• Plans moving forward to put shuttle landing facility to use


    BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - NASA is working on a new agreement that would help the Kennedy Space Center's push to become a hub for commercial spacecraft.
    "We're looking to build it into a real economic engine," said Dale Ketcham with Space Florida.
    Channel 9's Melonie Holt learned that the space shuttle landing facility is at the center of the negotiations.
    NASA has taken a first step toward readying the old shuttle runway for new commercial launches.        
    The agency requested a federal wetlands permit that could eventually allow  Space Florida to transform acres of wetlands into a multi-use spaceport.
    The proposed project area is on the east side of the shuttle landing facility runway within the Kennedy Space Center.
    Holt learned that before any of the work happens, NASA has to transfer control of the space shuttle landing facility to Space Florida.
    NASA officials said that the landing facility is one of the largest underutilized properties in its inventory. 
    Space Florida is working on an agreement that would allow it to take over operations at the facility, build new infrastructure and support commercial spacecraft launches.
    "NASA is anxious to have its underutilized and unutilized facilities from the previous shuttle program put to better use," said Ketcham.
    The three-mile landing strip is one of the longest in the world.
    Officials said the proposed work would include aircraft hangars, taxiways, buildings, roadways and storm water treatment.
    "The marketplace is out there. Long term it's rather robust," said Ketcham.
    Several companies have expressed interest in using the former shuttle runway including California-based XCOR, which would like to take flight next year, as well as Swiss Space Systems and Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems. Sierra Nevada shared some of its plans earlier this year during a NASA news conference.
    "We are working with Space Florida and NASA to make that the home for Dream Chaser as we come back from space," said Mark Sirangelo with Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems
    Officials said in the short-term Space Florida may look to unmanned aerial systems or drones  to generate income for operations  and maintenance at the shuttle landing facility.
    "We're going to get there. It's in both of our interest to get there. But we have a lot of ground to cover," said Ketcham.
    Officials said that no matter who ends up at the shuttle launch facility, it's bound to affect about 40 acres of wetlands, and might impact some scrub jay and eastern indigo snake habitats.
    NASA officials said they plan to mitigate with the creation of a new wetland area.

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