Florida Space Industry
Florida's Space Coast Renaissance: The private space race is on
China could end this year with its Chang’e 5 unmanned vehicle landing on the moon and returning to Earth, the first such journey since Apollo in 1972. The milestone would further establish China as the most likely to land humans on the moon first in the next decade. Promoters of the U.S. space industry hope Chinese success will ignite U.S. government support for a new space race. There are currently as many moon missions planned as during the heyday of the space race. However, as much government support materializes, the new run to the moon will be enabled by private companies. Space Florida recently agreed to loan $1.5 million to an unidentified company vying for a NASA contract to develop a commercial lunar lander, giving Florida a foothold in the lunar industry. SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit, is to launch its lunar probe from Florida this year aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9.
This year, in the building at Kennedy Space Center that once processed space shuttles for launch, a team of Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians completed a 15-month project to refurbish an old space shuttle cargo container to see if it would work as a habitat in lunar orbit. NASA, which wants an outpost in lunar orbit for landing on the moon or fl ying to Mars, hired six companies to develop a design. Lockheed’s answer is to outfi t a surplus 4½-by-6½ meter container as a kind of orbital RV with sleep stations, exercise equipment, lighting and electronics. “We think the design we came up with is, in our minds, the right design,” says project leader Bill Pratt.
NASA ultimately may or may not agree, but the project meant about 20 high-wage, high-skill jobs in Brevard County. The effort also drew at times on some of the 1,000 people Lockheed employs around Brevard on other projects, including its Orion crew transport, NASA’s vehicle for the moon and beyond.
The habitat project illustrates that not all the projects driving the space industry resurgence in Florida involve monster rockets. But cost effi ciency is something all want to share. For its orbiting lunar habitat, Lockheed looked to the surplus cargo container. Its NASA name was Donatello. (All the shuttle containers were named for Italian Renaissance masters/ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.) “It was really born from this idea that we wanted to focus our efforts on all the stuff inside the habitat,” Pratt says. “That’s what mattered the most.”
A Giant Leap, 50 Years Later
This July will mark the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing. As part of the commemoration, Delaware North, the for-profit company that runs the visitors complex and attractions at Kennedy Space Center, is revamping the Saturn V display, including projecting images of the landing on the rocket itself.
The world tuned into Florida in 1969 to watch Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins venture forth. Some 530 million people globally watched Armstrong become, as last year’s movie put it, “First Man.” Apollo “profoundly affected Brevard County,” says historian Gary Mormino. Brevard went from 16,000 people in 1940 to a quarter of a million by 1970 and 590,000 today.
Some impacts extended beyond Brevard. The University of Central Florida, for instance, was created by the Legislature in 1963 as Florida Technological University to open access to education to serve the space industry at Canaveral 40 miles to the east. A decade after opening in 1968, that focus shifted and it became UCF. Unlike California, which had a string of high-quality universities and the assets to support them at the dawn of the Space Age, Florida had trouble really capitalizing on the space boom beyond publicity. “Florida had the desire but not the resolve and resources,” says Mormino.
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