Blue Origin to expand rocket manufacturing facility at Kennedy Space Center

Blue Origin is expanding its footprint on the Space Coast with another phase of development on its massive factory outside Kennedy Space Center.

According to documents filed with the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Jeff Bezos-owned rocket company is planning a nearly 90-acre expansion to connect with its current facility at the state-owned Exploration Park just outside the gates of KSC.

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The project characterizes the expansion as a south campus of Blue Origin’s current, $200 million-plus rocket factory. According to the records, the new facilities will provide for the “manufacture and provisioning of commercial space launch vehicles,” and include the construction of a warehouse, roads, parking and a road for transporting rockets.

Under the terms of its lease, which will be in effect for at least 50 years, Blue Origin will pay NASA $20.3 million for the new site. The company did not comment on its expansion plans.

The development is yet another expansion on what is Blue Origin’s growing footprint. It’s already opened its massive 750,000-square-foot factory on the Cape and has plans to build a new testing and refurbishment facility on the Space Coast that will create about 50 jobs.

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“They know they are going to need a lot more room,” said Dale Ketcham, vice president of government and external relations at Space Florida, the state’s spaceport authority.

The 89.53-acre site will include:

  • A warehouse that could be expanded in the future
  • Roads for transporting New Glenn rockets
  • Roads and parking for trucks and smaller vehicles
  • Landscaping and lighting improvements

Manufacturing expansion
This new expansion will equip Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin with new manufacturing and processing facilities to support its mission to build rockets and spacecraft that can take humans and supplies beyond Earth’s orbit. That likely would lead to further expansion of the company’s workforce. In fact, Blue Origin has 27 Space Coast jobs listed on its website. Those positions include engineers and project managers.

The construction timeline is unknown. Blue Origin executives could not be reached for comment.

The project would rise on an abandoned citrus grove on Kennedy Space Center land leased to Blue Origin by NASA. In the last decade, NASA’s Brevard County campus has transformed to a spaceport that hosts manufacturing and launches by private firms such as Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, The Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

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In addition to its South Campus plans, Blue Origin operates a 750,000-square-foot rocket manufacturing complex just north. At that facility, Blue Origin is building its 270-foot-tall, two-stage New Glenn rocket. Blue Origin plans to launch the rocket for the first time in fourth-quarter 2022.

These operations are the result of Kennedy Space Center’s efforts since 2010 to attract commercial space companies to the exhaustive space infrastructure NASA has built up, Kennedy Space Center Director of Center Planning and Development Tom Engler told Orlando Business Journal. In fact, Kennedy Space Center has made more than $1 billion in government assets available to such companies, Engler said.

“There is not anywhere on Earth that has that level of activity going on per se. When we started out, we had what we thought was kind of a ridiculous goal of having five commercial human spaceflight companies at the center by 2025. With those companies, we’re already at four.”

A growing space hub
These growing aerospace companies in turn bring high-wage jobs to Brevard County. For example, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station serve as the launchpads for the satellites and rockets that Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX is putting into space. Also, Chicago-based Boeing (NYSE: BA) has its space and launch division headquartered in Titusville.

Further, there is plenty of space-focused manufacturing in addition to what Blue Origin is building. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is building its Orion spacecraft, to take humans to the moon, at Kennedy Space Center. Plus, OneWeb Satellites builds satellites at its Merritt Island plant. Meanwhile, state organization Space Florida is trying to lure an unnamed spacecraft manufacturer to the Space Coast to build a $300 million plant that would create thousands of jobs.

This work translates to economic stability for the county during the tumultuous economic conditions of the pandemic.

In February, Brevard County’s unemployment rate of 4.2% was lower than Orange County’s rate of 6.9% and the statewide rate of 4.7%, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

In addition, the work creates high-wage jobs. The average compensation per worker employed by Cape Canaveral space activity in 2019 was $88,200, according to a NASA study.

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