CAPE CANAVERAL (FOX 13) - The Florida aerospace industry was almost wiped out when the space shuttle program was shut down in 2011. But now, SpaceX is providing the launchpad for the commercial space industry to take off.
It's space-flight like we've never seen it. Private companies launching rockets are changing the future of space exploration and inspiring a new generation.
At the University of South Florida, Dean of Engineering, Robert Bishop, sees this excitement first-hand.
"It is absolutely so inspirational to the younger generation,” he said. “The folks that we want to be interested in STEM, the folks that want to be a scientist or an engineer or a mathematician, the space program gives them a reason to do that."
Interest is blasting off thanks to the progress being made in new, efficient and cost-effective ways to get to space. An industry that is on its way up.
"The growth opportunities where things are really taking off is in the commercial private sector where companies want to go into space to make money," Dale Ketcham with Space Florida said.
Statewide, the aerospace industry brings in around $20-billion a year, and the Tampa Bay area is also capitalizing on the growing industry. In our region, nearly 21,000 people are working at more than 3,000 aerospace-related companies.
A strong position, but the sunshine state has competition from our neighbors.
"We've got to continue to fight, to innovate, to become more streamline, more accommodating to the commercial sector, or Florida is going to end up being just the place where the government is your only customer," said Ketcham.
Whether it's sending supplies to the international space station, launching and retrieving payloads, or orbiting small powerful satellites, the future of space economy is looking bright.
"I think that bringing humans to the moon to establish a permanent base, bringing humans to an asteroid to start mining and start looking at resources, and eventually to mars, I believe those things will help inspire the next generation of problem solvers, the next generation of explorers, which the world needs," Bishop said.
Space tourism is another area being developed right now. Some people already paying money for their chance to experience weightlessness and get a dramatic new view of our planet. Experts say Florida is perfectly poised to dominate that market.