Florida rocket launch complex is set for federal review

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


Related Stories

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

January 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

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Image: Pluto's blue sky

October 9, 2015

Pluto's haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn's moon ...

How to prepare for Mars? NASA consults Navy sub force

October 5, 2015

As NASA contemplates a manned voyage to Mars and the effects missions deeper into space could have on astronauts, it's tapping research from another outfit with experience sending people to the deep: the U.S. Navy submarine ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.