Local,  State

Florida’s Space Industry Unsettled while UF Collaborates with NASA

Within the span of nearly two weeks, the state of Florida received both good and bad news in regard to the space industry: a University of Florida collaboration with NASA and a failed bid for Space Command HQ.

In late December, UF was awarded the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna Charge Management Device contract from NASA, which lasts until 2025. The CMD team is led by Principal Investigator John W. Conklin, Ph.D. and Program Manager Peter Wass, Ph.D. Additionally, it will receive the help of UF mechanical and aerospace engineering students.

“It’s a great reward for a lot of hard work done and a lot of hard work to come,” Wass said.

According to a statement made by UF, “LISA is planned to consist of three spacecraft that [will] relay laser beams back and forth between different spacecraft, and the signals are combined to search for gravitational wave signatures that come from distortions of space-time. The study of the universe through gravitational waves will yield a revolutionary perspective on the universe, which has been intensely studied using electromagnetic waves in many wavelength bands.”

Additionally, UF is the only academic institution to provide the CMD to NASA’s LISA project. The contract’s total value was about $12.5 million and will be a part of the European Space Agency’s Cosmic Visions Program.

After the exciting news broke of UF’s collaboration with NASA, the state of Florida was met with a failed bid for the new U.S. Space Command headquarters. Instead, Redstone Arsenal in Alabama was selected as the new headquarters site, and the six-year transition from Colorado Springs has recently begun.

“Huntsville compared favorably across more of these factors than any other community, providing a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial recurring costs,” an Air Force statement explained. “Additionally, Redstone Arsenal offered a facility to support the headquarters, at no cost, while the permanent facility is being constructed.”

Following President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the administration’s plan for space exploration has been a point of concern for Florida, who is sure to feel the impacts of any decision Biden makes about the space industry. After a successful space program under the Trump administration that brought along achievements such as SpaceX’s first commercial flight, many are looking to the Biden administration to continue the trend of accomplishments.

For now, the emphasis on space exploration through the private sector seems to be a partnership that will continue into the Biden administration, especially considering the success and viewership of SpaceX launches and the planned $1 billion of investments in Brevard County from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s private rocket company Blue Origin. The Biden administration’s top space advisors have also advocated for a new partnership to pursue over the next four years: China.

“Trying to exclude them I think is a failing strategy,” Pam Melroy, a member of Biden’s NASA transition team said. “It’s very important that we engage.”

An aspect of the Trump administration already continuing into the Biden administration is the Space Force. It was added as the sixth branch of the U.S. military and the 18th member of the U.S. intelligence community. Despite being spoofed in a Netflix Original show of the same name, Space Force has garnered bipartisan support. Many lawmakers view the branch as a reasonable step forward in the age of technology. If the Biden administration decides to dismantle the Space Force, it would require an act of Congress.

“Nobody’s debating whether the Space Force should exist,” former chief of staff for the Trump administration’s National Space Council Jared Zambrano-Stout stated. “They’re debating about what it should be doing.”

Although Florida was unable to secure the Space Force headquarters, Florida officials are still hoping to bid successfully for a Space Force operations and facilities center.

“By making it to the finals of this process, Florida’s Space Coast has distinguished itself nationally as one of the most military-friendly communities and capable of hosting a major combatant command,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “I am confident this community is well positioned for other strategic basing opportunities in the near future, and we will continue to work closely with the Air Force, Department of Defense, and our state and local partners to succeed.”

Featured image: Image of Kennedy Space Center. Unmodified photo by Gillfoto used under a Creative Commons license. (http://bit.ly/2RwdTqK)

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