February 21, 2018

Space Florida to take over KSC’s shuttle runway

File photo of Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility runway. Credit: NASA/KSC
File photo of Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility runway. Credit: NASA/KSC

NASA will hand over control of the Kennedy Space Center’s disused space shuttle landing strip to the state of Florida on June 22 in a major step toward repurposing the three-mile-long runway for future spacecraft, officials said Monday.

The board of Space Florida, a state economic development agency chartered to lure aerospace business, approved a deal Monday to take over the spaceport’s Shuttle Landing Facility, ending a two-year negotiation between the state government and NASA since the parties announced their intention to transfer custody of the runway in June 2013.

A formal signing ceremony for the 30-year management agreement between Space Florida and NASA is set for June 22. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed Monday.

The runway has seen occasional use for satellite deliveries, race car tests and other purposes since the last space shuttle returned to Earth in July 2011.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced the deal at the Paris Air Show.

“With this agreement, Florida will gain access to both unrestricted airspace and one of the longest runways in the world, which will provide the Space Coast with a competitive advantage over any other state competing for aerospace jobs,” Scott said in a statement. “The Shuttle Landing Facility will be converted into an economic engine that will bring more jobs to families in the Space Coast and will also help drive the next generation of spaceflight and discovery from Florida.”

The Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast estimates the Space Florida’s operation of the runway will create more than 200 new jobs over six years in Brevard County.

“This marks the dawn of a new era for horizontal spaceflight in Florida and the country as a whole,” said Frank DiBello, Space Florida’s president and CEO. The most storied runway in the world will now become the cornerstone of Florida’s next generation commercial spaceport.”

The Shuttle Landing Facility is located 2 miles northwest of KSC’s iconic Vehicle Assembly Building. The runway stretches 15,000 feet long and 300 feet wide, plus 1,000-foot paved overruns on each end.

The facility includes a 6-acre parking apron, an air traffic control tower and viewing stands for VIPs and media. The SLF hosted 78 shuttle landings.

Space Florida plans a $5 million project over the next two years to ready the SLF for future customers. DiBello said in an interview last year that the facility needed a propellant farm, communications and power links to the Air Force range, improvements to the tower and hangars.

Spacecraft with horizontal takeoff and landing capabilities could use the runway. Possible users include the U.S. Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane, the Sierra Nevada Corp. Dream Chaser mini-shuttle, and XCOR Aerospace’s suborbital rocket planes.

The Air Force and NASA announced last year the Boeing-built X-37B space plane program was relocating to the Kennedy Space Center. The Air Force program took control of two decommissioned shuttle-era hangars, with plans to land the X-37B space plane at KSC’s shuttle runway starting as soon as the conclusion of the spacecraft’s fourth mission, which blasted off May 20.

Sierra Nevada has designated Kennedy Space Center as the primary landing site for the Dream Chaser, a commercial spacecraft in development to ferry crews or supplies into orbit. The Dream Chaser lost in a bid for NASA funding to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, but the spacecraft is still vying for a contract to transport cargo to and from the outpost.

Air-launched rockets could also take off from KSC’s runway under carrier aircraft and fly over the Atlantic Ocean before streaking into orbit.

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