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The Real Space Cowboys

What do these names have in common? Not only are they some of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs, but they have all turned their attention to the burgeoning commercial space market.

Elon Musk. Paul Allen. Jeff Bezos. Richard Branson. Robert Bigelow.

What do these names have in common? Not only are they some of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs, but they have all turned their attention to the burgeoning commercial space market.

Musk, who co-founded PayPal, is the head of the hottest commercial space company, SpaceX. Bezos, who made billions with Amazon.com, is leading Blue Origin, which has also expressed interest in using Cape Canaveral as a potential spaceport.

“These are some of the nation’s and the world’s best entrepreneurs,” Space Florida president and chief operating officer Frank DiBello said. “Where are they putting their money? For some reason, they’re putting it into space transportation, because they see an explosion coming in activity that is either human-based for adventure tourism, or low-earth activity-based, because it’s the next big area where mankind will be going.”

Part of DiBello’s selling point for Florida, and in particular the proposed Shiloh location at the northern end of the Cape, is that there is a ready-made workforce in the area with three colleges – Embry-Riddle, UCF and Florida Tech – offering aeronautical programs. That’s just one of many things other states can’t offer. Customers get nearby fueling, command and control capabilities.

“I am confident that with the workforce, with the supply chain and with the supporting infrastructure that is nearby, we can make a compelling case for why a company should choose to operate in Florida at this commercially-operated site,” DiBello said.

Golden Spike: Lunar Expeditions for Sale

As a commercial space entrepreneur and former head of all NASA science missions, Alan Stern certainly has a well-informed opinion about how well Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center are positioned for the future of the emerging commercial market. That’s why he’s willing to work with Space Florida to make the Space Coast the spaceport home for his new company, Golden Spike.

The company, made up of space program executive veterans, managers, engineers and entrepreneurs has a business plan to offer affordable human expeditions to the moon using American aerospace systems. “We are very likely going to be operating out of the commercial launch sites along the Cape,” Stern said. “Space Florida has been influential in our thinking. We have not yet selected our launch vehicles, but all of the candidate launch vehicles fly out of the Cape.”

The company plans to begin test flights in 2017, with lunar landings to take place in either 2019 or 2020. The expeditions will be marketed to governmental agencies, companies and individuals in the U.S. with a big emphasis on targeting foreign countries for the purposes of science, commerce, tourism, entertainment and education.

“What we’re doing is making it possible for countries that don’t have space programs to have one,” Stern said. “It’s a turnkey service. It’s rather like, in the airline business, most countries don’t build their own airliners, but they can form an airline and buy from Boeing or Airbus.

“They don’t have to have a big aerospace establishment to have an airline. We’re making it possible for countries around the world who want to do lunar explorations, who want to step up in the 21st Century, to do it by simply going out and buying an expedition.

Stern called the moon the scientific “Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” because it is rich in mineral resources that can be mined and added that from a prestige factor, a country can make a tremendous step up in its worldwide reputation by putting a man on the moon.

Outside-the-box thinking like that could not only make Stern’s company highly successful, it could also be a large part of the changing scope of businesses that will come to Cape Canaveral as it continues to push forward in search of the commercial space market.

“I think the future is bright for the Cape,” Stern said. “It’s in the right place – with the water off to the east, low latitude … it’s a sweet spot for American launch sites. I think Space Florida and KSC both recognize the importance and the future of diversity in the space launch market, and the importance of commercial space flight going forward. I’m really a strong optimist about where the Space Coast is going in the long-term after this post-shuttle turnaround.

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