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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Florida Panel Holding On To Private Space Competition
chabot imageThe Associated Press - The Florida Space Authority is ready to step back into the race to host the first privately funded manned space flight if New Mexico's winning plan falters, officials said Wednesday.
The St. Louis-based X Prize Foundation this week accepted a $9 million offer from New Mexico that includes $7 million to build launch facilities and $2 million to promote the X Prize Cup. Florida had offered existing state-leased launch complexes at Cape Canaveral but no cash.
``I can't imagine they can replicate some of the things we have for $7 million,'' said Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, who chairs the Space Authority's Board of Supervisors, at the panel's quarterly meeting in Pensacola.
The X Prize Foundation is offering a $10 million prize to the first person or company to launch a manned craft capable of carrying at least three people to 62.5 miles above the Earth, considered the edge of space, twice within two weeks. The prize is being offered to help create a space tourism industry.
Board members urged the authority's executive director, former astronaut and retired Navy Capt. Winston Scott, to keep breathing down the necks of X Prize Foundation leaders.
``This may come back,'' said board member Silas Baker, of Rockledge, a retired Atlas program manager for Lockheed Martin. ``They may find they cannot satisfy the requirements.''
Tracy Hegler, the authority's spaceport transportation planning manager, told the board Florida's inability to match the $2 million in promotional money was the key reason why it lost the bid. California and Oklahoma also made proposals.
Scott said an underlying factor may have been worries about cumbersome range procedures and high costs to use launch facilities at the Kennedy Space Center. He said the authority is working to resolve those issues and will continue efforts to attract commercial spacecraft developers to Florida.
Losing the X Prize bid may not discourage potential space tourism companies from locating in the state, said Matthew Hegler, the authority's business development manager.
He said officials with a couple companies told him they are focused on space tourism regardless of what happens with the X Prize and believe the New Mexico launch site will benefit them by reducing the competition for Florida's launch sites.
Jennings said Florida's main advantage is that its facilities are ready now. ``No waiting,'' she said.
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