Cecil Spaceport prepares for 2016 launch

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Many people in Jacksonville and north Florida may not be aware, but Cecil Field is also a spaceport.

There are plans set to launch rockets from the old Navy base, but not like what most are used to seeing.

The Cecil Spaceport has been certified by the federal government and is set to go. The launches there will be quite different. There will not be vertical rockets, but horizontal launches. Small Rockets strapped to jets will fly out over the ocean and launch from there.

The first launch is set for December 2016, but there have already been tests run by Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch, or GO Launch for short.

In July, it tested out a space flight that started at Cecil Spaceport and ended with a rocket launch over the ocean. It used a Learjet with a mock rocket attached. The test was to get a feeling of what workers need to do for the real thing. The rocket was never launched.

The Aviation Authority has spent several million dollars getting the permits and preparing to build a hanger for a much larger plane.

"We have the infrastructure in place right now to do those operations," said Rusty Chandler, of Cecil Spaceport.

GO Launch has teamed up with NASA to put small satellites into orbit that could be used in communications research and other areas.

GO Launch CEO John Olds said the company is still getting ready and working on funding for the launch in December 2016.

"That is the current plan," Olds said. "It is somewhat dependent on finances allowing that to happen. We have to get a lot of cash infusion into the company to make that happen."

After the rocket explosion Tuesday in Virginia, some are wondering how safe it is to have private contractors do this.

"Ignition from the rocket itself would not take place until we are 200 miles out over the ocean, east of Jacksonville," Olds said. "So the actual start up of the rocket would be out of sight for observers in Jacksonville. If there was a failure -- and we keep our fingers crossed their wont be -- it would occur well away from the city."

"I don't want to say it's safer. It's just a different operation," Chandler said. "We don't have the issues that a vertical launch would have."

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