February 23, 2024

News Service of Florida

Lawmakers Eye Space Industry Issues

TALLAHASSEE --- Private aerospace leaders want Florida lawmakers to consider steps to streamline local regulations, expand a pool of workers such as machinists and welders and provide more dock space for the industry at Port Canaveral. 

Expanded space at Port Canaveral, a major site for cruise ships, could be a key issue. 

Megan Mitchell, vice president of government relations for Blue Origin, an aerospace company founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, pointed to future needs as the company’s New Glenn rocket system moves into the regular blastoff rotation. 

“There is no other location that can support that massive vehicle recovery,” Mitchell told members of the House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee last week. 

“We look forward to growing further here,” Mitchell added. “But we recognize that possibly, in just a few years, we're going to need additional support and infrastructure. So, we do request that the committee look at the horizon to ensure that the continued success long into the future is available.” 

The comments came after Blue Origin in October installed a 375-foot crane at Port Canaveral to eventually handle New Glenn recovery operations. 

Backing Mitchell, Space Florida President and CEO Rob Long told lawmakers that space at Port Canaveral is “physically limited.” A study is underway to look at the growth of Port Canaveral and other ports to handle the expanding aerospace industry, Long said. 

Port Canaveral lists among its goals and objectives an ability to “increase cargo handling capabilities and add capacity for more flexibility to accommodate diverse commodities and increased heavy lift and project cargo for expanding commercial space operations,” according to the Florida Ports Council. 

Port Canaveral, for example, is home to ships used by SpaceX, the company headed by billionaire Elon Musk, and provides a mobile harbor crane to help with recovery and placement on shore of rocket boosters. 

Meanwhile, Port Canaveral and space-industry leaders continue to work on reducing interruptions in launches and cruise operations related to launches requiring exclusion zones where no marine traffic is permitted. 

In June, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it had reduced the amount of airspace being closed during space launches to limit the impact on commercial aviation across Central Florida. 

During last week’s House meeting, David Goldman, SpaceX vice president of satellite policy, made other recommendations such as a need for improved launch infrastructure, an expanded pool of workers including machinists and welders and a need to address potential conflicting local-government rules that could add time to space operations. 

“We must take steps to address any impediments, regulatory or otherwise, that would slow development,” Goldman said. 

One regulation-related issue could involve helping space tourism grow in Florida. 

Florida has seen a return of human flights by SpaceX to the International Space Station. But most of the wealthy people paying for passenger seats on orbital flights by SpaceX and suborbital runs by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have gone up in Texas or landed in New Mexico. 

Mitchell said Blue Origin intends to offer space tourism in Florida. 

“Our New Glenn vehicle is being designed to be human-rated from initial design,” Mitchell said. “We will be putting humans and doing space tourism and other activities with people.” 

For the companies, federal regulations provide freedom that allows them to grow and innovate, with Mitchell saying “it’s in our own interest to be safe.” 

“Obviously, if we want to carry humans and be a flourishing industry, we are importing our own safety certifications within our companies and then working with our federal regulators to make sure any future regulations would not prohibit certain designs and capabilities,” Mitchell said. 

Goldman added that “right now, we are in a good place on that.” 

But he said it would be good for governments to continue looking at the issues. 

“It is really worth thinking about going into the future when it becomes more commonplace, making sure that we thought ahead and that the government is actually ahead of industry on having thought these things through,” Goldman said. 

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers passed a measure to extend liability protections to private aerospace companies if crew members are injured or killed in spaceflights. The new law stemmed from the growth in private launches. Florida previously had provided such liability protections for injuries or deaths of spaceflight participants who were not considered crew members. 

The 2024 session will start Jan. 9. Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican who chairs the House subcommittee, said the space industry has backing from House leaders, at least in part because of the industry’s importance to Florida and “national security implications.” 

With a SpaceX launch Saturday to deploy 23 Starlink satellites, there have been 63 launches this year from Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center. 

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who chairs the Space Florida Board of Directors, said the number of launches could approach 80 by the end of the year and that more than 100 launches are scheduled for 2024. 

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