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Rocket startups could breathe new life into Florida's Space Coast

But times are changing. Elegant and modern buildings are built throughout Cape Town, the Florida coastal region east of Orlando, which includes the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. Cape Town has long been a destination of choice for NASA launches, and has hosted some of the most famous missions in US history, dating back to the Apollo moon landing.

The new structures feature the names of new-age rocket companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Soon, even younger startups like Relativity Space and Firefly Aerospace are going to install.

This is a sign that even though the spaceflight industry is changing, Florida is still a major launch destination.

"Everyone thought that the Cape had just been padlocked with the retirement of the shuttle," CNN Business said Dale Ketcham, vice president of government affairs of the 39-nation-funded development group, said in a statement. State, Space Florida. "Now, we are retaliating and clearly leading the country, if not the world, as the most active and prosperous spaceport."

SpaceX launches crowds regularly drawn to beaches and viewing sites.

Firefly, a Texas-based rocket startup that also has an agreement to launch from California, announced last week that it would spend $ 52 million for a new manufacturing facility and modernization of Launch Complex 20. The launch site was used for missile tests dating back to the 1950s, but its buildings are now dilapidated and overgrown with plants and wildlife.

Relativity also announced last month that it has signed an agreement for the renovation of the nearby Launch Complex 16, which was decommissioned in 1988 and left in a similar state of ruin.

Space Florida has sought to woo commercial companies over the past decade. According to the group, 21 companies have signed agreements to create up to 3,000 well-paying jobs in the region in exchange for subsidies for the construction of public infrastructure.

The commercial activity of Cape Town was initially spurred by the arrival in 2010 of SpaceX's Elon Musk, which has contracted with NASA and a burgeoning company that launches satellites.

Boeing and SpaceX are also building capsules that will allow astronauts to return an inhabited flight to Cape Town for the first time since 2011.

But the commitments of Firefly and relativity are different. They are part of a swarm of rocket startups that want to build small rockets that could carry light satellites into orbit.

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The demand for such launchers should be massive and Space Florida has been after their business for years.

The region was hit hard when the New Zealand group Rocket Lab, the first operational Smallsat launch solutions provider, chose Virginia for its second launch site.

"They wanted a quiet place," Ketcham said. "It's good, it's not calm on course, and it's going to get noisier."

Relativity and Firefly said that the Space Coast was obvious.

Mark Watt, a partner of venture capital firm Noosphere and Acting Financial Director of Firefly, said Florida was able to offer the opportunity to build a manufacturing facility, a rocket launching site and a healthy reservoir of talents.

"Many other states offered us incentives, but they could not offer everything," said Watt.

The Saturn V rocket that propelled the Apollo lunar missions used Pad 39A in Cape Town. The launch site is now used by Elon Musk's SpaceX.
The Space Coast is also known as the destination of choice for launching observation, and tourism can inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy. Last year, twenty launches took place in Cape Town and officials want to support up to 48 annual launches next year.

Of course, there is no guarantee that startups like Firefly and Relativity will survive. And Ketcham said that one of Space Florida's goals is to help locals understand that space is no longer just about government programs. It is now a commercial industry.

"Bankruptcies, lawsuits, startups … some companies will succeed, others will fail," he said.

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