Space Florida conceded Monday that SpaceX is poised to establish the world’s first private and commercial vertical launch site at Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County. “It’s part of the process,” Space Florida’s Chief of Strategic Alliances Dale Ketcham said Monday in a telephone interview. “Eventually, space will continue to grow to be a very large marketplace and Florida, regardless of what happens, we are going to continue to compete and get our share,” In summing up the likelihood that the commercial launches won’t be in Florida, Ketcham said, “You win some, you lose some.” He conceded that Florida lost this round and his organization is not happy about it, but he added, “You’re not supposed to be happy when you lose.”
Ketcham’s comments followed the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to support launch licenses to allow SpaceX to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical rockets from the proposed private spaceport at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville. Sites in Florida and Puerto Rico did not meet SpaceX’s criteria.
Space Florida is an independent special district of the State of Florida that was created to foster the growth and development of space industry there, assisting companies such as Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies in various ways. Space Florida, for one, provides infrastructure improvements within the Florida Spaceports territory that includes NASA/Kennedy Space Center, and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, locations where SpaceX launches. “We’ve been working hard with SpaceX for many years now and were involved with their initial evaluation of Florida and the locations here. They’ve not specifically informed us of anything, but because of our relationship, we’re acutely aware of their understandable desire to move their commercial operations away from the NASA and Air Force environment that are very burdensome and costly, and the unnecessary federal requirements,” Ketcham said. SpaceX knows Space Florida was eager to retain all commercial launches, but Ketcham acknowledged SpaceX’s desire “to effectively compete in a global market place against the Chinese, Russians and Europeans and others in the commercial market place. He called Texas a more attractive offer than anything the Air Force or NASA would offer.
Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said that while Space Florida would have preferred strong consideration from SpaceX on using a Florida-based commercial launch site, “we understand the company’s need for a near-term solution. This decision will not negatively impact any of Space Florida’s operations,” DiBello said, adding that Space Florida continues to work on creating a dedicated commercial launch site in that state.
Ketcham said SpaceX would continue to fly from Florida, but accepts SpaceX president Elon Musk’s desire to distance the company from federal agencies. “Federal agencies cannot and should not attempt to manage commercial enterprise,” he said.
According to public records and if SpaceX, as anticipated, formally announces the selection of the Boca Chica Beach site, it would take about two years to develop the launch site. Further, SpaceX’s launches to the International Space Station would continue from Florida, Ketcham said, but Florida will need to work hard to get the capability that Texas has secured. SpaceX also still must formally apply to FAA for required licenses.
Ketcham was in Brownsville during the SpaceX public hearings and said he understands Musk’s decision, given Brownsville’s enthusiasm to attract the business. “Right now Texas can offer them more friendly-operational environment for commercial launch than Florida can. I can’t blame them for making the decision they did,” Ketcham said.
“It’s going to be up to SpaceX to make the announcement, and I guess that Elon Musk is mercurial enough and eccentric enough, (that) I wouldn’t bet on it until he makes the announcement—but I think we all would be thunderstruck if he doesn’t.”