Much of the world knows east-central Florida for its two most visible economic assets: mega theme parks and real rockets. And while there is no doubt that these industrial sectors are impressive, they alone do not fully represent this dynamic region. In addition to thrill rides and T-minus countdowns, East Central has 1.9 million employees, as well as four commercial airports, a seaport, a spaceport and 118 miles of Atlantic coastline. In addition to tourism and aviation / aerospace, East Central is also home to thriving tech, retail and life science industries.
Aviation / Aerospace
In May, the United States celebrated its historic return to manned spaceflight as two American astronauts took off from Cape Canaveral for the first time since NASA withdrew its shuttles in 2011, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket built by private company SpaceX. Two months later, these astronauts returned to Earth, and for the first time, their water landing took place in the Gulf of Mexico. In total, Florida hosted 31 successful space launches in 2020, the most in a single year since 1966.
In 2021, all eyes of NASA are on Artemis, with the ultimate goal of landing the first woman and another man on the moon by 2024, a feat that will be accomplished in three stages: Artemis I, a flight unmanned test of NASA’s SLS rocket and its Orion spacecraft scheduled for 2021; Artemis II, the first crewed mission to position Orion, with astronauts on board, in orbit around the moon; and Artemis III, Orion’s actual moon landing in 2024. In April, NASA named SpaceX its sole contractor for the Artemis missions.
Many other private companies are working to support the systems and technologies necessary for this industrial sector:
• Blue Origin, the rocket company created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, plans to expand its manufacturing campus on Merritt Island by 70 acres as development of the company’s New Glenn rocket continues with a start expected at the end of 2022.
• Boeing has been awarded a $ 916 million contract extension from NASA to provide support services to the International Space Station until 2024. Part of the work will be carried out at the Kennedy Space Center.
• Lockheed Martin opened its new 55,000 square foot building. Spacecraft Test, Assembly and Resource (STAR) Center at Kennedy Space Center in July 2021 to facilitate the assembly of Orion capsules that will bring astronauts back to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
• Melbourne-based L3Harris Technologies won a $ 6 million contract with NASA to develop advanced weather imaging technology for satellites. Capable of providing immediate snapshots of potentially dangerous storms as they approach Earth, the satellites are expected to begin orbiting above Earth in the early 2030s. Meanwhile, in 2020, despite the pandemic, L3Harris created 450 jobs, bringing its total footprint in Brevard County to 7,750 employees.
• German air taxi company Lilium Aviation has announced plans to bring its on-demand electric air taxi service to Orlando by 2025 as the company builds its first US-based “vertiport” on seven acres in Lake Nona. If all goes according to plan, consumers will be able to book Lilium flights from Orlando to almost any major city in Florida using a smartphone app.
KEY PLAYERS: Blue Origin, Kent, Wa. ; Boeing, Chicago, Illinois; Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Fort Worth, Texas; SpaceX, Hawthorne, California.