Anheuser-Busch Briefing Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
1615 H St NW, Washington, D.C.
Registration and Breakfast: 8:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m.
A few weeks ago, a rocket carrying an orbital spacecraft lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on a mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). Florida’s space coast has seen hundreds of similar launches in its long history, but that liftoff was just the third time a privately built and operated spacecraft headed to the ISS. America has already entered the era of “new space.”
For more than fifty years, NASA has manned the helm since the United States first ventured into space. National priorities passed down from the federal government dictated the what, where and when of America’s efforts outside the atmosphere. Yet, in all things, America’s strength arises not from Washington, but from the states that make it up. State have rightfully been called the laboratories of democracy. In the 21st century efforts in orbit and beyond, states are also becoming the laboratories for space commercialization. As NASA’s Space Shuttle program fades into history, businesses, state and local governments, associations, and others are already building America’s future in space.
At the recent Business Horizon Series program – Free Enterprise and the Final Frontier – a panel of leaders in the space industry spoke about how their states are driving innovation and progress in America’s space efforts.
“Whether it’s in infrastructure investment, education on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), identifying tax incentives or other ways in education to stimulate innovation – that happens at the state level,” said Mead Treadwell, Lt. Governor of Alaska and chair of the Aerospace States Association (ASA). He added that working with the federal government allows NASA and other agencies to leverage state-based assets while also supporting state economic growth. Alaska is one of several states already actively building launch and innovation capabilities in infrastructure, human capital, and clusters of stakeholders in the New Space arena.
Denver, We Have Lift Off
While we begin to recognize the unique role that the states can play in in the commercial development of space, it is also time we started to look at Space as an infrastructure that is critical to our way of life and our economic health and security. Like any infrastructure, it is only as good as its resources and investments. That’s a fact that Alaska and many other states are beginning to recognize and act upon in significant ways. Alaska’s Kodiak Launch Complex was the first commercial spaceport not collocated on a federal range – it is 3,717 acres of state-owned land. It is the only high-latitude full-service spaceport in the country designed specifically for space launches into polar orbit – that is, circling the globe by passing over (or near) the north and south poles. As more satellites, space operations, space trash and other objects speed at 17,000 mph or more in an equatorial orbit, the less-often used polar orbits are becoming increasingly important. This is a powerful feather in Alaska’s cap, because as one of the few places in world where satellites and spacecraft can be launched into polar orbit, the Kodiak launch facility has a near-monopoly on orbits that will become increasingly important in the future.
This state-based infrastructure has the potential to bring investment, businesses and jobs into the Alaskan economy. It is why other states are working to expand their infrastructure to accommodate the many benefits from space commercialization, research and exploration. Jim Kuzma, the COO of Space Florida, who also spoke on the panel, discussed how his state is repurposing the space shuttle infrastructure at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral to accommodate commercial space efforts. He called this a “new horizon,” adding, “our goal is to develop those capabilities and core competencies around the state and see how they fit in to the overall picture of the opportunity and the supply chain.”
Indeed, in addition to physical infrastructure, Florida enjoys the intellectual infrastructure that grew in the decades of NASA’s and the US Air Force’s space work. Scientists, universities, associations and even state laws all promote success in space. Laws and policies in particular can have a big impact on a state’s ability to grow the space industry. The Spaceport Colorado project has already captured $134 million in public and private investment, said Vicky Lea, Aerospace Industry Manager for the Colorado Space Coalition. To attract established businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs, Colorado has passed space flight liability protection, which can have a big impact on a state’s ability to draw and foster the space industry. Just as the presence of legal protection can attract business, the absence of it can drive companies away.
Spaceport America in New Mexico is the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world, a $209 million project designed, built and operated by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority and home base for Virgin Galactic. However, because New Mexico has not offered liability protection for the space industry overall (instead only granting it to Virgin), Virgin Galactic is threatening to pull out of the spaceport program unless the state extends protection to contractors and manufacturers. If the state declines, Virgin could move to another state-run spaceport that is favorable to a growing commercial space industry. There are plans for state-run spaceports in neighboring Texas, California, Colorado, Virginia and elsewhere, in addition to launch facilities in Florida and Alaska.
There is an element of competition in most state action, and particularly since the 2009 economic downturn, states have openly competed for business growth and jobs. The budding New Space industry promises substantial economic returns – in direct revenue from successful businesses and the residents they bring, as well as in the non-space applications for the technologies and STEM skills built by consequence of a growing industry. To foster this and create a fertile environment for New Space, states are bringing together all the important stakeholders into clusters of potential.
Clustering for Collaboration
All panelists at the event spoke about how their states are taking a clustering approach to developing space technology and commercial growth – that is, creating networks of universities, research labs, businesses, investors, associations and government organizations. These clusters (which have proven effective in fostering other industries and state-based growth) creating connections between the stakeholders whose collective effort spells economic and business success.
Kuzma said Florida’s space efforts are focused on much more than launching satellites and spacecraft. There are applications for space technology in agriculture, climate monitoring, civil protection, communications and cybersecurity, tourism and clean energy, to name a few.
“There are clear advantages at the top of the world, and the best in the business are coming to us,” said Treadwell, describing Alaska’s space cluster. “In addition to our geostrategic location, 10 percent of our workforce makes up an established aerospace cluster community, and with cutting-edge, government and business initiatives, we’re all breaking ground in aerospace innovation.”
Collaboration does not only happen within a state. Alaska is pursuing new opportunities through its state agreement with NASA, which all states can potentially acquire. Treadwell encouraged the panelists and space stakeholders in the audience to acquire an agreement with NASA, as the federal agency helped the Alaska identify challenges with which NASA could help. Treadwell called it a model for how to foster state-based innovation.
Even when commercial applications are the source for a revenue-driven space industry, there remain strong links between state-based private sector work and efforts on the national, federal level.
“We can’t talk about commercial space in isolation,” said Lea. “Colorado’s roots in space are in the military. They continue to be a key driver of the Colorado space economy. Even as we face a declining Department of Defense budget, the fact that space remains a DOD focus going forward, the military space within the Colorado context will be strong.”
The New Space horizon is bright and full of opportunity. However, for America to maintain (and in some cases re-capture) its role as a world-leader in space technology development and application, there are significant challenges all states will need to address, foremost the need for a consistent, united, national mission that spans decades and administrations. More on this in the next installment of Forum’s discussion on New Space.