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Space industry seeks legislative help

The Space Shuttle Challenger launching from Complex 39 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Photo by NASA)

Private aerospace leaders want Florida lawmakers to consider steps to streamline local regulations, expand the pool of workers such as machinists and welders, and provide more dock space for the industry at Port Canaveral.

Space at Port Canaveral, a major site for cruise ships, could be a key issue.

Megan Mitchell, the vice president of government relations for Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, pointed to future needs as the company’s New Glenn rocket system moves into the regular launch rotation.

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

“We look forward to growing further here,” Mitchell said. “But we recognize that possibly, in just a few years, we're going to need additional support and infrastructure. So we do request that the committee look at the horizon to ensure that the continued success long into the future is available.”

Blue Origin installed a 375-foot crane at Port Canaveral in October to handle New Glenn recovery operations.

Space Florida President and CEO Rob Long told lawmakers that space at Port Canaveral is “physically limited.” 

A study is looking at the growth of Port Canaveral and other ports to handle the expanding aerospace industry, Long said.

According to the Florida Ports Council, Port Canaveral’s goals and objectives include 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.”

Port Canaveral is home to ships used by SpaceX, led by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and provides a mobile harbor crane to help with the recovery of rocket boosters and their placement on shore.

Meanwhile, Port Canaveral and space industry leaders continue to work on reducing interruptions in launches and cruise operations related to launches requiring exclusion zones where no marine traffic is permitted.

In June, the Federal Aviation Administration aided commercial aviation across Central Florida by reducing the airspace that must be closed during space launches.

During the recent House committee meeting, David Goldman, the SpaceX vice president of satellite policy, made other recommendations, including improved launch infrastructure, an expanded pool of machinists, welders and other workers, and fewer local rules limiting the time for space operations.

“We must take steps to address any impediments, regulatory or otherwise, that would slow development,” Goldman said.

One regulation-related issue could help space tourism grow in Florida.

SpaceX launches people from Florida to the International Space Station. But most of the people paying for seats on orbital flights by SpaceX and suborbital runs by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic go up in Texas and land in New Mexico.

Mitchell said Blue Origin intends to offer space tourism in Florida.

“Our New Glenn vehicle is being designed to be human-rated from initial design,” Mitchell said. 

She said safety is in the companies’ interest. 

“Obviously, if we want to carry humans and be a flourishing industry, we are importing our own safety certifications within our companies and then working with our federal regulators to make sure any future regulations would not prohibit certain designs and capabilities,” Mitchell said.

Goldman added that regulation is in a good place now, but “it is really worth thinking about going into the future when it becomes more commonplace, making sure that we thought ahead and that the government is actually ahead of industry on having thought these things through.”

State lawmakers this year passed a measure to extend liability protections to private aerospace companies if crew members are injured or killed in spaceflights. The law stemmed from the growth in private launches. Florida previously provided such liability protections for injuries or deaths of spaceflight participants who were not considered crew members.

The 2024 session will start Jan. 9. Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican who chairs the House subcommittee, said the space industry has backing from House leaders at least in part because of the industry’s importance to Florida and national security. 

A recent SpaceX blastoff to deploy 23 Starlink satellites raised the number of launches this year from Cape Canaveral to 63.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who chairs the Space Florida board of directors, said that the number of launches could approach 80 by the end of 2023 and that more than 100 launches are scheduled for 2024.


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