SpaceX chooses Texas for launch facility, a setback for Space Florida

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Space Florida, a quasi-government agency established to promote the state’s aerospace industry, faces a major setback as billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is expected to set up the world’s first private spacecraft launch facility in Texas.

But Space Florida officials insist the move to Texas by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SapceX, will not affect efforts to attract another private aerospace enterprise as the industry develops.

“While we would have preferred stronger consideration from SpaceX on utilizing a Florida-based commercial launch site, we understand the company’s need for a near-term solution,” Space Florida spokesperson Tina Lange told Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida in an email.

The Texas site could provide SpaceX capacity for up to 12 launches a year for both the U.S. space agency in addition to private companies and individuals.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio said on Thursday he cannot comment on the talks with SpaceX.

But the state has improved its pitch, Panuccio added, after years of depending on an aerospace industry controlled by the federal government.

“Five years ago, six years ago, we probably wouldn’t have been competitive for a lot of what is out there,” Panuccio told the News Service. “All the facilities and resources are there. We’re competing. Look, that one hurts, but there are some others we’re getting and we’re going to keep going after.”

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration gave environmental approval for licenses and permits to a privately owned site near Brownsville, Texas, which can allow SpaceX to launch reusable suborbital crafts, as well as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicle.

“We know competing in a global marketplace demands the best business environment to meet commercial payload customers,” Lange continued. “And right now, Texas has a better commercial launch environment than what Florida can offer, but it is our job to not allow that disadvantage to continue.”

Space Florida is also waiting on the results of environmental impact studies of the planned Shiloh Launch Complex, which sits on 150 acres at the north part of Kennedy Space Center.

Critics contend the site includes some of the world’s best scrub habitat, Turner notes.

The private venture was intended as a step toward Florida rebuilding its space industry infrastructure on the Space Coast as NASA develops its latest Space Launch System — with test-flights expected in about three years — as a replacement for the space shuttle program mothballed in 2011.

Currently, SpaceX uses Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral for its Falcon 9 launches that transport supplies to the International Space Station.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.