With Hurricane Isaias forecast to menace Florida’s east coast, NASA and SpaceX have moved Sunday’s splashdown of two astronauts returning from the international Space Station from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.

The return of Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who became the first two NASA astronauts to launch into space from U.S. soil in a decade and the first to do so in a privately owned spaceship when they lifted off on May 30 from Cape Canaveral, will also mark the first “splashdown” of space voyagers in 45 years, according to NASA.

Space X’s Dragon capsule containing the two is scheduled to drop into the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida Panhandle near Panama City, halfway between Tallahassee and Pensacola.

A successful splashdown would be boons for Elon Musk-owned Space X and, especially if done safely in a hurricane, for Florida’s burgeoning $20 billion aerospace industry.

After watching NASA launch its Perseverance Mars rover from Cape Canaveral Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ceremonially signed a bill adopted by lawmakers during the 2020 session that gives the state’s space agency, Space Florida, the capacity to issue bonds and, he said, make the Sunshine State the “silicon valley” of commercial aerospace innovation.

“This new tool in the toolkit will greatly enhance the state’s ability to access private capital market, to finance new infrastructure for both commercial aerospace industry needs and the expansion of the state spaceport system for future growth,” DeSantis said.

House Bill 717, filed by Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, was adopted with bipartisan support. The new law streamlines the agency’s flexibility in securing the best bond rates and trims bond timelines from 40 to 30 years.

The agency has a $16.5 million fiscal 2021 budget, including $11.5 in state general revenue funds, and has drawn more $1 billion in non-federal investment to modernize its infrastructure in the last 15 years.

In 2019, Space Florida received a $90 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which it used to position Cape Canaveral Spaceport as a global leader in launches and private sector investment.

SpaceX is among a mushrooming number of aerospace corporations setting up shop in Florida. Others include Blue Origin, Boeing, Relativity Space, Firefly Aerospace, Lockheed, OneWeb Satellites and, relocating recently from California, Made In Space, Inc.

According to Space Florida, 17,144 commercial space companies now employ more than 130,000 residents in high-tech, high-wage jobs in Florida.

“This has been an area we’ve seen tremendous growth in,” DeSantis said. “We’ve got some of the best companies in the world here. We have reinvigorated NASA and there’s a great mission with public and private working together to be able to expand our horizon into space.”

Florida already offers an array of tax incentives for aerospace development companies.

The state’s Qualified Defense Contractor Tax Refund (QDC), granted to companies that pay at least 115 percent of the state’s average wage, was expanded by the state’s Spaceflight Contractor’s Tax Refunds Act of 2008 to include spaceflight businesses.

The QDC offers an exemption from the state business rental sales tax for “space flight businesses” that include manufacturing, processing, assembly of a space facility, space propulsion system, space vehicle, satellite or station of any kind possessing capacity of space flight.

The state also offers a Targeted Industry Tax Refund of up to $5,000 per new job. That stipend increases to $7,500 in “Enterprise Zones,” which includes all five spaceports.

Florida’s Quick Action Closing Fund provides cash grants to companies that agree to create a significant amount of high-value jobs in targeted industries; space qualifies as a subset of the overall aerospace sector.

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