Space Shuttle's Reputation Counts for Little These Days
Florida tries to expand beyond the three-decades old vehicle.
Taking a space hit: A rendering of a Taurus II rocket at Wallops Island, Va. Florida suffered a blow in February, when Orbital Sciences Corp. announced that it would launch a Taurus II rocket from Wallops Island, bypassing Kennedy Space Center. [Rendering: Orbital Sciences]
Some see this gap period as an opportunity for Florida as much as a setback. Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, says the thousands of workers pink-slipped after the shuttle stops flying could attract startups and relocations. “Look at all the highly skilled workers we have here. That’s the message we need to send,” says Weatherman.
But some say that message alone is not enough. Other states are pushing hard to promote their launch sites. Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget proposal included $7 million for Space Florida; he proposed spending up to $40 million for a film and entertainment incentive program. Space boosters from Brevard spent a good part of Space Day, traditionally a festive occasion, lobbying the Legislature for more incentives.
Florida, Posey says, has relied too long on reputation. What works is cash to lure companies here, tax breaks for startups and legislation to provide immunity from accident-related lawsuits, as other states have done. He’d also like to see federal officials lean harder on the Department of
Defense to loosen the red tape, especially as regulators weigh a NASA proposal announced in February to build a commercial launch site on Kennedy Space Center property.
Dominating the launch business, Weatherman adds, may have a ripple effect in Florida, attracting the companies that land the lucrative design and assembly contracts — what she calls “the real prize” — for NASA’s next-generation spacecraft.
Two years ago, the state landed the first such deal in the 50-year history of Florida’s space industry when Lockheed Martin, flush with $35 million in incentives from the state, announced it would build much of NASA’s new Crew Exploration Vehicle here. Other such prizes are on the horizon. SpaceX is vying for a NASA contract for a manned supply capsule, while considerable work awaits on Constellation program vehicles that planners hope will send manned spacecraft to the moon and Mars in the decades ahead.
Will the Gateway to the Stars remain in Florida?
“Florida has a lot going for it — well-developed infrastructure, good experience, a great workforce,” says Orbital Sciences’ Beneski. “On the other hand, there certainly are plenty of other options out there.”