Commentary: The Colorado component of the space industry

Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:,

Since 1962, we have diversified greatly from our objective to land on the moon. Today, space is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. As General Lance Lord, Commander of Air Force Space Command has commented, “If you’re not in space, you’re not in the race.”

Clearly, space programs and technologies and the data from space-based assets permeate all aspects of government and contribute to our quality of life more than ever before. The Department of Defense and NASA are making great strides toward re-sharpening their focus, through re-structuring and policy changes, to better address homeland security, access to space, remote sensing, workforce shortages and other key issues in our industry. There is also evidence of greater collaboration between NASA and DoD.

Colorado is a microcosm of this larger movement taking place at the national level. As a state, we stand to gain much in the space business by sharpening our focus and increasing collaboration.

The aerospace and defense industries have long been a crucial component of Colorado’s technology economy. Our space infrastructure directly employs about 40,000 people directly and another 75,000 indirectly and generates over $3 billion in revenues annually. This puts us 4th behind only California, Florida and Texas as an aerospace economy; on a per-capita basis, we are #1.

There are over 100 companies engaged in space business in Colorado, comprising between 6 and 8 percent of Colorado’s economy. Colorado is the Center for Military Space and maintains strong ties to NASA, NOAA and other civil programs. We produce launch vehicles, spacecraft and the instruments that fly on those spacecraft right here in Colorado. Colorado is also a leader in commercial remote sensing, and we have a strong stake in experimental programs, navigation and direct satellite broadcasting. We are especially distinguished by our unparalleled command/control and data dissemination systems, and this capability leverages nicely into the “after-market” uses of space data in a growing commercial sector.

The industry is changing rapidly. Geographic competition for space business has increased, and we cannot be complacent. Growth markets are shifting from capital-intensive manufacturing to ground support and satellite services, and Colorado’s space community must anticipate these changes and view them not as threats but as opportunities.

Governor Owens, the Office of Innovation and Technology and key leaders in industry have recognized this. They’ve also recognized the power of coalition-building and public/private partnership as the central strategy to retaining and growing the state’s space infrastructure. And in doing so, we identify those unique contributions that Colorado can make to meet our national space objectives.

The Colorado Space Enterprise, or CSE, consists of the newly-formed Space Advocate Office and Colorado Space Council, and is comprised of leaders from industry, government, education and economic development groups throughout the state. We will work to establish common ground among space interests and pull these fragmented groups together as one community. The CSE’s core mission is to retain and expand existing space business and attract new business, but only to the extent that it contributes positively to our standard of living. Our objectives and corresponding initiatives exist on four different fronts: industry, legislature, economic growth organizations and education.

The CSE will engage with industry to posture Colorado for long-term opportunities and new customers and markets. We will leverage from Colorado’s diverse high-technology industry base to collaborate more effectively with adjacent industries, such as IT, telecom and bio-tech. Blurring the boundaries between industries will generate new business opportunities and allow increased employment stability through workforce sharing. We will work to increase industry’s utilization of national labs and university R&D infrastructure and help facilitate ease of technology transfer. Where it proves cost-effective, we will propose increased state utilization of space technology and data for roles in areas such as water management, transportation and urban planning and protection of the environment. Finally, we will apply a near-term focus on homeland security, offering to Northern Command and related organizations the use of Colorado’s civil and aerospace infrastructure as test beds for initiatives to protect our communities.

From the legislative standpoint, we can better assist our congressional delegation to support our state’s space interests by providing a unified, common-ground agenda of legislative, policy and regulatory needs. The CSE will provide “space briefs” and a consolidated space platform to federal legislators and state government on a recurring basis and work directly with federal agencies to communicate our needs in Washington.

Economic development organizations across the state are recognizing that space is big business for their respective regions, and the CSE will partner with these groups to incorporate space technology into existing business models in both high-tech and traditional industries. We will encourage collaboration between regions to identify overlaps and gaps in core competencies to better serve our state’s anchor customers.

On the education front, we need to address the workforce issues facing our industry, in which the number of aerospace engineers has diminished 40% in the last 12 years. Colorado will help to re-supply our space workforce and – in doing so – create in-state jobs with home-grown graduates. Working with the Colorado Institute of Technology, we’ll also help generate a stronger collaboration between industry and education, through co-ops, internships, and industry’s leveraging of university R&D facilities. In K-12 education, we will promote robust math and science standards and develop programs to generate enthusiasm for space and its applications.

Colorado has tremendous resources and the potential to realize the untapped opportunities in front of us. The CSE will continue to engage leaders in our space community and broaden our coalition to ensure increased collaboration and the sustainment of Colorado as a leader in space.

Trip Carter serves as the Colorado Space Advocate, an executive post created by Governor Bill Owens and Secretary of Technology, Marc Holtzman.