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Space launches, cruise ships face conflicts

Mark Hedden
Special to WLRN

TALLAHASSEE --- Ramping up launches at the nation’s busiest spaceport has increased conflicts with cruise ships at Port Canaveral, a space-industry official told lawmakers this week.

With launches from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral expected to approach 100 this year, Dale Ketcham, Space Florida’s vice president of government and external relations, said talks are underway to address increasing issues involving cruise ships arriving and departing at Port Canaveral.

“These are big problems,” Ketcham told members of the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security Committee on Wednesday. “They're great problems to have. But they are serious problems that demand serious solutions, and those solutions will not be easy.”

Before launches, general exclusion zones for watercraft are imposed, with set hours and distances that change depending on the flight path. Similar temporary flight restrictions are set by the Federal Aviation Administration. The zones are intended to prevent encounters in the air or, in cases of launch malfunctions, prevent problems with debris in the water.

Ketcham indicated timing conflicts, with launches delaying cruise ship departures and arrivals, will only increase as the space industry hopes to double and triple the number of launches from the cape.

“If those cruise ships are delayed, you know, even an hour, then that ripples over into Orlando International Airport, who have a number of flights,” Ketcham said. “And most of the people on those flights are cruise passengers. And they get delayed. And that trickles into the national airspace across the country. So, there's a lot of moving parts.”

While not the overall solution, Ketcham said one step could be to advise people arriving in Florida, particularly those intending to go out to sea, to be “aware of the fact that you're in a busy state. It's great to get to watch this stuff. But you don't want to be in the wrong place.”

Ketcham’s comments came as Space Florida, which helps arrange financial incentives and opportunities for aerospace companies, hopes to receive increased state funding.

Currently, Space Florida is assisting in $5.5 billion worth of private projects across the state, up from nearly $2.7 billion a decade ago.

The increase has resulted in Space Florida attracting more federal scrutiny, particularly from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ketcham said.

“As we get involved in more companies, particularly the startups that are trying to get off the ground, raise money, do funding rounds --- and we do our due diligence and we're working very closely with them --- we've basically almost become insiders in what they're trying to develop,” Ketcham said.

Space Florida’s state funding has changed little over the past decade.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a $114.8 billion budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year that would provide $18.5 million to Space Florida, the same as in the current year.

The proposal includes $6 million for aerospace industry financing, business development and infrastructure and $1 million to support research and commercialization projects.

“We'd like to think we've done a good job with those limited resources based upon where we were and where we are today,” Ketcham said.

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