July 23, 2012
Credit: Credit: NASA
Shuttles Bar & Grill, a once-popular roadside diner a few miles south of the Kennedy Space Center, is shuttered, and a “For Rent” sign is taped to the window of a bagel shop that used to serve space center workers an early bird breakfast.
But a year after the United States ended NASA’s space shuttle program, crippling communities around Cape Canaveral that had grown dependent on government contracts, private spaceflight and other ventures are starting to fill the void.
Titusville, Florida, which bore the brunt of the layoff tsunami following the shuttles’ retirement, this month landed Utah-based Rocket Crafters, which plans one day to fly Supersonic passenger space planes around the globe.
“Bit by bit, we’re seeing companies that are technical in nature that are taking advantage of the high-tech workforce,” said Marcia Gaedcke, president of the Titusville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Rocket Crafters is developing a hybrid fuel rocket engine with a 7,000-mile (11,265-km) range. Its space planes would take off and land horizontally, like conventional airplanes, but travel above the atmosphere in suborbital space.
“The idea is to go from Titusville to anywhere in the world at about one-sixth of the normal aircraft time,” said Michael Powell, who oversees the Titusville airport where Rocket Crafters plans to build a manufacturing plant and operations center.
The company expects to hire between 500 and 1,000 employees and is a sign of the times as Kennedy Space Center repositions itself to support a variety of government, commercial and scientific programs after three decades of shuttle operations.
NASA currently employs 8,500 contractors and civil servants at the Kennedy Space Center, which is being revamped for launching the agency’s new heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion space capsule.
The system is intended to fly astronauts to asteroids, the moon and other destinations beyond the International Space Station, which orbits about 240 miles (385 km) above Earth.