Florida’s request comes as NASA is working to revamp the Kennedy Space Center following the end of the shuttle program last year. It also is timed to woo privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to build its third launch site in Florida.
The company, founded and run by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, currently flies its Falcon rockets from a refurbished and leased pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It is preparing to activate a second launch site at Vandenberg before the end of the year and is looking to build a third launch pad in a commercial zone.
Out of a backlog of 42 Falcon 9 flights, worth about $4 billion, 65 percent are for commercial and non-U.S. government customers, Brian Bjelde, SpaceX director of product and mission management, said at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference in Pasadena, California, earlier this month.
An environmental study of a site in Brownsville, Texas, near the Mexican border, is under way. SpaceX also is looking at sites in Puerto Rico, Hawaii and other states, Bjelde said.
In 1989, Florida proposed building a commercial launch pad north of the space shuttle complex in an area known as Shiloh, an old citrus-growing community that straddles Brevard County to the south and Volusia County to the north.
That initiative was hastily shut down by environmentalists’ concerns over scrub jay habitats and other issues.
“This site is not exactly the same. We were going after a lot more land then,” DiBello said.
“What we are seeking is a collaborative effort and we want to do that early on so they’re all involved and all part of the dialog. This includes the Department of Interior and wildlife and refuge community,” DiBello said.