Friday, February 17, 2017

Florida’s Space Coast Is Filling the ‘Crater’ Left by NASA: SpaceX launch illustrates region’s rebirth as a more-diverse aerospace economy

The Wall Street Journal
February 17, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.—Launch pad 39A hasn’t hosted a liftoff since July 2011 when orbiter Atlantis’ final flight marked the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, a painful moment for the region that resulted in the loss of 9,000 jobs.

As soon as Saturday, the launch pad will be back in use but not under the auspices of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It has been refurbished by commercial launch company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, which will send a Falcon 9 rocket ferrying an unmanned Dragon capsule to the international space station.

The pad’s rebirth illustrates the economic rebound of Florida’s Space Coast as it transitions to a more-diverse aerospace economy, with a significant commercial sector, from one powered by government investment dating back to the administration of John F. Kennedy.

In the past six years, the area’s economic development agency has announced projects bringing in $1.4 billion in capital investment and generating an estimated 7,900 jobs. That includes 1,800 new jobs announced by Northrop Grumman Corp., which landed a Pentagon contract in 2015 to build long-range bombers.

“The Space Coast is kind of on fire right now,” said Greg Wyler, founder of OneWeb Ltd., which aims to use hundreds of satellites to provide internet access in rural and emerging markets.

In a joint venture with a division of Airbus SE, OneWeb plans to break ground soon on a high-tech manufacturing facility at Exploration Park, which borders the Kennedy Space Center and is managed by Space Florida, the state’s aerospace development authority. The facility, expected to employ 250 people, is designed to crank out three satellites a day when it opens next year.

Commercial space companies like SpaceX, founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, started by Inc. Chairman Jeff Bezos, are setting up facilities. Smaller startups such as Moon Express Inc., which plans to send a tiny spacecraft to the lunar surface later this year, also are making investments. And a host of others are expanding operations and hiring engineers and technicians, including Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA, which employs 650 people in the area.

One of them is Brian Hammer, who used to work for a NASA contractor on the shuttle program and received a layoff notice in 2012. He landed a job later that same year at Embraer, which was expanding in Melbourne with the creation of a new engineering support center.

“We’re not done growing here,” he said. “It’s really exciting, with all these new opportunities.”

For SpaceX, two major accidents have done little to slow the pace of development.

Construction crews are busy building a 750,000-square-foot Blue Origin facility where the company will manufacture its New Glenn rocket, a reusable booster aimed at sending astronauts and satellites into low-Earth orbit.

Blue Origin executive Scott Henderson said the company had several reasons for choosing Florida’s Space Coast, a 65-mile stretch along the state’s central Atlantic coast encompassing Kennedy Space Center and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Among them: the area’s proximity to the equator, which allows more weight to be launched per load; its existing launch infrastructure; and a well-trained workforce.

The Space Coast “could really be the nexus of this new commercial space enterprise,” Mr. Henderson said.

But commercial space companies tend to be lean and aren’t likely to generate as many jobs as NASA’s shuttle program, said Ramon Lugo, director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida. The region also faces competition. Florida leaders bemoaned SpaceX’s announcement in 2014 that it would build a commercial orbital launch pad in Brownsville, Texas.

Even so, the revival has helped lower the unemployment rate in Brevard County, home to the Space Coast, to 4.9% in December from 11.2% in July 2011.

Of the more than 9,000 aerospace workers laid off as a result of the shuttle program’s end, nearly 5,400 were employed at the end of 2014, according to CareerSource Brevard, which helped retrain and place them but stopped tracking them at that point. Around one-fifth of those laid off ended up retiring, and another large portion moved elsewhere for employment, the agency said.

“The end of the shuttle program left a pretty large crater in the Space Coast economy,” said Sean Snaith, a UCF economist.

Brevard County was better prepared for the end of the shuttle program than they were for the Apollo program’s departure in 1972, officials said.

State and local officials “made a conscious decision to get away from two things: dependence on government, and just being a launch site” with little assembly or manufacturing work, said Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida. The state aerospace authority has helped lure companies by arranging financing and leasing them property it manages.

The area is making strides on both counts. Commercial space companies are developing a sector that doesn’t rely on federal funding. And companies are using the area for not only launches but also manufacturing. Lockheed Martin Corp. is assembling the Orion capsule, which is slated to take humans deep into space, in a restored Apollo building at the Kennedy Space Center, under a NASA contract.

That also draws more suppliers and subcontractors to the area like Tsunami Tsolutions, an aerospace information technology firm from Glastonbury, Conn., and RUAG, a Swiss defense company, which is opening a new facility in the area to build satellite parts for OneWeb.

“We realized that the Space Coast is an area in transformation,” said Franck Mouriaux, a RUAG general manager. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to be part of this ecosystem.”

Original article can be found here:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great to see that the space center in Florida is being used for good measures. I like the idea of making the space industry more private, and less government controlled. NASA is great, and may be a necessity overall, but private businesses competing makes things progress faster. I think the space progression is making America not only great again, but better than before. Excellent job President Trump!