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Space Florida pursues 'major' aerospace deal

Deal could bring 250 new jobs to area

Moon Express, a private company developing a small lunar lander, will move its operations from Launch Complex 36 to Launch Complexes 17 and 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.    [PHOTO: Moon Express]
Moon Express, a private company developing a small lunar lander, will move its operations from Launch Complex 36 to Launch Complexes 17 and 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. [PHOTO: Moon Express]

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Space Florida hopes to close a deal soon with a company considering a “major aerospace presence” in Florida, potentially bringing 250 jobs with an average salary of $86,000.

News 6 partner Florida Today says the project — referred to as "Project Sabal" — involves an unnamed publicly traded company and includes construction of a $36 million manufacturing facility, part of $80 million in initial capital investment.

The state would contribute $17.5 million to that facility, into which the company hopes to move by March 2017.

“We know there’s other states chasing them,” Howard Haug, Space Florida’s executive vice president, treasurer and chief investment officer, said during a board meeting Thursday in Tallahassee. “We expect they’ll announce soon. This is down to the 11th hour.”

“I think “major aerospace presence’ may be an understatement here,” said board chairman Bill Dymond, an Orlando attorney. “This is yet another very significant deal, with the potential to be even more significant."

Dymond said he knows the players involved but is bound by confidentiality rules from disclosing them.

“I am very comfortable that we’ve got very significant partners on the other side of the relationship,” he said.

A final deal would have to return to Space Florida’s board for approval. Under proposed terms, the agency would finance and build the manufacturing site that the company would operate under a long-term lease.

Space Florida would help secure financing from private lenders but would not br responsible for the debt.

No details were discussed about the company’s business or the location of the manufacturing facility.

Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello spoke in general terms during the meeting about ongoing efforts to diversify the state’s space industry beyond rocket launches.

Two companies, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, are now building crew capsules — Orion and the CST-100 Starliner, respectively — at Kennedy Space Center. Last fall, Blue Origin chose the Space Coast as its home base for building and launching planned orbital rockets.

The state is also chasing opportunities to build satellites, with several companies proposing huge constellations of micro-satellites to expand broadband Internet access.

In other business on Thursday, the board approved contributing up to $26.4 million toward Blue Origin’s launch facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 36, and its new manufacturing site at Exploration Park near KSC.

With Blue Origin settling in at Launch Complex 36, Moon Express, a startup that is developing a small lunar lander, will relocate from there down the coast to Launch Complexes 17 and 18, which were inactive.

Space Florida on Thursday approved contributing up to $1.6 million toward improving the facilities, which include the former home of Delta II rockets, a total that Moon Express will match.

Another deal, called “Project ICE,” would lend an unnamed aerospace manufacturing company $1 million, and secure another $2.5 million in bank loans.

According to meeting materials, the company “has demonstrated expertise in several key space systems and advanced manufacturing technologies,” and plans to use the International Space Station to develop a product.

Space Florida’s board also approved proceeding with negotiations that could create a new joint venture between Cape Canaveral-based Craig Technologies and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, assisted by $1.1 million from the state.

Space Florida helped start CASIS, a nonprofit that NASA selected to manage non-NASA research on the ISS. The state money proposed for the joint venture specializing in "advanced manufacturing capabilities" was originally given to CASIS to start up the new organization, but was not needed.

The deals that the board considered Thursday are "very, very meaningful projects,” DiBello said.

One board member, Melbourne-based Jason Steele, said he had “major heartburn” about voting to approve millions of state dollars for unnamed companies.

“At some point in time, we’re going to get one of these things that will blow up right in our face,” he said. “Voting blindly just really bothers me.”

But Dymond said the board had given its approval only to continue negotiations, and the proposed deals would receive further scrutiny.

“I think our role in part is economic development, and that is not risk-free,” he said.