What can British aerospace learn from Florida?

Posted on 5 Mar 2017 by The Manufacturer

Space is taking off in Britain, so what can the nation’s aerospace industry learn from Florida’s example? Quite a lot, as Destin Wells, business development manager for Aviation & Aerospace at Enterprise Florida, explains.

On Tuesday 9 February, Teresa May’s government unveiled a brand new initiative to increase British innovation in the commercial spaceflight market. As part of the initiative, the government launched a scheme of grants – worth up to £10m – to enable UK businesses to create and develop spaceflight capabilities.  The announcement is also likely to be followed by a separate Space Flight Bill, which could appear in the coming weeks.

Destin Wells, business development manager for Aviation & Aerospace, Enterprise Florida.
Destin Wells, business development manager for Aviation & Aerospace, Enterprise Florida.

The objective of the initiative is to increase Britain’s share of the world spaceflight market: a market currently estimated to be worth £25bn over the next 20 years. As the UK sets about establishing and growing its own space flight industry, perhaps inspiration should be drawn from the US state of Florida.

Building an industry

Florida’s impressive history in groundbreaking space flight is indisputable. Lest we forget Apollo 11: responsible for getting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida in July 1969.

It would perhaps be naïve to think that this was the peak of Florida’s contribution to the aerospace industry. Today, virtually every major aviation and aerospace company has significant operations in the state because it is an ideal location for innovation. Given the availability of fundamental resources this is hardly surprising; a workforce already 85,000 strong in the industry speaks for itself.

In helping to grow the industry and to smooth the shift into commercial operators rather than government backed endeavors, the state launched Space Florida in 2006. The flagship project aims to “foster the growth and development of a sustainable and world-leading space industry in Florida”, by working with and supporting businesses in the sector.

As a sister organisation to the state’s economic development organisation Enterprise Florida, Space Florida was specifically designed solely for the purpose of expanding the aerospace industry.

Space Florida has attracted a number of high profile companies from across the world because it offers a range of financial mechanisms to support hi-tech development and manufacturing facilities, alongside a network of fully licensed commercial spaceports usable by horizontal and vertical launch vehicles. That’s in addition to an incubator with both laboratory and office space that is perfect for start ups as well as operational storage facilities.

Parts of the Boeing CST-100 Structural Test Article rest on test stands inside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image courtesy of NASA Kim Shiflett.
Parts of a Boeing CST-100 Structural Test Article rest on test stands inside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida – image courtesy of NASA Kim Shiflett.

Spaceflight in Florida

The Kennedy Space Center (operated by NASA) and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (45th Wing U.S. Air Force) are home to some of the world’s leading aerospace companies. Commercial companies such as – United Launch Alliance (Delta 1V), Boeing Corporation (NASA’s Space Launch System) and Lockheed Martin (Atlas V), ensure that Florida maintains and indeed furthers its stature as the world’s leading rocket launch site.  However, there are also some new kids on the block.

Blue Origin is one of the market-leading companies that has been attracted to Florida. Set up by the founder of e-commerce giant Amazon, Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin’s spaceflight service aims to take paying customers on “a journey to the edge of the space” where they can experience zero gravity for a few minutes, before returning back to earth. Blue Origin’s flights are currently being tested by trained astronauts, with plans to launch to the general public in 2018.

Blue Origin has utilised the facilities available within the district to create its own unique spaceflight manufacturing facility. The plant represents an important development for space work in Florida as Blue Origin will not just be launching rockets from this location, but also manufacturing all the vehicles there too. At 750,000 square feet, the custom-built factory is designed to be large enough to accommodate manufacturing, processing, integration, and testing of orbital rockets.

SpaceX is also another leading business based in Florida. Its owner, Elon Musk – of Tesla Motors fame – has just announced plans to undertake the first commercial flight around the moon in 2018, while carrying two ‘space tourists’.

Artist's impression of the Blue Origin rocket factory which is currently being built in Florida – image courtesy of Enterprise Florida.
Artist’s impression of the Blue Origin rocket factory which is currently being built in Florida – image courtesy of Enterprise Florida.

Likewise, One Web Satellites, a joint venture between Airbus Defence and Space and OneWeb, has chosen Florida for the production of nearly 900 satellites for its constellation.

Opportunities for UK businesses

The UK has had a relationship with Florida and its space industry for some time. Eight years ago, Florida signed a memorandum of understanding with UKTI (now the Department for International Trade), while Mark Garnier MP and a member of the Department for International Trade visited Florida at the start of 2017 to discuss the development of further collaboration.

One example of a UK business that has operations on the Space Coast is Intelligent Energy (IE), which delivers clean energy solutions (fuel cells) for the aerial drone, distributed energy, diesel replacement and automotive markets.

Its CEO, Martin Bloom explained: “The concentration of engineering expertise in the region is very high. Couple that with the pro-commercial business and infrastructure support from Space Florida, it makes for a very solid choice of locations to support IE’s R&D requirements”.

As the commercial space industry continues to grow with businesses such as Blue Origin, OneWeb Satellites and SpaceX, there are significant opportunities for UK businesses to collaborate and play a significant role in the supply chains of these huge projects.

For businesses that are looking at potential opportunities to collaborate and grow internationally in Florida, Enterprise Florida has services in the UK to support businesses on taking their first step.