Lunar lander firm OrbitBeyond eyes Florida for new facility

This is an illustration of a commercial lunar lander from Orbit Beyond, of Edison, N.J. Photo courtesy of NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 2 (UPI) — Lunar lander company OrbitBeyond is eyeing Florida for a new facility. That would make it the latest so-called Newspace commercial company to join growing space race momentum in the Sunshine State.

The board at Space Florida, the state’s economic development agency for space, moved toward an agreement Monday to provide $1 million worth of assistance or help obtaining financing to the New Jersey-based OrbitBeyond.

Space Florida is negotiating terms of the final agreement to develop an assembly and integration facility for OrbitBeyond’s lunar lander in Florida.

The firm was one of nine companies NASA chose in 2018 to compete for lunar transportation contracts for robotic landers in a program valued at $2.6 billion.

Others include Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh; Deep Space Systems, of Littleton, Colo.; Draper, of Cambridge, Mass.; Firefly Aerospace and Intuitive Machines, of Cedar Park, Texas; Masten Space Systems, of Mojave, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Space Systems, of Denver, Colo.; and Moon Express, of Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The lunar landers would take science experiments and other equipment to the moon. The companies are funding the development of the landers themselves while vying for an eventual NASA contract.

In November, OrbitBeyond’s chief engineering adviser, Jeff Patton, said “there has never been a more exciting time to be a commercial player in the cislunar (earth-to-moon) market.”

Patton is a former engineer and integration manager for heavyweight space company United Launch Alliance, a venture between traditional defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

OrbitBeyond’s arrival would add to a growing cluster of commercial space companies in Central Florida. Jeff Bezos‘ Blue Origin and Airbus affiliate OneWeb have large, new facilities just outside Kennedy Space Center at Exploration Park. Firefly plans to start construction soon there on a rocket plant.

Blue Origin’s Scott Henderson, the orbital launch director, provided a little more detail to Space Florida’s board Monday regarding the company’s planned expansion of its facility on 90 additional acres. He said Blue Origin, already hiring well over 300 people in the region, plans to add another 100 jobs.

The company also is renovating a launch pad and building a facility to refurbish rockets.

Another much larger contract with an aspiring launch company, Relativity Space, of Los Angeles, was pulled from the agenda of Monday’s meeting for more work. Relativity is eyeing Space Launch Complex 16 on Cape Canaveral for launch activity.

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The proposed contract had outlined a $42 million investment by the firm and 100 new jobs that would pay an average of $85,000 a year, while the state was to provide $6.6 million in Department of Transportation funds.

Space Florida often helps aerospace firms lease facilities and tap into existing state funds or to arrange for other financing.

On Monday, it also approved two aerospace deals under code names in other regions of Florida, including Project Prime in the Miami area, which would secure $125 million in financing for aircraft simulation facilities while creating 73 jobs, and Project Midnight Blue in the Tampa area, which would include $12.3 million in financing and create 42 jobs.

Monday was the first time Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez presided over a Space Florida board meeting as the new chair of the organization.

Frank Dibello, president and chief executive of Space Florida, indicated big changes might be in store for the agency.

“At some point, we may want to change the structure of our board to a paid board because they are contributing a lot of time,” he said.

Nuñez briefly referred to efforts to bring the military’s Space Command to Florida, mentioning Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ties to President Donald Trump. The Space Command is currently being restarted as a more independent military branch.

“The governor is not shy in utilizing his relationship with the president, in making sure that Florida is named home for the command,” she said.

DiBello said Exploration Park has grown so fast that Space Florida is talking to NASA about acquiring more land for new development, taking “additional property to the west and to the east to support future industry growth and spaceport operations, as well as all the support operations that go along with that.”

He said Space Florida is conducting a study about establishing an advanced aerospace manufacturing center to support training and a growing workforce.

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