Despite surprising setback, Cecil Spaceport optimistic about future of launches

Jun 29, 2015
Jensen Werley
Jacksonville Business Journal

It's a setback, but not a major one.

That's the mentality Jacksonville Aviation Authority has regarding last week's veto of $1.5 million for Cecil Spaceport.

“It's a setback, but not something that breaks down the spaceport plan,” Michael Stewart, director of external affairs for the JAA, said in a sit-down with the Business Journal on Monday morning.

The most necessary thing for the spaceport to be operational — the taxiway and ramp — has already begun construction and will be completed by the end of August, Stewart said.

That works for anyone who wants to temporarily use the facility, including Generation Orbit, which has an agreement to use the spaceport as testing for its horizontal launches.

But the funding requested from the state — which was originally $5 million — would go to designing and building out permanent facilities, including a hangar. They won't have to be built until a permanent tenant is found.

In the meantime, Stewart said, the JAA would “retool and go for the full amount” for the next legislative session, and try to find other sources of funding, particularly for the design stage where the $1.5 million would have been used. If a company needs a hangar, Cecil has access to temporary ones the spaceport can use.

Another reason the timing isn't a problem: Generation Orbit, the first company slated to use the spaceport, is still waiting for its operations license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Cecil Airport manager Kelly Dollarhide said the company is expected to get its approval in January.

The fact that the spaceport didn't get the funding it requested — which it did last year— was surprising, Stewart said. As recently as Saturday, before last Tuesday morning's veto, he said he had reason to believe the request would pass. The sentiment is similar to the surprise of John Crescimbeni, who spearheaded support for the St. Johns River Ferry, also vetoed from the budget.

The only response Stewart said he got from the governor's office was that the request “circumvents the due diligence and review process” of Space Florida, although he was unsure what that referred to exactly.

Steve Grossman, CEO of the JAA, told board members at Monday's meeting that many budget items were derailed because of the debate surrounding the expansion of Medicaid.

“We'll regroup and be back next year,” Grossman said. “It's a long-term process.”

He added that by the next legislative session Cecil Spaceport will be more developed.

“It's important that the apron and taxiway will be done,” he said, “so the Legislature can see this is real.”



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