Space Florida will throw almost $20 million at several new rocket manufacturing projects

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PHOTO BY PAUL BRINKMANN / SPACE FLORIDA
  • Photo by Paul Brinkmann / Space Florida
Space Florida’s board of directors voted Tuesday to throw almost $20 million at new projects estimated to add over 270 high-paying space-related jobs at Cape Canaveral.

The biggest project would include $52 million in new facilities for a new player in launch operations and launch vehicle (rocket) manufacturing on Florida Space Coast.
The project was approved under the code name Maricopa. It is expected to build a major facility at Exploration Park near the new manufacturing plants for OneWeb and Blue Origin. It would also use Space Launch Complex 20 as needed, according to Space Florida officials.

Sources in the aerospace industry in Florida believe the company could be Firefly Aerospace, based near Austin, Texas, or its competitor Relativity Space, based in Los Angeles. Both are small companies developing small- to medium-sized rockets. Another possibility is Virgin Orbit.



Firefly says it is developing rockets it calls Alpha and Beta. The company says they will provide the space industry with access to frequent launches at the lowest cost per kilogram, "enabling ambitious commercial and exploration missions from Low Earth Orbit to the Moon."

Firefly is led by CEO Tom Markusic and funded by Noosphere Ventures, the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global. The board of Firefly includes John Isella, who has been senior technical advisor for NASA at Kennedy Space Center.

Space Florida, the state’s marketing and economic development agency for space, has agreed to negotiate for state funding of $18.9 million for the project, which is expected to support 239 jobs with anticipated annual pay of $70,000.

“This is a significant win if we are able to close the deal,” said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida. He said other regions are still vying for the project.

A smaller project provides $800,000 for a $7 million project — by Sacramento-based Aerojet Rocketdyne — to upgrade two launch processing facilities at Cape Canaveral’s Area 57. The company anticipates adding 35 jobs with estimated annual pay of $85,000.

(Space Florida board chairman Bill Dymond joked that Area 57 doesn’t harbor aliens, a reference to the legendary and secretive history of the Air Force’s Area 51 in Nevada.)

Aerojet Rocketdyne makes targets used in development of the U.S. missile defense system.

DiBello said the agency is no longer simply trying to update old NASA facilities from the days of the Apollo Program or the space shuttle.

“We are now in a world where we are building new infrastructure,” he said, adding that the new priorities require staff with expertise in system engineering and program management expertise.

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