Space Agency Gears Up for Increased Launches

TALLAHASSEE — With Florida rocket launches in 2024 expected to top a record set last year, the state’s aerospace agency is seeking more money from lawmakers and is backing an expansion of spaceport designations.

Florida had 72 orbital launches last year. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, who chairs the Space Florida Board of Directors, said last week that launches from Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center represented 68 percent of the orbital flights from the U.S. in 2023. The state anticipates about 120 launches this year.

“So, a huge uptick in cadence,” Nunez said during a Space Florida board meeting.

The Sunday night launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center was the sixth from Florida this year.

The attention on increased numbers of launches — there were 57 in 2022, 31 in 2021, 30 in 2020 and 16 in 2019 — comes as Space Florida has requested its first bump in state funding in about a decade. It is seeking a $5 million increase to its $12.5 million operating budget.

Space Florida President and CEO Rob Long said during the Thursday board meeting that the aerospace sector in Florida has grown 40 percent in the past decade. He said the funding request is mainly to increase staff, “to help us with the flow of deals that are constantly coming in.”

“There is no shortage of business right now,” Long said.

With legislative leaders indicating this could be a year of fiscal belt-tightening, the Space Florida request didn’t appear in the initial budget proposals (PCB APC 24-01 and SPB 2500) released Friday by the House and Senate.

Combined line items for the agency would match funding in the current fiscal year, which started July 1. Lawmakers in the coming weeks will negotiate a final budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

Space Florida members last week had already seen the initial House budget figures, but Nunez remained optimistic.

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A former House member, Nunez said Space Florida has a “good rapport” with the legislative leaders and members. But she also encouraged board members to advocate where they can for an increase.

“In years past we have relied on the board to help us advocate for some of those budget items,” Nunez said. “So, we’ll continue to lean on you for support and assistance.”

The agency is also backing bills (SB 968 and HB 577) that would designate property within the former boundaries of Homestead Air Force Base in Miami-Dade County and at Tyndall Air Force Base in Bay County as “spaceport territory.”

A key part of Space Florida’s activities since its creation in 2006 has been facilitating financing, mostly for private research-and-development and manufacturing facilities. However, its ability to develop space infrastructure is limited to areas designated as “spaceport territories.”

Spaceport territory is designated in Brevard, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Gulf, Walton and Duval counties.

The Senate version of the spaceport bill has cleared one committee and is scheduled to be considered Tuesday by the Transportation Committee. The House version has been approved by one subcommittee.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill to extend liability protections to private aerospace companies if crew members are injured or killed in spaceflights. The new law stemmed from the growth in private launches. Florida previously had provided such liability protections for injuries or deaths of spaceflight participants who were not considered crew members.

Lawmakers also moved the public-private Space Florida under the Department of Commerce, revamping the board to give the governor a bigger say in appointments.

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