Florida’s attempt to secure a 150-acre tract of land from NASA to develop a commercial launch complex signals the stiff competition Texas faces in luring a space exploration company to Cameron County, an economic development official said Friday.
Florida is not saying if it is trying to obtain the acreage from NASA to reel in Space Exploration Technologies Inc., or SpaceX, which is planning to construct its own launch pad.
“We are not at liberty to comment on who the potential customers might be,” Tina Lange — spokeswoman for Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development organization — told the Valley Morning Star Friday.
But for Brownsville Economic Development Council Vice President Gilberto Salinas, the writing is on the wall: “It’s loud and clear.”
“Florida is trying to make their incentive package better than everybody else’s,” Salinas said.
SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., has been scouting at least Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico for potential sites to construct the launch pad.
The developments come as Texas continues efforts to attract SpaceX to a site near Brownsville close to Boca Chica Beach for the launch pad project.
Salinas said Florida’s move is apparent. “They wouldn’t want to lose SpaceX’s project to Texas. Amassing large tracts of land is a huge indicator of what they are trying to do.”
“This is a wake-up call for all of us working on this project in Texas,” Salinas said.
The site in Cameron County has been said to be the lead contender for the project. The Federal Aviation Administration is conducting an environmental assessment on the site near Boca Chica Beach, and SpaceX has purchased several properties in Cameron County.
This comes while talks continue between Texas and the firm on an incentives package and Cameron County researches title to properties it believes it owns that could be leased or sold to SpaceX. FFA verified that the environmental assessment is being conducted at SpaceX’s expense.
As to whether or not Florida’s move impacts Texas, “We don’t have any comment,” SpaceX spokeswoman Katherine Nelson said Friday.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Letter to NASA
Florida’s Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll chairs the Space Florida Board and on Sept. 20 she wrote a letter to NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The Valley Morning Star secured the letter from the state of Florida. Carroll enlisted their cooperation to facilitate Space Florida’s purchase of the 150 acres.
The acreage is located at the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the vicinity of the former citrus community of Shiloh and Carroll wrote that this is surplus property not needed for public use.
Carroll further noted that the state proposes to develop the property and operate the site as a commercial launch complex independent of the neighboring federal range and spaceports.
Carroll also requested that the agencies enlist the cooperation of the secretary of the interior in that Florida recognizes the environmental considerations associated with these areas of KSC and the existing management responsibilities of the Department of Interior regarding the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore.
“Additionally, through thoughtful coordination with the Department of Interior, we believe that the proposed actions will pose no significant impacts to the environment,” Carroll wrote.
The results of the environmental assessment being conducted at SpaceX’s expense by FAA on the Cameron County site are expected to be released early next year.
Space Florida isn’t saying if the intent to obtain the 150-acre site from NASA is tied to SpaceX.
“There are certainly other media outlets taking some guesses, but we are not able to talk about anybody that we might be in discussions with in relation to that property,” Lange said.
The launch facilities that SpaceX has been accessing include Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
And, while Space Florida won’t provide details about its plans for the land, there is no hesitancy in its stance to do what it can to keep the commercial space exploration firm in the “Sunshine State.”
“We have been working with SpaceX for some time,” Lange said of Florida’s years’ long relationship with the firm, which she said brings significant benefits to the state. “We are thrilled to have them here and we will continue working with them,” she said.
“We are very proud to have them in our community,” she added, noting that Space Florida looks forward to continue working with the firm as it looks at Florida to expand operations.
Lange also noted that, “we certainly would want to do whatever we could to keep them . . .”
Lange said she is not aware of the conduct of any environmental assessment in Florida regarding SpaceX’s project, or of the purchase of any land associated with it.
Salinas said that the developments in Florida serve as a stark reminder for Texas to stay focused.
“That should remind all of us that we can’t solely rely on geographic location as an advantage over other states,” he said.
“It’s going to take a lot more to land this project.”