Florida’s Aerospace Assets — and 29 Electoral Votes — Keep It in Running for Space Command HQ

In 2006, the Legislature created Space Florida, not only as a public-private state agency, but as an independent special district. Now, five “spaceports” address concerns much like state and local long-range intermodal plans.

by John Haughey, The Center Square / May 16, 2019
The first stage engines of the Saturn 5 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. Shutterstock/NaughtyNut

The nascent United States Space Command’s headquarters will bring 1,200 high-paying jobs and an estimated $2 billion in direct Pentagon investment, essentially “seed” money that could generate related employment for thousands and contribute as much as $5 billion in associated benefits to the state and local economy where it is placed.

Florida wants it — badly — and is aggressively lobbying the Trump administration to be included as a candidate for the new command despite a preliminary April recommendation by the U.S. Air Force that named six potential sites, including four in Colorado, to serve as headquarters.

But at the "Why Florida” summit at Orlando International Airport, organized by Space Florida and attended by more than 100 government, chambers of commerce and space industry leaders, state officials said the Air Force’s proposal does not rule out Florida.

“We know that’s not the case,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who chairs Space Florida’s Board of Directors. “We know it’s wide open and Florida is in it. And we’re in it to win.”

“Despite what you may have read in the media, the Air Force has indicated to me that it is following its basic strategic process” and is open to other recommendations, said U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz, R-St. Augustine Beach, who sits on the House’s Armed Services Committee and Commerce Committee’s Space Subcommittee.

Florida’s prospects are buoyed when political ramifications are factored. The state has 29 electoral votes, a history of razor-thin GOP victories and the decision is due October 2020, just weeks before the general election.

“U.S. Space Command belongs in Florida,” Nuñez said. “No other state hosts more combatant commands. Florida also is home to over 20 military installations. Additionally, Florida has a long history in support of our nation’s efforts in space. And our commercial space industry is booming.”

In 2006, the Legislature created Space Florida, not only as a public-private state agency, but as an independent special district.

Space Florida now operates five “spaceport” special districts that require extraterrestrial transportation concerns be addressed in the same procedural way state and local governments must, for example, coordinate on incorporating bicycle lanes and sidewalks into long-range intermodal plans.

Florida already is a top launch designation for the booming commercial aerospace and spaceflight industry with Elon Musk's SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing, Relativity Space and Firefly Aerospace among at least 21 firms investing in the state’s “spaceports.”

“We own the higher ground on the ability to place, support and operate space assets,” Space Florida President Frank DiBello said, noting “preferred orbital trajectories,” an established commercial spaceflight industry, an existing network of military and Florida’s historical role in aerospace development makes it an attractive site for Space Command headquarters.

Florida, with its aerospace and spaceflight infrastructure, has a history of supporting NASA and military space development, beginning with America’s first launch of Bumper 8 in 1950 and the first manned missions into space in 1961, and dozens of active and inactive NASA/military launch sites along the “Space Coast.”

The 45th Space Wing, which launches more rockets than any other military unit, is based at Cape Canaveral. The Air Force’s only other “space wing” — the 30th — is based at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.

Transitioning those NASA and commercial resources to military applications would be a “natural fit,” as Gov. Ron DeSantis has said in his entreaties to President Donald Trump to name Florida as the new command’s home.

DiBello said the next generation of military space assets, such as hypersonics, laser-beam, cyber and electromagnetics and robotic platforms will need to mobile and positioned for rapid use.

Florida can do that, he said.

“Space defenses is happening. And it’s being driven by our adversaries. And it will be launched and supported by Florida,” DiBello said.

“There will be and must be deep logistics support and rapid-deployment capability and built-in resilience for rapid reconstitution in the face of real-time attrition,” he continued. “This is real-time space operations in the face of a threat.”

DeSantis has recommended Trump consider Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, home to Kennedy Space Center, and Patrick Air Force Base, between Satellite Beach and Cocoa Beach, for Space Command headquarters.

“Make no doubt that space today is a war-fighting domain. It is no longer a domain just to travel through,” retired Air Force Lt-General Glenn Spears said. “It is a domain, a global common, that this nation must protect.”

Florida is ready to assist the Pentagon in doing that, Space Florida Vice President Government & External Relations Dale Ketcham said.

"Creating a new culture for a new service and training war fighters to fight in a new domain,” he said, “this is something Florida is good at.”

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