August 4, 2012
By Timothy J. Gibbons
Calling it a boon to the economies of Jacksonville and the state, Gov. Rick Scott ceremoniously signed legislation Saturday designating Cecil Airport as a spaceport.
The legislation, passed by the Florida Legislature during the last session, prepares the way for commercial industry to set up space-related operations at the former military base on Jacksonville’s Westside.
The Jacksonville Aviation Authority, which controls the airport, is in the midst of working on a Spaceport Master Plan, the first such plan in the country. It's also exploring hiring a company to oversee spaceport operations.
Although the legislation isn't expected to lead to any immediate economic impact, it is part of a general push toward investing in the space business. Already, aerospace and aviation businesses employ more than 74,200 people in the state, making a $17.89 billion economic impact, according to Space Florida, the state organization overseeing space operations.
“Having Cecil Field designated as a spaceport will play a major role in the continued development of Florida’s aerospace and aviation industries,” Scott said, “and will continue to keep our economy heading in the right direction.”
The aviation authority has been working for more than six years on getting the designation, which will allow horizontally launched craft to use the site. (There are no plans for vertical launching vehicles, such as the rockets at Cape Kennedy.) The site has one of the longest runways on the East Coast, with such length being necessary for space launches.
As well as space tourism, Cecil spaceport could be used for rapidly sending cargo and people around the world: Suborbital flights, for example, could travel between Jacksonville and Singapore in about two hours.
Don't expect any such flights soon, of course: No company is yet certified by the Federal Aviation Authority to offer such service.
Such certification should come in a year or two, though, said JAA Executive Director Steve Grossman.
When it does, Jacksonville will be a prime position to capitalize on it as the only commercial spaceport near an urban area, he said. Passengers could take commercial flights to Jacksonville International Airport and then transfer to the spaceport for their trip to the stars.