Nov. 29, 2013
Jim Piggott, General Assignment Editor
After years of discussion, Cecil Airport is becoming Cecil Spaceport. Satellites are set to launch from the old Navy base on the Westside by late 2016.
Much of the former Naval Air Station still looks the same as it did when the Navy pulled out in 1999.
"We have a spaceport license right now. We have been searching for operators," said Michael Stewart of the Jacksonville Airport Authority. "This gets us into the realm of our first operators."
We won't see rockets lifting off like they do at the Cape Canaveral... at least for now. Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch, or GO Launch, has signed on as one of the newest tenants of Cecil Commerce Center.
These horizontal launches (simulation, right) using new technology involve small less expensive satellites.
"It's rather small, but we will have a lot of activity," said John Olds, CEO of Generation Orbit Launch. "The jet is a typical business-class jet -- a Gulfstream G3, G4 class, with rockets underneath it. The payloads are very small. The type of things we're looking at are called nano sats."
The jet is flown out over the ocean and the rocket is then launched into space. It's a cheaper way for companies to get involved in the satellite game. The company has already landed one client.
"We sold the first ride. The first flight NASA bought. They will be flying at the end of 2016," Olds said. "We have a lot of test work to do before that -- a lot of demonstrations to do to get acquainted with the range."
Trials should begin next year.
For now all that will be needed at the site is a new hanger for the plane and a center for launch command. The Airport Authority has given it a green light and is asking the state to help fund some of the infrastructure like roads to the site."The FAA is looking at all the safety aspects," Stewart said.