Kennedy Space Center looks to future

Plan would support commercial ventures and NASA

1968: Apollo 8, the second manned mission in the Apollo space program, is launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It would become the first manned space craft to leave Earth orbit, reach the moon, orbit it and return safely to Earth. The three-astronaut crew -- Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot James Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders -- became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit. (NASA)

TITUSVILLE, Fla. – Kennedy Space Center could see a major expansion of facilities by 2032, even as NASA copes with flat budgets and a mandate to downsize following the shuttle program's retirement, according to Local 6 partner Florida Today.

The center's new 20-year master plan, which will be the focus of a public hearing tonight in Titusville, maps out sites for several new launch pads, two seaports, a second runway and a rail link to Port Canaveral.

The plan seeks to advance the agency's post-shuttle goal of transforming KSC into the go-to launch site for not only NASA missions but also emerging commercial ventures that would drive any new development.

"We all want to see fire and smoke out here, and we want to see it no matter if (the vehicle) has a NASA meatball on the side or it's got a company emblem on the side," Trey Carlson, KSC's master planner, said.

A first look at the plan publicized just a week ago, however, some are concerned KSC won't become different enough to attract launches of commercial satellites and space tourists, the only near-term growth opportunity given tightening federal budgets.

State officials say NASA's apparent desire to manage all activity at the spaceport, as it has historically, will lead companies to choose more flexible, affordable options offered by other states.

SpaceX, for example, is expected to confirm plans soon to build a pad in Texas for commercial launches.

"The marketplace is looking for something different, and that will put Florida at a competitive disadvantage," said Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida.

Tonight's public hearing, and another Thursday in New Smyrna Beach, start the process of reviewing potential environmental impacts resulting from the center master plan, which NASA headquarters has approved.

Any of the proposed new launch pads, seaports or runways would require more detailed environmental study. They are not needed for NASA missions and depend on commercial demand that, along with the state, would be expected to pay for the facilities.

The potential addition of up to three vertical launch pads shows the differing visions for how KSC could best support commercial operations.

NASA has suggested two pads — labeled 39C and 39D — that could be developed north of KSC's two existing pads inside the secure area bounded by State Road 402, or Beach Road.

KSC's master plan promotes cultural changes needed to make the center more commercially friendly, and proposes commercial zones where NASA oversight would be minimized.

At the same time, it envisions NASA managing and generating revenue from commercial operations.

The plan encourages profit-sharing partnerships, offering services "such as on-site dining, service facilities, or recreational opportunities to compete with private sector business developments," and pursuing exemptions to laws prohibiting competition with the private sector.

It suggests assigning a senior manager to drive implementation of NASA's vision for a multi-user spaceport.