Jul 30, 2014
By Nate Monroe
Cecil Spaceport took a giant leap of sorts Wednesday.
The spaceport’s first tenant, Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch Services Inc., ran a test flight Wednesday in preparation for its first commercial launch near the end of 2016.
For the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, the test was the result of many years of small steps that helped land the spaceport at its west Jacksonville airfield, a former Navy base with one of the longest runways on the East Coast. JAA officials, hoping to tap into largely untested space tourism and cargo industries, worked for years to designate Cecil as a spaceport, which is now one of eight around the nation.
Generation Orbit specializes in launching “micro” and “nano” satellites — small enough to hold in your hand — from a rocket attached to an airplane that takes off and lands on runways like passenger jets, a method called “horizontal launching.”
Nothing was sent into space Wednesday.
A Learjet outfitted with a rocket held equipment that will help Generation Orbit collect data to prepare for its first commercial flights. NASA has bought the company’s first flight to launch three research satellites, a contract worth $2.1 million.
“We have our sights set squarely on that first launch, which is by the end of 2016,” said John Olds, the company’s chief executive officer.
The Federal Aviation Administration regulates commercial spaceflight.
A.J. Piplica, the company’s chief operating officer, said until Generation Orbit flies several commercial flights and becomes eligible for an operator’s license, the company will have to submit an application for a license for each planned flight. Generation Orbit is in the process of getting a license for the NASA launch through the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
That process takes about a year, Piplica said.
In December, Generation Orbit formally signed a two-year tenant agreement with JAA with an option to renew for three one-year terms.
Olds said the company wants to plant a foothold in the nascent commercial space business.
Generation Orbit, he said, “is not one and done.”
Olds said in 2017 the company projects running eight flights for customers. By 2019, the company projects running up to two flights a month, 24 per year.
JAA will match a $1.8 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation and Space Florida, the state agency in charge of fostering the space industry, to construct a hangar designed to accommodate commercial launch vehicles. Generation Orbit will use that hangar when it’s complete sometime next year.
Earlier this year, JAA learned the state set aside $2 million to help pay for basic infrastructure at the spaceport. That money does not require a match.
Nate Monroe: (904) 359-4289