More than 100 rocket launches a year. Thousands of new high-tech jobs. Bustling downtown corridors developed to support the young workers drawn to a booming spaceport. It’s a bullish vision the Space Coast region could realize as soon as 2030 — if it begins planning now, Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said Tuesday.
“This is not far-fetched and it is near-term,” DiBello told the National Space Club Florida Committee during a presentation in Cape Canaveral. “The growth of the industry is inevitable, and we can either let happen or we can manage it well.”
DiBello invited local leaders, NASA and the Air Force to participate in meetings that will map out the new spaceport infrastructure as well as the roads, housing and amenities thatwill be needed to handle the projected growth.
The rosy forecast comes seven years after a low point in the area’s history, when NASA’s retirement of the 30-year space shuttle program resulted in roughly 8,000 layoffs of shuttle contractors and other indirect job losses.
Those jobs and more have been recovered, DiBello said, through a more diverse industry portfolio based at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport as well as Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Recent high-profile examples include rocket and satellite factories that Blue Origin and OneWeb Satellites are building at KSC’s Exploration Park, which Space Florida manages, and SpaceX plans for an expanded presence at KSC.
“In two years, we will have over 1,000 people working at Exploration Park alone that weren’t there year ago, and more are coming,” said DiBello.
Still, DiBello said it was time to “sound an alarm” about the need for coordinated planning that, if ignored, could thwart better days ahead.
Picture traffic jams — already a headache during some high-profile launches — long lines at grocery stores and waits for medical appointments, and a shortage of housing, restaurants and other services.
Those conditions won’t attract the high-tech workers under age 30 who want to live in happening downtown neighborhoods near natural areas, not in large, suburban housing tracts west of Interstate 95.
“We can’t expect our workers to continue to eat out of food trucks, or drive an hour to get to work at the Cape,” said DiBello.
Plans already exist to widen to four lanes Space Commerce Way, outside Exploration Park, which may one day house a commercial complex with restaurants, shops and other services.
In the short-term, a forecasted growth in launches to nearly 50 a year appears plausible as SpaceX continues to up its pace, Blue Origin fields a new rocket around 2020, and a new class of small satellite launchers emerges.
Longer-term projections are far more speculative. They are driven by proposals for more than 25 mega-constellations of commercial satellites, including several focused on meeting demand for global internet access.
Industry forecasts show that could mean launches of 10,000 satellites by 2030, or about 800 per year, DiBello said.
While not all would launch from the Space Coast, he said, “we can get the lion’s share.”
Various ventures also are planning everything from private space stations to lunar expeditions, satellite servicing and cleanup of space debris.
DiBello said the region — a triangle connecting the Space Coast with Daytona Beach to the north and Orlando to the west — must work to attract not just launches but the companies capitalizing on satellite technology.
“It’s time to focus attention more on the pointy end of rocket and the satellites and payloads that are being lofted, and where the real market and economics are,” he said. “Launch is the enabler, but space commerce is what we are after for the future.”
If all that came together, it would add 30,000 high-tech jobs by 2030, he said, growth the area isn’t ready for.
Space industry developments, however, often lag behind optimistic forecasts.
Space tourism, for example, has yet to take flight after more than a decade of hype. One of the companies Space Florida worked to attract in recent years, XCOR Aerospace, is out of business.
But DiBello is confident a growing spaceport will prompt “significant change” in the area’s workforce and lifestyle over the next decade or so.
“In general, it’s the beginning of a change in the small-town atmosphere that we have all loved for so long,” he said. “But we will grow.”