Space Shuttle's Reputation Counts for Little These Days
Florida tries to expand beyond the three-decades old vehicle.
Orbital Space Launch Sites
|San Marco Platform
|Kennedy Space Center
|Kodiak Launch Complex||U.S.: Alaska|
Williams says Florida remains his company’s preferred launch location by virtue of its strong workforce and secure location but acknowledges that other facilities — namely Wallops Island and the Kwajalein launch site in the Central Pacific’s Marshall Islands — remain attractive “fallback options” in light of their lower costs and scheduling flexibility.
Posey is not surprised. “It all comes back to money,” he says. “If they can launch cheaper somewhere else, they will. If it’s cheaper here, they’ll be back.”
Orbital Sciences spokesman Barry Beneski says as much, insisting the company will reconsider its pledge to launch in Virginia if Florida officials can sweeten the pot. “Competition is a good thing,” he says.
The state’s most immediate concern is the 3,600 jobs along Florida’s Space Coast that will be lost when NASA retires the shuttle fleet in a little over two years. NASA estimates its economic impact in Florida topped $3.6 billion in 2006; the average Kennedy Space Center salary is $72,000.
Grabbing a stake in the private launch business is crucial for Florida, officials say, because the industry will rely on small, disposable rockets to carry the bulk of the satellites and other payloads into orbit during the five-year gap between the shuttle’s final flight and the start of the next manned program, Constellation, in 2015. In other words, aerospace growth will be in small startups, many funded by NASA.