The Cecil Spaceport has been a space center in name only since it was authorized in 2010, but that could change a year from now.
The Westside facility is gearing up for a possible first commercial space launch in December, although it will more likely happen next year, said Todd Lindner, director of Cecil Spaceport.
“In all likelihood, the launch will come in the spring of ’19” Lindner said Tuesday at a JAX Chamber forum on technology and automation in the transportation industry.
The spaceport has been working with Generation Orbit, based in Atlanta.
Cecil Spaceport is one of six U.S. facilities authorized to launch vehicles into space horizontally. Linder said the first payloads would likely be small satellites.
Although he didn’t say if it is possible at Cecil, Linder also said space tourism is drawing closer to reality, with paying customers reaching an altitude of 320,000 to 330,000 feet and achieving weightlessness for about 20 minutes.
He said the projected cost of those trips has dropped from about $250,000 to $120,000-$130,000.
“Eventually it will be affordable for all,” he said.
Space travel is not the only rapidly advancing transportation technology. Several panelists at the forum at the University of North Florida said autonomous vehicles — that is, vehicles on the road without drivers — are getting closer to reality.
“We will be there in the next two or three years,” said Dean Bushey, engineering professor at Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.
Grayson Brulte, a California-based consultant who specializes in autonomous vehicles, thinks driverless vehicles will become so commonplace that the newest generation of Americans won’t even need driver’s licenses
“A child born in the last three years will never drive on a public road,” he said.
Brulte said autonomous systems will be coming online this year in major cities including Miami, Phoenix and Pittsburgh.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is testing a system called the Ultimate Urban Circulator that would operate autonomous vehicles through Downtown.
The JTA system would integrate the tracks of the Automated Skyway Express with lanes on city streets to extend the network of the underused skyway.
JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford said he believes that as the population of Downtown Jacksonville grows, residents will want to use the autonomous vehicles.
“There’s going to be a need for some type of Downtown transportation network,” Ford said before the conference.
“What I like about Jacksonville’s program is the city is taking something old, the Skyway, and making something new,” said Jordan Crenshaw, assistant policy counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Technology Engagement Center.
Crenshaw said Florida cities are moving quicker to embrace autonomous technology than other states and the federal government.
“We can use a lot more Florida in D.C.,” he said.
JAX Chamber President Daniel Davis also supports autonomous vehicle technology to meet the city’s transportation needs.
“Instead of putting more bricks and sticks in the grass, how do we get smart about how we move people?” Davis said.
“I really believe the autonomous vehicle conversation is the future,” he said.