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Space Florida aims to expand role in financing aerospace projects

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule attached, lifts off Friday at the Kennedy Space Center.
Chris O'Meara
In this file photo, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at the Kennedy Space Center.

Florida’s aerospace agency wants to expand its role from helping companies finance rocket and satellite projects to more directly getting money into the hands of firms seeking to move burgeoning technology to the launch pad.

Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello told the agency’s board last week that a goal over the next few years is to allow Space Florida to go from arranging financial incentives and opportunities to working with a more-complex array of relationships that involve banks, pension funds and the insurance industry and to engage in equity and debt structures.

"We can go the current path, which is basically what we're doing, but constrains our market focus some so that we're staying away from some of the developmental, purely developmental companies and just turning to private-sector debt,” DiBello said. “But that's not a game-changing strategy. That doesn't attract the tomorrow companies that we want to bring in.”

The board still needs to discuss the proposal, and any changes would require legislative support.

DiBello said a need to provide “mid-term” capital was re-enforced by what he heard in July while at the Farnborough International Airshow in England and the increase in launches from Florida.

"We saw for the first time (at Farnborough), companies that were talking to us about projects, two, three and five years out,” DiBello said. “In the past, we might not see those opportunities until the site-selection advisers were to advertise it. We're now getting early discussions by companies that want to line up the opportunity in Florida and talk to us about the deal possibilities that are there for establishing here, coming here and thriving here.”

With NASA hoping to get its Artemis moon mega-rocket off the ground at the end of August, 30 of the 46 successful rocket launches this year from U.S. sites have been conducted at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center.

Florida had 31 successful launches in 2021, 30 in 2020, 16 in 2019, 19 in 2018 and 19 in 2017.

“The spaceport infrastructure money that we have put into spaceport assets around the state is what's contributing to that increase in launch cadence that we're seeing as we're heading toward 100 launches a year,” DiBello said.

“Some of the impact of that clearly is that Space Florida is very busy,” DiBello continued. “And some of the growth indicators that I've referred to are the fact that from pre-COVID period to post-COVID our deal log is doubled.”

Over the past decade, Space Florida facilitated nearly $2.7 billion in financing, mostly for research and development and manufacturing facilities, and DiBello said projects in the pipeline could bump that to $5.5 billion.

In 2020, legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis removed a requirement that Space Florida notify House and Senate leaders before presenting bond proposals to the governor and Cabinet. That change was seen as providing Space Florida more flexibility in assisting aerospace projects.

Created in 2006, Space Florida promotes aerospace-industry development through such things as business and infrastructure financing, spaceport operations, research and development and workforce development.

The agency is involved with Exploration Park just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center, three launch complexes and the launch and landing facility at Kennedy Space Center that previously was used for space shuttle operations.

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