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.