A former Navy base in Jacksonville, Fla., may soon become a commercial spaceport for suborbital passenger trips.
During a Dec. 7 teleconference, the Florida Space Authority, an economic development agency at Cape Canaveral, will discuss whether to start the process of turning the Cecil Commerce Center, which is named after a Navy blimp pilot, into a spaceport.
The proposal would also require approval of the Jacksonville Airport Authority, which has controlled the airport portion of the base since Cecil Field Naval Air Station closed in 1999.
Under the plan, spacecraft carrying passengers would piggyback on large planes. The actual engine firings and sonic booms would take place over the ocean, airport authority officials said.
Jacksonville and Titusville, near the Kennedy Space Center, have been considered as locations for a spaceport, but Titusville's infrastructure is much smaller than Cecil Field, according to a study by the Space Authority. Cape Canaveral, where the Florida Space Authority is headquartered, also has been mentioned as a potential site for commercial space travel operations.
Already a backup landing strip for the space shuttle, Cecil Field's runway is 12,500 feet (3,750 meters) long and 200 feet (60 meters) wide. Consultants say the "ideal spaceport" would have a runway at least 10,000 feet (3000 meters) long and 200 feet (60 meters) wide.
If the Cecil Field project gets approval from the Space Authority, officials would still have to get a license from the Federal Aviation Administration and approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. That process could take several months, said Michael Stewart, a spokesman for the airport authority.
It is not clear who would pay for construction of the spaceport, which would cost between $10.5 million and $28 million. Airport officials said the facility would be used by private business.
Plans call for the site to launch passengers on suborbital spaceflights, but it also could ultimately be used for other businesses, including orbital satellite launches.
Space Authority consultants said by the end of the decade, Florida could see dozens of launches per year. They estimate the economic impact to be between $6.3 million and $17.5 million and create between 35 and 115 jobs.
The FAA has given its approval for five commercial spaceports so far: Cape Canaveral in Florida; the Virginia Space Flight Center; facilities at the Mojave Airport and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; and the Kodiak Launch Complex in Alaska. Spaceports also are under consideration in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
This report includes information from The Associated Press and MSNBC.com.
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