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NASA moves to commercialize Kennedy Space Center space shuttle landing strip

Space shuttle landing strip
Space shuttle landing strip

A Sunday story in Florida Today reports that NASA has started the paperwork going to commercialize the old space shuttle landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center. The idea is to convert it to a commercial space port for vehicles that takeoff and land like aircraft. Possible customers include XCOR and Stratolaunch Systems. This plan is part of an overall drive to convert KSC to a dual use government and private space port.

In order to make the shuttle landing strip a commercial space port, new infrastructure will have to be built including aircraft hangars, aircraft aprons, taxiways, buildings, parking, utilities, roadways and stormwater ponds. This in turn will affect 36 acres of wetlands and 5 acres of surface waters. These impacts, thanks to environmental regulations, will have to be made up elsewhere.

The conversion of the space shuttle landing strip is not the only commercialization effort at KSC, NASA has already leased the old space shuttle Pad 39A to SpaceX, which will use it to launch its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. An old space shuttle processing facility is being leased to Boeing for its publicly financed, commercially operated CST-100 spacecraft. Florida is still vying to attract a SpaceX space port north of KSC, though it looks like that the entrepreneurial space launch company will chose a Texas site instead.

It is clear that Florida would greatly benefit from these commercial developments at what was once a solely government run space launch facility. The state has suffered an economic hit thanks to the end of the space shuttle program. The scope and extent of the follow on space exploration program, which would involve the launch of the heavy lift Space Launch System from Pad 39B, is as yet uncertain. Thus the commercialization efforts are driven as much by necessity as it is from a policy of encouraging commercial space development.