2011 Forecast: A brighter outlook for space economy in Colo. Springs

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The last two years have been tumultuous for the U.S. space industry, but things are expected to calm down a bit in 2011 — even as Congress cuts programs and budgets.

Some very large companies are preparing for more austere times by offering early retirement to senior staff members, said Brenden Curry, vice president of the Space Foundation’s Washington office.

In the Springs, however, many still are hiring, based on new contracts in Afghanistan and work with the Missile Defense Agency at Schriever Air Force Base.

Nationally, some jobs will be cut as the space shuttle flies for the final time, but those cuts have been anticipated for years, Curry said. The news is positive for Colorado. Congressional intervention saved the Orion space vehicle, as well as the jobs of Colorado workers who are designing the new space craft. That work will continue next year, Curry said.

“We’ve had a tough couple of years, things have been very unsettled, as far as space is concerned,” Curry said. “But we’re expecting that to settle down next year. We have a clear plan forward now.”

Technology, as always, is going to take center stage, and all eyes are going to be on companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, both of which are working on commercial alternatives for the space shuttle.

The United States and Russia might not be alone in space in the coming year. China is going to be testing its space station prototype.

Closer to home, Colorado Springs could soon become home to more than 3,000 additional soldiers from a new helicopter brigade. The Army wants to add the brigade by 2013, and a final decision about its location is expected next year.

The military recently extended the comment period for the brigade. Fort Carson is competing with the Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Wash.