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NASA Turns Down Space Florida Land Request (Update)

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
January 24, 2013
Filed under , , , , , ,

State requests spaceport land near Oak Hill, Daytona Beach News Journal
“In a response released last week, NASA said the property in question isn’t “excess,” that it’s still needed as a buffer zone between NASA missions and the community and as “a potential site for future mission requirements. However the agency indicated it would like to “further discuss” how it might make lands available for a commercial launch complex “independent of the federal range.” Space Florida President Frank DiBello called the response “disappointing,” saying it did not reflect the “sense of urgency or commitment for commercial market thinking.” On Saturday, Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s chief of strategic alliances, said the corporation “won’t give up on this effort to develop new commercial launch capabilities.”
Letter from Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll to NASA Administrator Bolden, 20 September 2012
Letter from NASA AA for Legislative and Governmental Affairs Seth Statler to Lt. Governor Hennifer Caroll, 30 Nov 2012

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.

12 responses to “NASA Turns Down Space Florida Land Request (Update)”

  1. Steve Whitfield says:

    NASA says that the area in question is still “needed as a buffer zone between NASA missions and the community.”  I would have thought that this explanation would be acceptable to anyone.  Public safety should be a top priority for both NASA and Space Florida.  The quote from the article makes it sound like Frank DiBello is more concerned about the “sense of urgency or commitment for commercial market thinking” than public safety.  I have to wonder just how representative of the true facts this article is.

    It also says that Space Florida is “working with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and others to get the Federal Aviation Administration to designate the entire state as a test site for unmanned commercial aircraft.”  The entire state?  And at least one local politician is said to be in favor of this.  I have to think that either there is some major misunderstanding on the part of Dinah Pulver, who wrote this article, or else public safety is no longer considered important by certain influential people in Florida.

    • Ralphy999 says:

      Most of the state really had the stuffing kicked out of it by the 2008 recession and a spat of hurricanes over the past few years. The Orlando area in particular has overbuilt on pure speculation. There are many other areas in Florida hurting as well. When this happens, there are the usual real estate promoters and deal  makers that will do anything to get business going again. Whether it makes sense or not. Historically there has always been someone wanting to sell swamp land to build on in Florida. It goes back to the 1920’s and beyond. Miami Beach used to be a mangrove swamp.

    • chriswilson68 says:

       “‘…designate the entire state as a test site for unmanned commercial
      aircraft.’  The entire state?  And at least one local politician is said
      to be in favor of this.  I have to think that either there is some
      major misunderstanding on the part of Dinah Pulver, who wrote this
      article, or else public safety is no longer considered important by
      certain influential people in Florida.”

      It all depends on what is meant by “test site”.  If by “test site” they mean an area where anything goes, and experimental, unproven UAVs can be flown, then I agree with you, it doesn’t make sense.

      However, I think that the logic in proposing all of Florida as a “test site” is that we’re in the process of moving from allowing commercial UAV activity only in special very restricted circumstances to allowing UAVs to have full access to all the airspace any other commercial aircraft have access to.  As a step in that direction, it makes sense to roll it out in a few parts of the country where the commercial UAVs can start sharing heavily-used airspace with other aircraft.  The FAA can watch that for a while and see if there are any problems and tweak its air traffic control policies and rules for UAVs and other aircraft to solve those problems before rolling it out across the entire country.

      So the UAVs that are free to roam Florida under this proposal wouldn’t be any random untested prototypes.  They would be UAVs that had been tested and certified as being safe for use in mixed airspace.  They’d just be allowed in Florida before everywhere else.

  2. chriswilson68 says:

    “needed as a buffer zone between NASA missions and the community”

    That doesn’t make much sense.  First of all, Pad 39B is closest to the land in question, and a lot of Titusville is closer to Pad 39B than any of the land in question.  And rockets are launched toward the east and south, where their paths go over water, not over land.  And Titusville is full of “the community”, especially when there’s a launch and people flock there.

    Secondly, they’re not talking about putting in a housing subdivision in the land in question — they’re talking about putting in a launch facility!  So even if this was somehow in the danger zone during rocket launches, it’s not as if a bunch of houses are in danger.  It’s just more launch infrastructure, just like all the other facilities at KSC.  They don’t evacuate all of KSC whenever there’s going to be a launch, and I’m sure the people at the proposed commercial launch facility would be happy to agree to the same level of risk that many KSC employees agree to when they work there even during launches.

    “a potential site for future mission requirements”

    That is really just another way of saying, “we have no use for it now and no plans for it, but since we have the power to, we’re going deny you what you need for your immediate, concrete plans just in case somehow, someday, we come up with a use for it — never mind that we already have no use for many of the launch pads and other facilities we already have and don’t even have the money to maintain them”.

    It’s an obvious example of putting NASA’s own narrow priorities ahead of the best interests of the nation.  Whoever made this decision should be fired.

    • Ralphy999 says:

      The proposed site won’t be able to support the ISS because in order to do so they would have to launch practically over the small community of Oak Hill. Plus there would be more shutdown time for Playlinda beach if the launch is to the east and south. Playlinda is the largest undeveloped beach in Florida, IIRC. It’s better to incorporate the commercial launch site at KSC. KSC has already said they want to  lease some the launch facilties at KSC including the control room and a spare shuttle launch pad, etc. So why not work with them? There are also enough buildings at KSC to manufacture any space gear. I think expanding the launch capabilties at KSC is a far better option and less harmful to the land that is already set aside as wildlife refuge, etc. But like I said in my message above, commercial interests in Florida are powerful. And they are not necessarily in the “best interests” of the nation.

    • Paul451 says:

      “Whoever made this decision should be fired.”

      Managers don’t get fired for maintaining the status quo. They get fired for taking the risk to change it.

      [That says, SF probably went the wrong way about this. It might have been better to lease the land for “spacecraft testing and other purposes”, then built the Spaceport facilities, and then tried to get the transfer.]

    • hikingmike says:

      “Secondly, they’re not talking about putting in a housing subdivision in
      the land in question — they’re talking about putting in a launch

       So did they promise that? Would that be included as a requirement in any agreement?

      Also remember that’s a National Wildlife Refuge.

      The county said it well:

      The county’s goal is to see a small percentage of the land in the
      seashore or refuge used for the commercial spaceport “in an
      environmentally sensitive way,” Karl said, while ensuring that “the vast
      majority of the acreage around Haulover Canal and Mosquito Lagoon is
      preserved for environmental purposes.”

  3. John Gardi says:


    Goodness! What we have here is a feeding frenzy over potential table scraps! It’s not a commercial spaceport they are fighting over, it’s jurisdiction! NASA losing control over undeveloped land. Space Florida scrambling to justify it’s very existence. Politicians vying for brownie points for being responsible for ‘making it all happen’. Need I go on?

    Try this. Make it a zoning issue! Zone it as ‘Launch Site: Industrial’ and have the tenents refer to the FAA for regulations on it’s use. Make the zoning in perpetuity so NASA doesn’t have to worry about condos with ‘out of this world’ views going in there. Why should it require more oversight then any other industrial complex? “But we’ve always been involved in the Space Program!” say all the politicians and other stakeholders. Look where it got us, I say.

    Brownsville is looking better all the time for SpaceX. Folks down there are treating SpaceX’s proposal like they were getting a new car plant, no different. In fact, they appear to be doing there utmost to make it easier for SpaceX to land the deal with incentives and red tape mitigation just like any community in the last fifty years thinking of their local economy more than ‘who’s the boss’!

    Note to Florida: Back off on the political maneuvering and you might actually  attract some business to your state instead of them running for the hills.


    • Michael Spencer says:

      ‘a view’! had to laugh. I wonder how many condos would be  needed to generate appreciable income (money as measured in NASA terms, billions, not millions).

      People pay a huge premium for a golf course view, more for a golf course over lake view, and huge amounts for ocean views. What’s a space launch view worth? 🙂

      • John Gardi says:


        They could rent out their balconies for launches to offset that high mortgage rate! 😉

        But seriously, I’m not surprised at NASA’s stand. Look, they don’t even have a fixed client to use Pads 39a and 39b yet. The Vehicle Assembly Building is vacant. Boeing and others are interested in the old Shuttle hangers but the high bays still up for grabs.

        This is not good for NASA. They’re curating a museum until they can convince someone to pick up and light the torch (literally, in this case).

        There is no way NASA is going to let another spaceport get built until (or unless) they get a tenant to use those pads first. It’s bad enough that the southern range is getting some use because it’s out of their jurisdiction.

        SpaceX is itching to get their own spaceport far away from the Cape because NASA and the Air Force costs them too much money and time. They don’t need a workforce of thousands to get Falcon flying. Others will feel the same.

        Come to think of it, if the powers that be would make it easier and economical to use the southern range they could make all those derelict pads the ‘Gateway to Space’. So far, I haven’t heard anyone suggest that.


  4. ellegood says:

    Space Florida kind of expected this response from NASA, thinking it would be the first of several volleys toward the ultimate disposition of the property. One suggestion I’ve heard is for the state to purchase commercial property just north of the KSC line. Another might be to officially deed the land to the FAA. 

    Rest assured, nothing would be built without the requisite safety buffer area; this would continue to be a federal requirement whether from the Air Force, NASA or FAA.

    An even easier proposition might be to change the 1963 Webb-McNamara agreement that establishes the Air Force as the launch safety authority for missions conducted on KSC property. This could be done administratively or by Congressional action. 

    Change Webb-McNamara and LC-39A would become more attractive for commercial users too. But while such a change would address concerns about Air Force oversight, companies like SpaceX are similarly concerned about having NASA oversight and insight on a daily basis.

    The whole debate highlights the need for revolutionary change at the Cape… like the idea of letting a “spaceport authority” manage the property (not just Shiloh), with incentives for maximizing the productive use of this taxpayer-funded infrastructure.

    • dogstar29 says:

      I agree. There is considerable unused area on KSC. If SLS should be cancelled LC-39 itself would be without a tenant. There is considerably more currently unused launch pad area on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It would make sense to try to remove some of the obstacles that are preventing commercial providers from launching from launching here. It seems ironic that we have to sell land to the state just to remove administrative barriers.