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State fears losing grip on space

Published by Rob on Thu Jan 27, 2005 5:09 pm
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the biggest growth in the space industry in the next decade would come from small commercial launches and private space flight

BY PAUL FLEMMING FLORIDA TODAY

TALLAHASSEE — Industry and agency leaders Wednesday laid out the case to lawmakers for state help to keep Florida’s leading position in space matters.

First is to recognize that Florida doesn’t have a lock on its pre-eminent position. Fourteen other states with space activities are “nipping at our heels,” said Winston Scott, director of the Florida Space Authority.

“We’re not so far in front as we thought we were,” Scott said. “It’s imperative we in Florida realize how stiff the competition is.”

Among the keys: incentives for industry to build near the Kennedy Space Center, develop cheaper commercial launch-range services and encourage space tourism initiatives……

In the short term, KSC director Jim Kennedy hinted at positive elements of President Bush’s federal budget proposal, out in February. Kennedy said four of NASA’s 10 centers will have layoffs in the next year. KSC is not among them. There will be 280 new hires at KSC, he said.

But as the nation’s space program phases out the shuttle program, the next six years mark an critical period for Florida.

Rep. Thad Altman, R-Viera, asked Kennedy about that transition, invoking memories of the layoffs that hit the Space Coast during the switch from the Apollo program to the shuttle.

Kennedy told the House Spaceport & Technology Committee that members of his leadership team “worry on a daily basis about that strategic cliff in 2010 or 2011″ as NASA shifts to President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration.

In KSC’s favor is that the shuttle program would end in 2010 at the earliest. Twenty-eight shuttle flights are scheduled. Any delays in those shuttle launches would serve to “narrow the gap” between programs, Kennedy said.

Scott said the biggest growth in the space industry in the next decade would come from small commercial launches and private space flight.

To attract it, Scott suggested development of commercial space ports much as airports. Kennedy said space-based range services, protecting people and property during launches, would provide an affordable alternative.

He pointed to the reality of space tourism — Virgin Galactic has thousands of deposits for private space travel, Scott said — and Florida needs to get in the game.

“It’s not something pie in the sky,” he said. “These things are happening, but they’re happening in California.”

Part of the Legislature’s action to aid the state’s $4.5 billion space industry may be creation of a Commission on the Future of Space in Florida. A bill to create it got its first approval in a Senate committee meeting Wednesday.

The commission would decide the best way to compete for an increasingly privatized space industry. It would be up to the 2006 Legislature to follow through with recommended changes.

About three dozen state agencies address space issues in some way. Some of those could go away.

Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island and chairman of the Spaceport & Technology Committee, said House leadership looks favorably on the Senate proposal.

“It’s like musical chairs. When the music stops there may be some (agencies) without a chair,” Allen said.

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