Launch Base

The Orlando Sentinel reports on environmental concerns about a proposed new launch complex at the northern end of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida:

New plans to convert an abandoned citrus town into a Space Coast rocket hub has triggered another round of fighting between environmentalists and the aerospace industry — and this time the rocketeers could have an edge….

State officials envision a new launchpad for commercial-rocket companies and they’ve asked NASA to give about 150 acres of undeveloped KSC land around Shiloh to Space Florida, a public-private agency that wants to create the proposed facility.

Though NASA has yet to respond, the request has drawn the notice of Florida environmentalists, who successfully opposed a similar effort four years ago on the grounds that it would scar Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 140,000-acre sanctuary that overlays KSC….

This time around, the rocketeers are in a better bargaining position. When the idea was pitched in 2008, the U.S. economy was in better shape, the space shuttle was still flying and details about which company or companies actually would use the site were hazy.

That all has changed. National economic problems are compounded on the Space Coast, which is reeling from the shuttle’s retirement. And the latest proposal is aimed at a specific customer — SpaceX of California — although Florida officials won’t admit it publicly.

SpaceX also is looking at locations in Texas and Puerto Rico. The company wants a commercial launch facility to supplement its operations at the government-owned Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The proposed site would be outside of the U.S. Air Force’s Eastern Test Range, which is viewed as bureaucratic and slow. SpaceX could avoid having launches postponed for higher-priority government launches.

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