Commercial missions from Cape Canaveral have grown in recent years. SpaceX has been building out its Starlink internet constellation, for example, and other commercial launch providers are coming online. With more commercial launchers coming to the Cape, NASA and Space Force are reevaluating how they manage resources to upkeep launchpads and related infrastructure.
New reporting from Florida Today highlights this strategy in action as a key piece of infrastructure is due to be replaced under new management soon.
New NASA drawbridge
NASA has already began handing off some of its property to be managed by Space Florida and outside agencies. The historic NASA Causeway drawbridge has shuttled employees and equipment to build what is now Kennedy Space Center. It will replaced with a newer, larger drawbridge.
It has seen every Saturn V, Space Shuttle, SpaceX, and ULA launch from the east coast. But the past 60 years have not been kind to the “Drawbridge To The Final Frontier”. A newer, more capable bridge will begin construction in 2022.
According to permitting documents recently filed by the Florida Department of Transportation and NASA, construction of a new bridge that extends State Road 405 in south Titusville to the spaceport is still slated to begin in early 2022. The existing structure is referred to as NASA Causeway West or the Indian River Bridge.
Originally NASA owned, the new bridge was founded using a grant from President Trump’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program. This gave $100 million dollars to the state of Florida to build the new drawbridge, an extension to Commerce Way by the Blue Origin factory, and a new visitor center entrance.
The rest of the funding came from Space Florida and NASA. NASA will hand over control of the new draw bridge to Space Florida for them to manage — hopefully standing another 60 years and seeing the next step of human exploration.
Space Florida last year applied for the U.S. DOT’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program and secured more than two-thirds of the amount needed to replace the 56-year-old NASA structure. The grant also included money for expanding Space Commerce Way, which leads to the visitor complex and Blue Origin’s factory.
With Space Florida assuming responsibility for the project’s execution and funding a majority of the remaining $36 million, NASA agreed to state ownership of the new bridge.
NASA and Space Force
The report highlights continuing talks of shared resources between NASA and Space Force as well as an increased reliance on civil-commercial partners.
We are not fully funded to cover everything that’s out there on both ranges. We’re trying to look at both working with the FAA and our civil-commercial partners on how best to do that.Major General DeAnna Burt, US Space Force, from Florida Today
The current goal is to model joint-use airports used by both civilian and military aircraft — only for spaceports and spacecrafts. This will take the time and money needed to maintain needed infrastructure and launch range tasks and hand it off to local, state, or federal agencies, and possibly to commercial partners.
The Space Force will still be in charge of managing launches from both the eastern and western ranges. This new format could make it easier to fill more launches into the increasingly packed schedule that we’re seeing lately.
Currently, the plan is to work with the FAA, the Department of Transportation, NASA, and Space Florida (the local spaceport authority) to come together and create a path forward for a possible national space authority to handle day to day operation of the country’s ranges.