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Florida’s space industry boom creates demand for wharfs

SpaceX Falcon launch at the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida. [Photo by SpaceX]

Space Florida anticipates adding a large amount of wharf property around one of the world’s most active cruise ports to help the expanding private space industry over the next half-century.

Florida’s aerospace agency says that by 2033 it must nearly double the current footprint of about 2,800 linear feet of wharf space around Port Canaveral. The need will incrementally grow to 9,135 linear feet by 2073, according to the agency’s “Florida Spaceport System Maritime Intermodal Transportation Study,” which was released last week.

The estimated price tag ranges from $42.2 million for the first phase to $2.1 billion for what is outlined as a seven-phase project. In part, the additional space would help with the retrieval of boosters and capsules.

“There just simply isn’t enough wharf space at Port Canaveral to support maritime recovery primarily,” but also other growing parts of the port’s space business. Space Florida President and CEO Robert Long told members of the agency’s board of directors on May 1.

“Figuring out how we go about actually implementing this is going to be, I think, the significant challenge in going forward,” Long said.

Along with the private space industry, the port region is vital to the cruise industry, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Kennedy Space Center, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The report says current facilities are insufficient to meet projected demand. Among other things, it recommends raising money through federal grants and revised fees on leases and rent for shared facilities “without overburdening launch service providers.”

A Space Florida news release calls the report “the preliminary steps” in enhancing maritime support for the commercial space industry. The agency must work with landowners, identify “strategic federal” funding, and conduct a study on how Florida’s other ports can support the industry.

“We look forward to continued collaboration with federal and state partners to realize solutions to ensure the industry’s continued success,” Canaveral Port Authority CEO John Murray said in a prepared statement.

The need for dock space has been a growing concern for space companies around Cape Canaveral, along with streamlining local regulations and expanding the pool of workers such as machinists and welders.

In November, Blue Origin’s vice president of government relations, Megan Mitchell, outlined the need for expanded facilities to handle the company’s 322-foot-high reusable New Glenn rocket system.

“There is no other location that can support that massive vehicle recovery,” Mitchell told the state House Commerce subcommittee on regulatory reform and economic development.

“We look forward to growing further here,” Mitchell added. “But we recognize that possibly, in just a few years, we’re going to need additional support and infrastructure.”

Florida had a record 72 orbital rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in 2023, up from 57 in 2022 and 31 in 2021.

There were 32 launches in the first four months of 2024.

The study projects 197 launches in 2028, 282 in 2033, 386 in 2043, and 1,252 in 2073, producing a major increase in the need for retrievals.

Port Canaveral has listed among its goals and objectives an ability to “increase cargo handling capabilities and add capacity for more flexibility to accommodate diverse commodities and increased heavy lift and project cargo for expanding commercial space operations.”

Meanwhile, Port Canaveral and industry leaders work on reducing interruptions in launches and arranging cruise operations around launches that require exclusion zones barring marine traffic.

Port Canaveral handled 6.92 million cruise passengers in 2023, globally behind only PortMiami’s 7.3 million cruise passengers.

Last June, the Federal Aviation Administration reduced the amount of airspace closed during space launches to limit the impact on commercial aviation across Central Florida.


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