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Momentum In Space

After years of fragmented and often unsuccessful efforts to attract business tied to space exploration, Florida has a stronger focus and more than $40 million to spend.

Just in time. NASA seems close to announcing the prime contractor for the $5.5-billion crew exploration vehicle, which will replace the 25-year-old space shuttle program after its retirement in 2010 and take people back to the moon by 2018. Florida, New Mexico and other states are competing heatedly to build the so-called CEV. Lockheed Martin, one of two contenders to be the prime contractor, says it would build its CEV in Florida and hire 300 to 400 people here. Competitor Northrop Grumman won't say where it would do the work.


Lockheed's concept of the CEV with Lunar Lander.

Florida also wants a piece of a separate project -- building a cargo spaceship designed to lift heavy equipment to the International Space Station. Two or three finalists for that project, out of six firms competing, will be announced this month to share $500 million in design funds, says Marshall Heard, head of the private Florida Space Business Development Group organized by major aerospace contractors. Four of the six "have Florida right smack dab in their sights," he told the new Space Florida Board of Directors, created in May by the Legislature to merge the state's space-related development efforts.

Gov. Jeb Bush had the gavel for the board's first meeting in July. "We aspire to be great," he said, "not (just) to be competitive with New Mexico, for God's sake."

Space Florida is armed with $35 million in state money to lure the CEV contractor to Florida, $4 million in "seed money" for space-innovation ventures, a new $3-million sales-tax exemption for space-related construction and money to refurbish launch pads at Cape Canaveral for small launches.

The most urgent goal is to help replace the thousands of professional jobs to be lost when the shuttle program closes down ["Countdown," July 2005, Florida- Trend.com].