|The dawning space economy
Governments and private companies are going all-out in what amounts to a new
space race, and this region has a foot in both worlds
Sometime next year at a site in South Mississippi, four RS-25 engines of NASA’s
Space Launch System will roar to life in a teeth-rattling spectacle during a static test
at the historic B-2 test stand.
With a combined 2 million pounds of thrust, the engine core test at Stennis Space
Center (SSC) will be loud, signifying the power being held in place at the stand and
the blast coming out of the trench.
But the event also will underscore the importance of the I-10 region’s space-related
activities. The RS-25 engines all were tested at SSC, and the core stage was built at
Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), some 40 miles away in Louisiana.
The test is just one event in dynamic new 21st century space age, where government
and commercial players are all vying for a piece of the action. For established space
companies there’s money to be made, and for start-ups there are opportunities to
find a niche activity that could start something big.
Goldman Sachs, in its Profiles in Innovation series, highlighted the state of the
industry, calling space the “next investment frontier.”
What is clear to anyone following the space industry is that it’s in a state of transition
with more players worldwide coming aboard. The industry requires a highly-skilled,
workforce to build, launch, and utilize space assets. And this region has a foot in the
The Gulf Coast is in the exclusive club of locations with NASA centers. SSC is where
NASA has tested large rocket engines since the 1960s, and MAF in New Orleans is
where huge aerostructures have been built just as long.
Both SSC and MAF have roles in the current NASA deep-space program, the Space
Launch System (SLS), designed to send astronauts farther into space than ever
before. SSC is where the SLS launch vehicle engines are tested. MAF is where the
four-engine launch vehicle core stages and Orion crew capsule are being built.
In addition, both facilities are involved in commercial space ventures. SSC tests
multiple commercial rocket engines, and MAF is where the composite structure for a
commercial space vehicle is built.
Having a stake in both the federal and commercial sides of the multibillion-dollar
space enterprise bodes well for the region. While NASA’s programs rely on federal
funding, the commercial field is more open-ended and can venture into activities not
on NASA’s agenda, including space tourism. Both SSC and MAF are actively courting
commercial ventures to take advantage of under-utilized NASA facilities.
The other space activity in the region is at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where the
phased array radar has been keeping its eyes on space more than 40 years.