NASA has put the kibosh on Florida’s plan to obtain title to 150 acres of federal property at the north end of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for the construction of a commercial launch facility for SpaceX.
“The property identified in your request has not been reported as excess,” NASA Associate Administrator L. Seth Statler wrote in a Nov. 30 letter to Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. “Furthermore, this property continues to serve NASA’s long-term mission requirements, as a buffer zone between NASA mission and local communities and as a possible site for future mission requirements.”
The decision was first reported on Sunday in Florida Today.
Florida had sought to gain title over the lightly used land, called Shiloh after an old citrus community on the site, for the development of a purely commercial launch facility. SpaceX is also looking at locations near Brownsville, Texas and in Georgia and Puerto Rico.
The benefit of Shiloh is that it would be outside the U.S. Air Force-run Eastern Test Range, which oversees launch operations on Cape Canaveral. The Air Force is widely viewed as being slow and bureaucratic. Operating in the Eastern Range also subjects commercial launches to possible delays for higher profile national security missions.
Stetler left open the possibility that a solution could be found that stops short of transferring the land to Florida, although he provided no specifics.
“As we evaluate how best to support Florida’s efforts regarding these activities, we would like to further discuss how we might make lands on KSC available for Florida’s use such that your intent to develop and operate a site as a commercial launch complex independent of the Federal range and spaceports may be fully realized,” Stetler wrote. “We believe that there may be solutions to this need other than full conveyance of these properties to the State.”
Space Florida President Frank DiBello was not pleased with the decision.
“The response is disappointing in that it does not reflect either the sense of urgency or commitment for commercial market thinking and opportunities ahead of us. This is only one step in what is likely to be a long process, however we will do everything we can to shorten it. I will seek to get a more specific definition of NASA’s intent to support this request.” DiBello wrote in an email to Carroll’s chief of staff, John Konkus.
In his letter, Statler said that DiBello should work with Joyce Riquelme, head of KSC’s Planning and Development Directorate, to identify alternatives to the conveyance of the Shiloh site.
“As NASA seeks to make under-utilized, non-excess real estate assets available to private sector entities, we are committed to engaging partnerships through a competitive process,” Statler wrote.