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Falcon 9 Rocket

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.