Satellites set to launch from Cecil

November 21, 2013

By Carole Hawkins, Contributing Writer

Four years after its creation, Cecil Spaceport is getting its first customer — a company that will launch micro-satellites into orbit.

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority will ask the state to fund airport roadways for the project.

The authority was among nearly 60 constituent organizations Wednesday who told the Duval County delegation items they would like supported during the 2014 legislative session.

Those wishes included maintenance funding for St. Johns River Ferry, keeping state college tuitions low, capital improvements for public schools, environmental protection for the St. Johns River and accepting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion.

One of the more surprising ones was JAA's request to fund upgrades to its Spaceport.

Generation Orbit Launch Services Inc. has selected Jacksonville's Cecil Spaceport as the primary launch site for its small satellite transport operation.

The company plans to put small satellites into space by launching a rocket from an in-flight aircraft. The micro-satellites would support low gravity, astrophysics and hypersonic research at a fraction of the cost of full-size satellites.

On Sept. 30, NASA awarded the Atlanta-based company its first contract. Under it, Generation Orbit will launch at least two test flights next year and a conduct a full satellite launch in 2016.

State funding requested by the JAA would be used to connect the proposed spaceport site with taxiways and roads, authority spokesman Michael Stewart said.

"It's extremely exciting for us to be on the ground floor of an industry that is still being developed and Jacksonville and Cecil Airport will be a part of this," he said. "We look forward to your support to help make this happen."

Other requests heard at the Duval County legislative delegation's public hearing included:

• Mayor Alvin Brown: Continue to pursue joint efforts to grow the Jacksonville economy by helping to deepen the port's shipping channel and extending funding for the region's film and TV industry.

• Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford: Support the St. Johns River Ferry by funding much-needed improvements on the wharf and the ferry;

explore how operational subsidies offered by Florida could be used to develop commuter rail in Northeast Florida; and help secure federal funding for Greyhound's relocation Downtown to the Regional Transportation Center.

• Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti: Fund school building repairs and expand wireless access, so students can learn through technology devices instead of through textbooks, by restoring state Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds to public schools; preserve the dual enrollment program, which provides college courses at the high school level; and support Common Core. • St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman: Continue funding the St. Johns River restoration, which removes nutrient pollution and guard against losing important water quality standards during the state's effort to improve consistency in the consumptive/water use permitting process.