Having made history throughout its 54 years, NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Merritt Island finds itself at the forefront of a burgeoning new industry. A potent formula of resiliency mixed with “The Right Stuff,” has KSC in the pilot’s seat and on course to keep making history in the growing $200 billion space commercialization industry.
The news today involves two billionaires, missions to Mars, new manufacturing facilities, reusable rockets and rocket engines, suborbital tourist flights and the American (and, well, South African) entrepreneurial spirit to reach for the stars and beyond.
KSC is the constant. In the 1960s it was the departure point for NASA’s groundbreaking Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Today, those same launch assets (coupled with launch pads at neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station) are putting Florida at the center of the new, rapidly expanding private space trade.
“Growth in the space business arena impacts all of Florida, not just the Space Coast,” said Tony Taliancich, United Launch Alliance (ULA) director of East Coast operations and chair of 2016 Florida Space Day. “Over 140,000 Floridians are employed by more than 19,000 aerospace companies generating in excess of $18 billion in annual sales and revenues.”
All 67 Florida Counties contribute to this multibillion-dollar industry. The aerospace product and parts manufacturing sector is the largest manufacturing segment in Florida, with an average wage of $77,343.
A key player in this burst of activity is Space Florida, the state’s aerospace development and coordinating space authority. Created in 2006 when the Legislature combined three existing entities into a single agency, Space Florida’s mission is to increase an already robust industry’s impact on the Sunshine State’s economy.
Consider some of the diverse indicators of this growth:
- In late April, OneWeb – a communications company dedicated to using satellites to increase global connectivity to the internet – announced a new 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on the Space Coast. It will bring 250 high-tech jobs and will invest $85 million into the community.
- Elon Musk’s SpaceX also used Florida as its base of operations in December when it successfully landed a reusable rocket on a land-based platform and last month when it landed the same Falcon rocket on a floating barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
- SpaceX also recently landed an $83 million Air Force contract to build a GPS III satellite (ULA – a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. – declined to bid, depriving industry observers of the first-ever direct showdown between two of the giants in this new field).
And then there is Jeff Bezos’ company, Blue Origin. Bezos is the yin to Musk’s yang. As flamboyant and media-oriented as Musk is, Bezos’ ethos is best summed up in Blue Origin’s company motto: “Gradatim Ferociter,” Latin for “step by step, ferociously.”
The founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, Bezos quietly formed his company in 2000 and it was not until three years later when he purchased land in West Texas that it became known publicly. He has been quoted in media reports as saying, “Space is very easy to overhype. The ratio to attention to what you’ve actually done can be very extreme.”
He is garnering headlines of late, especially his announcement in March that Blue Origin, which also is in the reusable rocket business, would be building a manufacturing facility and launch complex on Merritt Island in Exploration Park. It has been reported the company will break ground this summer. A $200 million infrastructure investment, it will bring 300 jobs to the Space Coast paying an average annual salary of $89,000.
Officials in Florida and several other states (Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama) are holding their collective breaths about landing this lucrative, separate Blue Origin project to manufacture the company’s BE-4 engines, methane fueled with 550,000 pounds of thrust.
In addition to BE-4, Blue Origin also is developing another engine, BE-3, that will be used to power its rockets, as well as other companies, including United Launch Alliance’s replacement for the Atlas V – the Vulcan.
Conversely, Musk has been in the news almost daily. A South African-born Canadian-American businessman, his goal is to change the world and humanity. In addition to SpaceX, he has co-founded Tesla Motors, Zip2 and PayPal. Last week he used social media to announce SpaceX’s mission to Mars in 2018.
Planning to send Dragon to Mars as soon as 2018. Red Dragons will inform overall Mars architecture, details to come pic.twitter.com/u4nbVUNCpA
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 27, 2016
The first Mars trip will use an unmanned Dragon capsule for transport and landing. Eventually, the more powerful Red Dragon rocket will be used to bring people, instrumentation and much more to Mars.
And speaking of rockets, Musk this week boasted that his current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are stronger than initially projected. Again, he confirmed on Twitter that the Falcon 9 is capable of carrying up to 50,265 pounds (up from 29,000 pounds previously reported) to a low earth orbit. The Falcon Heavy can haul 119,930 pounds (up from previous report of 116,845 pounds). That makes it second in payload delivery to only the legendary Saturn V rocket, which ferried the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
SpaceX Falcon 9 landing on ocean barge on April 8:
Similarly, the Red Dragon capsule appears, conceptually at least, to be Apollo’s command and lunar modules rolled into one.
Fitting, considering that today, in addition to being Cinco de Mayo, is also National Astronaut’s Day. We don’t recommend celebrating with a freeze-dried margarita but stay tuned: In our next article, we’ll look at Florida’s role in the proposed space tourism industry.