The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Space Coast

Posted by on Jun 1, 2016 in Science and Technology

In 2011, NASA retired its 30-year-old shuttle program when Atlantis returned from its mission, touching down at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This week, btw takes a look at what has happened to the area after the loss and the revival that is emerging in its place.

The Space Age

In a 1961 address, President John F. Kennedy proposed that we would land a man on the moon by the decade’s end. Thus began a national effort toward the achievement of that goal. NASA had been established in 1958 and, ten years later, it opened the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). What followed was a string of several cities or municipalities located about halfway down the length of the state, along the Atlantic Ocean that became known as the “Space Coast.”

After the U.S. realized Kennedy’s promise, NASA (and its related vendors and contractors along Space Coast) continued to thrive, notably with the Space Shuttle program that began in 1972. However, as the agency’s major budget expenditure, the shuttle program never fully realized its promise of “low cost, reusable space flight.” The space shuttles were designed to sustain 100 flights each, but many had only experienced less than half of that. The need for consistent upgrades to obsolete technology ended up being very costly. While NASA continued with other operations and programs, the end of the space shuttle era led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

Aerospace Coast?

Florida State quarter 2004. ©Coinery / Alamy. MHE World

Florida State quarter 2004. ©Coinery / Alamy. MHE World

With a highly specialized and underutilized talent force concentrated in one place, it was only a matter of time that the area would be revived (and reinvented). In the five years since the end of the space shuttle program, aeronautical companies have moved in. The combination of the talented workforce combined with generous tax incentives has made the region attractive once again. One of the companies credited for the resurgence of the space coast is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ private aerospace company, Blue Origin. It hopes to, one day, launch civilians into orbit around the earth within the next couple of years. The Brazilian aircraft company Embraer, built a brand new plant in Melbourne, Florida in 2009, to manufacture its popular business jet, the Phenom 300.

In addition to manufacturing, the new and improved Space Coast is attracting development and research as well. The state of Florida has a created a special district, dedicated to the development and maintenance of the space industry. It provides resources such as financial assistance, consulting, infrastructure, research and development (R&D), as well as opportunities for networking and continuing education, such as conferences and summits. Today, there are currently more than 11,600 aerospace companies in Florida, contributing $17.7 billion to its economy.