After spacecraft explosion, caution — but no fears — at Cecil Spaceport

Nov 10, 2014
Jensen Werley, Reporter
Jacksonville Business Journal

Advocates of Cecil Spaceport said they're not worried that a deadly accident — like the recent crash in the Mojave Desert by Virgin Galactic— could happen in Jacksonville.

But Cecil Airport Manager Rusty Chandler said he feels the occurrence will have an effect on the growth of the local space station.

"Anytime you have an accident like that in an emerging business that hasn't really proven itself yet — and horizontal activity really hasn't proven itself — you will have an impact," Chandler said.

The industry as a whole will be even more cautious to prevent any repeats, which could lead to more more certifications for vehicles and additional training.

The Chief Operating Officer of Generation Orbit— Cecil Spaceport's primary tenant — said that an accident like Virgin's makes everyone extra cautious, although the company has alway been safety minded.

"Any time something like that happens, you go back and review what you're doing," COO A.J. Piplica said. "We're pretty pleased with the processes we have in place. We don't see major changes happening with that."

The launches Generation Orbit is planning are fairly different from those of Virgin Galactic.

Generation Orbit technology launches a pod from a Gulfstream airplane. Although the plane itself has a pilot, the pod is unmanned and is launched over water rather than land, occurring about 40,000 feet in the air, hundreds of nautical miles off shore, Piplica said.

What is more, Chandler added that the mission itself is completely different.

"Generation Orbit is focused on putting something into lower orbit," Chandler said, "while the goal of the Mojave is to go onto the edge of space atmosphere and encounter weightlessness for about 5 to 10 minutes, then return."

Piplica said that its two vehicles, the GOLaunchers 1 and 2, are for Air Force research and for launching commercial satellites into lower orbit. The earliest flights in Jacksonville won't begin until 2016 and 2017.

Overall, Chandler said the operation occurring at Cecil Field is less risky than the one in California.

While its possible manned flights into space could be certified in Jacksonville eventually, there is a special certification process the spaceport would have to go through. While an airport can be certified by the FAA or the state and then any airline or flight can operate at that airport, said Chandler, a spaceport has more stringent guidelines. To fly into space, he said, the spaceport, operator, vehicle and particular flight path must all be certified.

"If they did come here," Chandler said, "they'd have to go through an extensive certification process. It's a long way off."

Jensen covers logistics, manufacturing and defense



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