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Q&A: Cecil Spaceport prepares for launch

The sky is the limit in Jacksonville…literally. With the impending launch at Cecil Spaceport, Jacksonville Business Journals Will Robinson interviews Cecil Spaceport Director Todd Lindner on what we can expect.

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Cecil Spaceport is readying for its first horizontal launch, that of Atlanta-based Generation Orbit, which is likely to take place between December 2018 and spring 2019.

The spaceport is one of six spaceports in the United States approved for horizontal launches, the only such spaceport on the East Coast. Its first launch will send several football-sized satellites into orbit. Though there have been few horizontal launches in the U.S. so far, Cecil Spaceport Director Todd Lindner says that is likely to change in the next year.

The Business Journal caught up with Lindner to discuss the spaceport’s preparations for its first launch, its market differentiation and more.

How often are there horizontal launches in the U.S.?

Horizontal launches, ones that are commercially viable and make revenue, have only been done by Orbital ATK. But there has been a lot of testing and some mock launches. You’ll probably see big changes in the next year… My perspective [of why that’s changing] is that it has a lot to do with the FAA, operators and spaceports getting together and understanding each other’s wants and needs.

Will this Generation Orbit launch open the door to more launches out of Cecil Spaceport?

I absolutely believe that. A lot of launches are out west. There are are a lot in the the Mojave Desert where they can have failures and not worry about it hurting anybody…

None of those locations [in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Nevada] provide access to the amenities available at Cecil. We have the beach, a great city. Our legislators are familiar with the space industry. We have access to all the expertise down in Cape Canaveral.

What is the competitive landscape like for commercial horizontal launchers?

There’s Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Generation Orbit, Orbital ATK. I don’t know what their [Orbital ATK’s] future looks like because they just got bought by Northrop Grumman…

In the airline industry, companies like Boeing and Airbus make the planes, but the carriers operate them. There’s not that dynamic with horizontal launches. The companies that make them also operate them. Is that going to change? That’s one of the unknowns.

What upgrades will happen at Cecil Spaceport in the near future?

We’re in the process of constructing a new hangar facility. That process will probably be ongoing for the next three to four months. Assuming we have the funding, we are going to start work on a payload preparation facility. We’re designing a new air traffic control tower that will house a mission control facility.

Do you have any goals for the number of launches in the future?

Our goals are not so much around the number of launches. It’s more about being a high-level economic driver for Jacksonville… Our focus for now is providing a facility that is safe and the community can be proud of.