Governor signs space bill

Governor Rick Scott signed a bill Thursday to give a boost to Florida’s commercial space industry.  James Call reports, the measure will free up federal and state dollars to help build the facilities needed to launch equipment and people into space.

The Governor invited the House and Senate sponsors into his office for a bill signing that changes one word in the Florida law books. It is the first bill signing of the 2012 Legislative session.

Senate Bill 634 passed through both chambers without a single nay vote. That support is testament to the wisdom of what Mark Twain said about the difference between the right word, and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug. With the governor’s signature Florida Spaceports go from being launch facilities to support facilities.  Melbourne Representative Ritch Workman handled the measure in the House.

"This is a big important bill. I think it shows that it was the first in the Senate, first bill passed in the House and the first signed by the governor. It is a very simple bill it is small. Changes literally one word but it allows for federal and state dollars to flow to our spaceports in both Jacksonville and on the Space coast."

The United States has eight licensed commercial spaceports with two located in Florida. Policy makers say the aerospace industry is crucial  to Florida’s long-term success in diversifying and building a knowledge-based economy and high-value-added businesses and jobs. However efforts to commercialize space have been stymied by calling the spaceports at Cape Canaveral and Cecil Field launch facilities. That designation prohibited transportation dollars from being used for anything but a launch. Workman says and that presented an obstacle to getting Florida’s private space industry off the ground.

"Florida has always called its spaceports as launch facilities, whereas many of our competitors classified them as space support facilities. Support is a much more than just launch. They do R&D they do research and development, testing, corporate headquarters, whatever. Support is a much broader term. Launch limits us to launch dollars. Launch only facilitates federal dollars on federal launch sites."

It’s an important distinction for Florida’s space communities trying to replace business lost with the end of the shuttle mission. A private spaceport in Wallops, Virginia signed a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to carry supplies to the International Space Station. A New Mexico spaceport says it will start carrying tourists into space next year.  And a private launch facility is now online outside of Armadillo, Texas. Policymakers say the word change opens up new revenue streams to modernize the Florida facilities.

"The states competing in aerospace are growing every day.  It’s not just California and Texas we got Virginia a big competitor, we got New Mexico which is really coming on strong, we got to make sure we don’t hinder ourselves in any way and by having only launch facilities in Florida we were hindering ourselves."

Workman says by replacing the word launch with support, Florida will be better able to compete with other established aerospace states like California, Texas and Ohio for federal dollars and high-paying jobs.