Florida rocket launch complex is set for federal review

Dec 29, 2013 by Scott Powers

Space Florida's plan to build a state-run launch complex on the environmentally sensitive fringes of Kennedy Space Center is ready for its federal and public vetting over possible environmental impacts.

At stake are Florida's plans for a new launch complex marketed to private rocket companies weighed against environmentalists' hopes that the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge will be forever protected.

To compete for the growing private satellite launching business that has migrated overseas in recent decades, Space Florida, a public-private agency, wants to carve out about 200 acres known as the Shiloh site and build two state-of-the-art rocket launch complexes on 60 of those acres. The property is owned by NASA but managed as part of the wildlife refuge.

Space Florida expects a new launch center could be largely free of much of the federal red tape and the competing national priorities that can bog down private launches from the nearby KSC or from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch complexes. It's also close enough to the old KSC space shuttle landing strip, which Space Florida also is seeking to acquire, that the agency thinks companies could use them together.

"It's the only place, we believe, that Florida could offer the capability for a purely commercial launch site," said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida's director of strategic alliances.

But the spot is within one of the most revered natural places in Florida, a 140,000-acre sanctuary of marshes, beaches, lagoons and abundant wildlife.

"You're basically talking about the first major deviation from close to 50 years of preservation as policy for the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge," said Charles Lee of Audubon Florida, one of several environmental groups that asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to intervene against the proposal.

In Thursday's Federal Register, the Federal Aviation Administration - which regulates all non-government - complexes - published its notice to begin the public and federal agency comment period on the proposal.

People and groups who want to weigh in have until Feb. 21 to send their comments.

The FAA did not specify a timetable for completion of the environmental impact study, but a draft of the report is expected by the end of 2014.

Besides laying out all the potential environmental effects for analysis, debate and conclusions, the comment period also will allow people to suggest alternatives, such as a different site for the complex.

Ketcham said Space Florida would welcome such ideas.

"If somebody comes up with a better idea, we're OK with that," he said.

Explore further: SpaceX to bid for rights to historic NASA launch pad

4.2 /5 (5 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fla. scrambles to get NASA's OK for land to build launch pad

Jan 31, 2013

NASA is balking at plans by Space Florida to build a new commercial launch pad near Kennedy Space Center, and now state officials - in both Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. - are racing to persuade the space agency to change ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

Aug 29, 2014

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

Aug 29, 2014

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 0