NM Space Industry Poised for Launch

BY KEVIN ROBINSON-AVILA / JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

February 15th, 2019 – New Space NM is giving fresh thrust to the state’s emerging commercial space industry.

The organization, which launched in May, released a new report on Feb. 8 that provides a comprehensive overview of the state’s assets and advantages to lure more space-related investment and business to New Mexico. And it offers four immediate steps for local companies, investors, professionals and public officials to work together on building the industry.

The first step is creation of a New Mexico Space Council, something that’s already poised for takeoff through outreach to key players around the state over the past 10 months, said New Space founder and director Casey DeRaad.

About 250 public and private sector representatives have joined a New Space advisory team since May, including key industry leaders, economic development professionals, and academic directors and researchers from state universities. A broad range of local, state and federal officials have also participated, including appointees from the Air Force and New Mexico’s congressional delegation.

That advisory team will now segue into the new space council, DeRaad said.

“The council will build a strong, unified voice for the space industry,” DeRaad said. “Members will work to plan events, create marketing strategies, and advocate for the industry at the state and federal levels.”

The next steps are creation of two “connector” programs, one to rapidly link entrepreneurs with direct access to people, tools and resources to help establish or grow space-related businesses in New Mexico. The other will focus on workforce development, connecting businesses and job seekers and creating educational opportunities to build more talent in the state, such as internship programs.

The final step is launch of a public-private space investment fund, although that initiative is potentially more complicated and will likely take a lot of time to build, DeRaad said.

“We need to research potential funding and investment opportunities first,” DeRaad said. “It could include venture investment and opportunities for federal funding, particularly with the Department of Defense.”

With or without a dedicated investment fund, a lot more space business opportunities are coming to New Mexico, thanks to the Defense Department’s growing focus on modernizing its space capabilities. The Air Force is leading that effort, a lot of which is concentrated at Kirtland Air Force Base, which hosts three key space-related agencies.

They include the Space & Missiles Center, the Space Rapid Capabilities Office and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate. Those three agencies together receive $900 million in annual funding and employ about 1,600 people in New Mexico.

Spending to build new, more-resilient satellite technology is a prime focus, and the Air Force is turning heavily to the private sector to help it with those efforts, said Co. Eric Felt, director of the AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, who spoke at New Space NM’s public forum to present its new report.

“The importance of space has never been higher as competition grows with Russia and China,” Felt said. “We’re more dependent than ever before on space-based navigation, GPS signals, weather and missile warning systems. We must have those things in a conflict and they’re not assured today, creating a gap in our capabilities that we’re working to fill.”

Like NASA, the military is turning to the private sector to tap its agility and lower-cost approach to building new space systems.

“That enables space architecture that was unaffordable in the past,” Felt said. “The cost of components for satellites are down by a factor of 10 because of commercial space companies. … There’s a whole new world of capabilities, and we want to harness that.”

New Space can count on state officials to help local companies tap those opportunities, said Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, who also spoke at the event.

“The space industry is one of the most vital sectors to help our economy grow,” Keyes said. “We’ll work with New Space NM to build a cluster of companies, and to leverage the New Mexico Spaceport, which offers real opportunities.”

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