Photo: SpaceXSpaceX is launching Falcon 9 rockets carrying payloads for the government from the Cape.
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Newsmakers of the Year - Statewide
Commercial launches are helping the Space Coast recover from the loss of the shuttle program.
To the long list of space firsts in Florida, add the advent of commercial space flight with 2012’s launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo carrier — the first of a dozen commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station under a $1.6-billion NASA contract.
The flight, though, is something of a mixed metaphor for the future of the space industry in Florida now that the shuttle, and with it 8,000 direct jobs, has ended. Falcon 9 succeeded at its primary mission — delivering the Dragon and its goods to the station — but it still was government work. It flopped in its secondary task of delivering a commercial satellite into orbit.
And while Falcon 9 launched from Florida, much of the employment and brain work — as was true of its government predecessors — occurred outside Florida. The new commercial era also will be more competitive; more than 30 sites globally want to be in the space launch business.
Space Florida is angling to get 150 acres from NASA for a commercial spaceport that can operate with private-sector agility outside military and government constraints. “Florida needs to remain a leader and needs to become a ground node for supporting this increased commercial activity in space,” says Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, a state economic development organization.