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Space Florida mounting an aggressive campaign to get Space Command headquarters

In a file image, Frank DiBello, Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, stands near the Saturn Apollo rocket at Kennedy Space Center. (George Skene/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Space Florida is mounting a full-court press campaign to bring the headquarters of the United States’ 11th combatant command, Space Command, to Florida.

At its board meeting Monday in Tallahassee, the state’s spaceport authority discussed the communications and tactical campaigns it has organized to try to get Space Command, a unified branch that would help provide more effective command on space operations across military branches.

The board’s new chair, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, stressed that the effort is “front and center” for the state, as Florida competes with Colorado, California, Alabama, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Virginia for the headquarters.

“The governor is not shy in utilizing his relationship with the president and the administration to make sure Florida is named the home to Space Command,” Nunez said, citing President Donald Trump’s close relationship with Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump endorsed DeSantis in the 2018 election.

In February, DeSantis sent a letter to Trump requesting that the Space Command be based at Kennedy Space Center, calling it “a logical fit for our state.”

To clinch the headquarters, Space Florida is working in Washington, D.C., to try to determine what the Pentagon is envisioning for Space Command. In its fiscal year 2020 budget, the Pentagon is requesting nearly $84 million to establish the unit.

“The challenge is trying to best identify exactly what the requirements are for the people setting the requirements within the Pentagon so you can craft your proposal to meet those requirements as best you can,” said Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s vice president for government and external relations. “All of the states that are competing are operating under a certain degree of things they understand, things they think they understand — and may not — and things they know they don’t know.”

The spaceport authority is also working with the Florida Defense Task Force, a council focused on furthering the state’s military presence, and the Florida Defense Alliance, a consortium of defense-related organizations and government officials. Both groups are under Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm.

Space Florida also is tapping into Florida’s network of retired three- and four-star military personnel whose connections and experience could support the Space Command push. Tampa, Jacksonville, the Panhandle, Miami and Orlando are also eager to help Florida prevail, Ketcham said.

“They understand the daunting nature of the task because Florida is not the front runner,” he said.

The leader is thought to be Colorado, where the current Air Force Space Command is based. Earlier this month, Trump nominated four-star Air Force Gen. John Raymond, current commander of Air Force Space Command, to run U.S. Space Command. At the time, Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida, congratulated Raymond on the nomination and added that Space Command will be “located hopefully in Florida.”

At Monday’s meeting, DiBello said Florida has the advantage that it is already home to three combatant commands: Southern Command near Miami, and Central Command and Special Operations Command in Tampa.

If Florida manages it, being the headquarters for Space Command would further its evolution from a launch site, to a full-fledged state for space — from manufacturing, to launch, to military operations.

“(Hosting Space Command) requires the kind of expertise, technology, training and culture that will handsomely reinforce the environment and landscape that Florida has worked hard to cultivate in the space industry at large,” Ketcham said.

To further its other mission of growing as a home for space, Space Florida’s board approved the spaceport authority to move forward on several projects.

Here’s what was approved:

—Contract negotiations for a sublease agreement with space startup Firefly Aerospace for about 18 acres at the state-owned facility, Exploration Park, outside Kennedy Space Center lasting at least 20 years.

—A financial agreement with New Jersey-based Orbit Beyond, one of the companies selected to compete for a slice of a $2.6 billion NASA contract to build a lunar lander. Under the terms of the agreement, Space Florida would provide debt financing for up to $1 million up to four years in exchange for the company committing to perform its lunar lander assembly and integration facilities in Florida. Orbit Beyond would create at least 10 jobs over four years with an average salary of $75,000.

—Negotiations with code name Project Prime, a yet unnamed large operator of military and commercial aircraft, for a financing agreement in which Space Florida would purchase $125 million in flight simulation hardware and lease them back to the South Florida-based company. Space Florida’s lease with Project Prime would extend up to 20 years and the company would commit to creating 73 jobs in Florida with an average annual wage of $80,000.

—Negotiations with code name Project Midnight Blue for up to about $12.3 million to lease a new clean room and other equipment to the unnamed aerospace composites company in Pinellas County. Space Florida’s lease would last up to 10 years and the company would in turn create 42 jobs with an average annual wage of about $68,000.


© 2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.