Congress, NASA, States

As KSC maps out its future plans, Rubio worries about commercial competitiveness

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is embarking on a long-range master plan that, over the next two decades, foresees major changes to the center as it evolves from one that primarily supported the Space Shuttle to one that is a “multi-user” spaceport. The master plan includes, among other features, a proposed second runway and as many as three additional launch pads, as well as an area for the vertical landing of reusable vehicles.

KSC officials started last week a series of public hearings about the plans, which received a mixed reaction, Florida Today reported. Some of the negative reaction is about the environmental impact of those additional facilities, while others wondered if the plans conflicted with a separate master plan for Cape Canaveral developed by Space Florida, one that includes development of a new commercial launch pad at a site north of KSC called Shiloh. The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has started an environmental impact study of the proposed Shiloh site, including public hearings later this year that attracted large crowds both in favor and opposed to the site.

KSC’s long-term plans have also attracted the attention of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). In a statement issued by his office Wednesday, Rubio said he met with KSC director Robert Cabana at his Washington office that day to discuss KSC’s master plan efforts. “It’s important that NASA and the commercial space industry coexist in a way that benefits our nation’s space and science goals, as well as Florida’s long-standing role as a hub of space-related job creation,” Rubio said in the statement.

The senator, though, also expressed concerns about how the plan might affect the state’s competitiveness in commercial space. “My hope is that NASA’s management plans for Kennedy do not put Florida at a competitive disadvantage, or deter or hamper commercial space entities from making full use of the facility and other potential launch sites in Florida,” Rubio said in the statement, adding that he received assurances from Cabana that would not be the case.

However, those efforts might be too late for perhaps the biggest target of Florida’s pursuit of additional launch business. Last week the FAA formally announced the availability of the final environmental impact assessment for the proposed spaceport near Brownsville, Texas. The FAA will publish a record of decision on the environmental assessment no sooner than 30 days after the Federal Register notice; that is likely the last major milestone before the FAA makes a decision on the spaceport license application itself.

The Brownsville site is designed exclusively for SpaceX, and while the company has made no formal decision, it’s been clear in recent weeks that the site is the leading contender to take over the bulk of SpaceX’s planned commercial launches. The company will continue to launch from Florida, such as NASA commercial cargo and (if selected) crew missions, as well as other government work, but launches like the Falcon 9 ORBCOMM mission slated to take place from Cape Canaveral in the coming days would shift to Texas in a few years, regardless of how KSC’s or Space Florida’s master plans turn out.

10 comments to As KSC maps out its future plans, Rubio worries about commercial competitiveness

  • Coastal Ron

    It’s about two years too late for Florida to change what’s happening with the current SpaceX commercial launch facility choice, but Florida needn’t be so greedy – they already have two of the four SpaceX launch sites.

    And though it’s nice to see a Republican Senator make sense on space related issues, I’m not sure Rubio’s public pronouncements are doing much to move the needle. Good to see he is a commercial space supporter though…

  • Fred Willett

    SpaceX thinks they will need “by the way we’ll need lots of launch sites”. Gwynne Shotwell
    around the 57 min mark.
    This is predicated on a vastly expanding launch market driven by lowering launch costs leading to rising demand.
    101 economics, really.
    But, of course it all depends on reusability working out.
    If it all works out the way SpaceX thinks it will then the Space coast will be all right.
    Actually more than all right.

  • nom de plume

    “or deter or hamper commercial space entities from making full use of the facility and other potential launch sites in Florida,”

    Those other potential launch sites in Florida include Space Florida-Shiloh(i.e., less KSC/Range requirements) and Jacksonville trying to initiate a spaceport. I suspect they’re lobbying for a seat at the table, as opposed to all Florida launches to occur at KSC. Bob Cabana is doing a pretty good job balancing the SLS-Orion work at KSC, which is fairly significant, and making KSC attractive to Commercial Launch. He probably gave equal emphasis to Senator Rubio. I’m not surprised at Rubio’s comment, which wasn’t about losing launches to Texas, but avoiding taking sides to the competing interests in Florida.

  • KSC’s original 1963 plan had five launch pads. Two were built. I wouldn’t take this new master plan all that seriously; seems like a wish list to me.

    The one to watch is the proposed extension of the rail line through KSC to Port Canaveral. Although it won’t run through neighborhoods, it will be close by and will also require a bridge over the Banana River. Port Canaveral is growing like crazy and badly wants a rail line to become a major player in cargo.

  • amightywind

    KSC is foremost a NASA facility. The idea that it will pay its way by giving away national assets to Obama’s cronies is a pipe dream. I am still appalled that SpaceX is squatting on Pad 39A. As for SpaceX in Brownsville. Who cares, except I cannot believe that Caribbean counties, or companies whose oil rigs are in the ‘blast cone’ of flaming rocket debris are enthusiastic.

  • Jim Nobles

    “KSC is foremost a NASA facility. The idea that it will pay its way by giving away national assets to Obama’s cronies is a pipe dream. I am still appalled that SpaceX is squatting on Pad 39A.”

    Would you rather have the facilities become disused and fall apart? Congress certainly isn’t going to give NASA the money to use them or maintain them.

    Also you should probably also stifle your bullsh*t hatred of SpaceX. It’s unnatural and anti-American. All it does is put your psychology on view for the world to see and, frankly, it’s not something very flattering to you.

  • Arnie T

    If Senator Rubio really wants to protect KSC’s commercial future, he’d better garner Senate support to erase Shelby’s report language, and help his friends in the Lower House understand that to ‘down select to one provider’ is counterproductive.

    • nom de plume

      I’d be surprised if Rubio challenged Shelby on this, no incentive. Besides, Shelby would sit the youngster down and explain the facts of life to him; i.e., commercial is a direct threat to SLS and Orion and, therefore, a threat to all those jobs at KSC. The interest that SpaceX and others have in launch sites in other states besides Florida may cause the Florida congressional delegation to be a little tentative in promoting the commercial cause.

      The lop-sided cost and schedule differences between commercial and SLS/Orion are only going to get worse. Therefore, AL will continue to be a drag on legislation to fund commercial. Not sure if Brownsville launch site will move TX to be neutral or if they will continue to support Shelby.

      • Dick Eagleson

        There aren’t actually that many jobs at KSC dependent upon SLS/Orion. Given SpaceX’s lease of LC-39A, it would be easier to make the case that throwing in with SpaceX is a better guarantee of future employment levels at KSC than sticking with SLS.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>