September 1, 2015 / 9:19 PM / in 2 years

Florida county sweetens bid for Jeff Bezos' rocket company

Amazon President, Chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the Business Insider's "Ignition Future of Digital" conference in New York City December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla (Reuters) - Jeff Bezos’ space transportation company, Blue Origin, won another round of incentives on Tuesday to build and fly rockets near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Commissioners in Brevard County, home of the space center, approved by a 4 to 1 vote adding an $8 million grant for the project, bringing the total value of state, regional and local incentives to lure Blue Origin to about $40 million.

Bezos, the billionaire founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, is scheduled to be in Brevard County on Sept. 15 to unveil the initiative.

Bezos and his company have not publicly released details about the program, referred to as “Project Panther,” but tidbits have emerged during meetings of Space Florida, a state-backed economic development agency, and other business development groups.

The plans include a rocket manufacturing plant that would be located at an industrial park adjacent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The rockets would fly from a launch pad leased from Space Florida that is located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, south of the NASA base.

Blue Origin aims to compete against privately owned SpaceX, founded and run by billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, for commercial and government customers wanting to fly satellites - and eventually people - to space, the companies have said.

Both firms are working on technology that would have rockets return to the launch site so they can be refurbished and reused. Last week, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office canceled Blue Origin’s patent for a system to land rockets on a barge at sea. SpaceX had contested the claim, saying the procedure is not proprietary.

Officials from Florida and Brevard County say Blue Origin will invest more than $200 million in the project and add 330 jobs in a region still trying to recover from the shutdown of the space shuttle program four years ago.

“With Project Panther, we’re shifting the paradigm,” Brevard’s economic development chief Lynda Weatherman, said during a webcast county commission meeting on Tuesday where the vote for the $8 million grant took place.

Rockets have been flying from Cape Canaveral launch pads since the 1950s, but the Blue Origin facility would be the first time that vehicles have been manufactured locally.

The Blue Origin project fits into a broader effort by Brevard County to woo aerospace manufacturers.

On Tuesday, commissioners also approved $2.5 million for Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer SA, which is building an airplane seat plant in a county-owned industrial park west in Titusville, Florida.

Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alan Crosby

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