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Drumming up support for a commercial spaceport

Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development agency, continues to work for a commercial launch site just north of the Kennedy Space Center. The agency, together with the state, has proposed that NASA carve out 150 acres near the Brevard-Volusia border as a site for a commercial spaceport.

The location, called Shiloh, would allow Space Florida and partners to operate separately from KSC and Cape Canaveral, offering more flexibility for launches by private space firms and entrepreneurs. During a public meeting in Volusia County in April, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello outlined the proposal and got a generally favorable reaction from local elected officials.

Some insist the project is necessary for the Space Coast to compete with other states looking to lure private aerospace firms, such as SpaceX. Others urge caution, raising questions about the potential impact to the adjacent Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Brevard County commissioners have supported the Shiloh project, and a number of business and chamber groups in Volusia also indicated support because of the potential to create and keep space industry jobs.

But representatives of environmental groups worry about reduced access to the wildlife refuge, limits on controlled burns for restoration and conservation of native plants, and the potential loss of ecotourism dollars. Space Florida has ordered an environmental study, and DiBello says the project, if approved by NASA, would make every effort to minimize impact to the region.

For decades NASA and KSC have generally earned praise from environmental groups, in part because of the thousands of acres of prime wildlife habitat set aside along the Space Coast. The Shiloh property, named for a former citrus community, has been retained through the years as a “buffer” between KSC and the wildlife refuge. NASA says the property still may be needed for its own use but has not ruled out the possibility of some compromise with the state. DiBello says he has been encouraged by signs of local support, including editorial backing from local newspapers.