Space Coast is Poised for the Orion Test Flight

In just one month, you will look to the skies and witness history with the launch of Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft test flight. When you do, take a moment to marvel in the fact that this historic event might not be possible here if not for an extraordinary economic development effort that started nearly a decade ago.

The year – 2005, the setting – one year after then President George W. Bush announced a new vision for America’s Space Program. 

With the Space Shuttle program nearing its final descent after decades of service to the nation’s aerospace aspirations, The Vision for Space Exploration detailed a bold new mission which included landing humans on the moon, paving the way for eventual journeys to Mars and beyond.

This represented a perpetual shift in the mindset and set-up of space center locations around the country. The EDC, together with county leaders and a team of aerospace consultants, formed a group informally known as The Capture Team who set out to determine how best to capitalize on new opportunities that would result from this new vision. It turned into the genesis of a strong public-private partnership that would later revolutionize existing facilities across Kennedy Space Center. 

New Dynamic, New Opportunity

At the heart of the “win” strategy was the notion of capitalizing on Florida’s strengths, including multi billion-dollar infrastructure, a highly technical workforce, and making our local resources easy to integrate into NASA’s new plan. The notion of increasing and expanding our services made its way to the top of the pitch. For 50 years, we have launched and processed rockets and shuttles on the Space Coast, but never before has assembly or checkout taken place here. To capture these services, in tandem with launch, would bring an entirely new dynamic and new opportunity to the local aerospace community.

And, that’s just what we did.

While NASA conducted a progressive competition to define, design, develop, and produce a new crew exploration vehicle (CEV), a vehicle capable of ferrying crews of astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station, The Capture Team worked closely with the two contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman/Boeing, to present Brevard’s business case as the most cost effective location in the U.S. as both companies competed to build the final crew vehicle.

By the time the Lockheed Martin team was selected in August 2006, the groundwork had been laid for the company’s selection of the Space Coast for not only launch, but also final assembly and checkout. It was, in essence, a historic paradigm shift for the Space Coast, a community where our destiny now includes more than simply launching hopes and dreams. Here, we also build them.

Landing the Orion assembly and checkout project on the Space Coast has led to hundreds of new jobs, millions in economic impact, an enhancement to our broad network of suppliers, and utilization of existing facilities at KSC, like the Operations & Checkout Building that once supported the Shuttle program.

Catalyst for a New Sector

This is the catalyst to creating a sector bustling with new ideas and innovations. Just as pioneers trailblazed a path for manned flight on the Space Coast 50 years ago, so too are the next generation of leaders as we build upon the efforts to advance to the next frontier of space.

Brevard County has always served as the cradle of America’s space program. For us, it’s not just about jobs and investment; it’s about our history, our workforce, our personal aspirations, and our role in the future of space exploration. Countless opportunities abound on the horizon.

The first step starts with EFT-1, Orion’s lift-off into the heavens, scheduled for December 4, 2014.

More than ever before, the Space Coast has a vested interest. Not only did we launch Orion here, we all played a role in building Orion here. And we are poised to meet our destiny as both launch site and manufacturing site as we maintain our central role in America’s Space Program.

Head-LyndaWeathermanLynda Weatherman is president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast.