Regional leaders meet to discuss Vandenberg spaceport
Leaders convene at Vandenberg to map out a plan to expand commercial space launch
–As the race into space accelerates between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, the competition to become the next space-launch site is ramping up as well.
Alarmed by competitors who are chipping away at California’s dominance in the space industry, 40 Central Coast regional leaders met Friday (Aug. 9) to map out strategic actions to ensure a prominent role for the Central Coast in the fast-growing commercial space-launch industry.
The workshop and the underlying research informing the group was conducted by Deloitte and sponsored by the Hourglass Project.
“The private space industry is expected to expand exponentially over the next 30 years, growing from $350 billion to $2.7 trillion,” said Melissa James, CEO of the Hourglass Project. “The Central Coast has the means to play a critical role in the state’s space ecosystem. But without concerted collaborative action, all of California, including the Central Coast, may well lose out on opportunities for the technological jobs of the future.”
“Space is critical to National Security, and the National Defense Strategy provides very clear direction to restore our competitive edge in the re-emerging power competition to maintain space superiority,” Col Anthony Mastalir, 30th Space Wing Commander at Vandenberg Air Force Base said.
“We rely on robust collaboration with our industry partners to not only provide assured access to space but also to maximize our range capacity and move forward into the range of the future,” Mastalir said. “Growth of the commercial space industry is essential to economic and security interests of our local community and the nation.”
“Vandenberg Air Force Base is California’s only space launch facility, historically serving companies like SpaceX. However, California’s toehold in the space industry is at risk as advances in technology and fierce competition from other states threaten California’s competitive advantage,” says James.
Until recently, Vandenberg Air Force Base held a unique geographic advantage in the space-launch industry: Only from Vandenberg was it possible to launch satellites into polar orbit, that is, a rotation over Earth’s two poles, versus parallel to the equator.
But recent technological advances have made polar orbit launches possible from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.
Leaders fear that if launches move east, so will most if not all of the R&D and production that now happens in California, creating significant economic vulnerabilities that could cripple California’s current leadership share of the space industry.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Central Coast), who attended the Hourglass workshop said: “We’ve heard from leaders in technology and space innovation, and we know what they need to thrive in California. Our state has always been on the cutting edge of technology and development—we must be sure we continue taking bold action on job creation and innovation to match. Without a doubt, the excellence of Vandenberg Air Force Base paired with the expertise of Central Coast businesses will create a thriving spaceport. We must ensure they have the resources to stay competitive. I am committed to supporting these efforts and our state’s space leadership in every way I can.”
At Friday’s workshop, leaders were presented with research showing that the loss of a geographic polar orbit launch advantage is only a symptom of the larger challenge the region faces. The Vandenberg spaceport hasn’t received the attention and investment in infrastructure that spaceports and ranges in other states have received.
States like Florida and Virginia have invested in the commercial space industry in several ways California has not, which has left Vandenberg struggling to compete in what is currently a fairly low demand launch market, but one that is expected to grow exponentially. However, experts say that demand is going to increase significantly in the future. Unless the state of California takes the steps to ensure Vandenberg is the launch site of choice, California will be left behind.
“Vandenberg Air Force Base is critical to the state and nation’s space industry. A key question is why aren’t we launching both orbits from Vandenberg?” State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-Central Coast), said, “California should lead the space industry, with Vandenberg at the forefront.”
The Hourglass Project’s workshop brought together a diverse set of leaders from Congress, the Governor’s office, State Legislature, local government, education, industry and military to outline the challenge and to develop a list of feasible solutions. In order to achieve this, the Hourglass Project retained Deloitte Consulting to aid in developing a strategic action plan to expand both the region’s and the state’s role in the international space ecosystem.
“Deloitte is thrilled to be working with the Hourglass Project and Central Coast residents, government, and business community, to drive regional growth by enabling a Smart Central Coast Region,” Josh Nisbet, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP, who leads its work for the State of California. “A centerpiece of this effort is helping support Vandenberg Air Force Base in becoming a spaceport of excellence. A confluence of technology, politics, national security priorities and an expected exponential increase in polar orbit launch demand has presented the State of California with a once in a generation opportunity to drive the space industry into the next century. A thriving spaceport at Vandenberg Air Force Base is central to that strategy. It can act as a center of gravity, attracting industry, spurring innovation, and fostering high-tech jobs throughout the Central Coast region and State of California.”
During the course of the five-hour workshop, a consensus emerged that the following action needs to occur:
1. There is an urgent need for inter-governmental and private sector collaboration on infrastructure, investment, and policy to allow Vandenberg Air Force Base to become a premier spaceport and range.
2. An integrated master plan for commercial space opportunities that will help identify important priorities and requirements at Vandenberg Air Force Base, anchoring the go-forward vision.
3. Ongoing collaboration should include a wide range of diverse constituencies and institutions to optimize the overall competitive advantages of the region for commercial space activities.
This event marks the first, but essential step for California to seize the opportunity that commercial space represents for contribution to science, state competitiveness and most importantly economic prosperity and future jobs that will help ensure a California for all.