Once the gateway to the Moon, Florida's role as a spaceport is changing - but NASA and its support industry are still key

Almost half a century ago, Florida was chosen as the launch pad for America's space ambitions. Today, around 380 businesses in the state serve the space and related aeronautics sectors, many based on the so-called Space Coast, east of Orlando.

NASA dominates the landscape, literally and figuratively, with its giant Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, 15,500 employees and a budget of $1.65 billion, much of it spent in the state with these suppliers. Other space-related government sites include the US Air Force's 45th Space Wing based at Patrick AFB, just north of Cape Canaveral AFB. The combined civilian and military personnel at these bases totals 3,600.

Around 7,000 people are employed in manufacturing in the space and related sectors, such as missiles. Disciplines include propulsion, vehicle and parts manufacturing, research and technology and satellite communications.

LC-46 rocket launch complex

Support shake-up

NASA's decision to axe the Space Shuttle in 2010 and launch its replacement, the Consellation, by 2014 have required a reorganisation of the state's aerospace industry support bodies. The end of the Space Shuttle could see up to 5,000 jobs lost. The implications of the Shuttle's retirement led to the creation of Space Florida, an industry/state government body that brings together Florida's previous space-related bodies. It has drawn up a strategic plan to help local industry cope with the NASA changes, the latest version of which was published last March. It sets out a series of goals, which include capturing a larger share of the space vehicle supply market, hastening the integration of space and aviation, and tapping into an emerging market for suborbital flights and commercial cargo.

In the 1960s, Florida was famous for being the world's only gateway to the Moon. Nearly five decades later, as political priorities and commercial realities shape a very different industry, the state is determined to play a crucial role in delivering the resources to meet mankind's ambitions for exploring and exploiting the potential of space.

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Source: Flight International