As the Mueller Report has dominated headlines over the last few weeks, journalists have pored over more than 400 pages detailing the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. But an even longer report that largely flew under the radar could have major implications for Florida’s economy.
Two weeks ago, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a new rule for the licensing of commercial space launch and reentry. For Florida, with its burgeoning aerospace sector — accounting for 130,000 jobs and $19 billion in revenue — and multiple launch sites, including the most active spaceport in the world, the new rule is just the kind of regulatory tweak needed for the state’s ambitious plans to grow its local launch industry.
The new rule would eliminate unnecessary regulations and enhance flexibility through revision and rollback of the regulatory and licensing process. The FAA believes these adjustments will have a number of cost-cutting, efficiency-increasing benefits for industry. Specifically, these changes will increase the number of launches that sites can facilitate, allow operators the ability to launch from multiple sites without filing for a new license for each site, and would combine procedures required for reusable and expendable vehicles.
The policy changes line up with Trump’s overall space sector agenda. He has asked government agencies to streamline their commercial space regulations, including a call for the relevant agencies to develop a regulatory environment to enhance U.S. leadership in space by weighing the needs of private companies, their investors, and the taxpayer.
Above all else, the rule could diminish uncertainty for taxpayers in Florida. Through its government-funded space lobbying arm, Space Florida, the state House of Representatives has proposed $12.5 million in additional funding for the space industry in 2020. This investment from Space Florida is an addition to the more than $500 million that the organization and its predecessors have invested in space since 2000, not to mention the strong partnership the state has fostered with agencies like NASA since the early days of the U.S. space program. The proposed rule will also streamline launch regulations, which will ensure state-level government investment in the industry is not going to waste.
The new rule is also likely to attract new space business to Florida, fulfilling a goal the state has been working tirelessly on in recent years. In 2018, Space Florida approved measures to invest in the growing space industry through two projects: Project Pine and Project Forge. Project Pine invested $1 million to update the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), which has long been providing launch services for NASA.
Project Forge directed $1.5 million to a company developing lunar lander capabilities for the NASA’s new Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS), a public-private partnership program developing next generation lunar capabilities. Space Florida also invested in cost sharing efforts with up-and-comers in the space industry. This included investments of $14.5 million in SpaceX and $3.4 million in Blue Origin for their development efforts at KSC.
The state’s already robust tourism industry is expected to see a boost from increased launch frequency. Space investment in Florida has brought with it a surge in space tourism, which is so popular that KSC has become the number one attraction in the state, dethroning Walt Disney World. Local businesses are taking note. A Hyatt Place hotel currently under development near KSC and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station announced last year that their new facility will include a launch-viewing lounge for guests.
Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello is optimistic that launch frequency will increase from a dozen or so a year to hundreds per year within the next couple of decades. DiBello says this increase in volume will require improvements to local infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, as well as the launch facilities themselves. Speaking to the growth in space business, he has admitted that Florida will not “be able to capture all of that at Florida Spaceport, but we sure are going to try.”
In his short time in office, Gov. Ron DeSantis has already been a strong advocate for the state’s space sector. DeSantis has lobbied the Trump administration and Department of Defense to choose Florida as the location of its new Space Command, the first component of Trump’s Space Force.
Many other states are also vying for space business and Trump’s Space Command, but the new rule will give Florida a leg up in the domestic space race. If the FAA’s proposal is approved, DiBello’s ambitious goal may be more attainable than it once seemed.