Profit in space?

Moderated by Rick Badie

Space, the profitable frontier? Some say it could be for a state’s economy, especially down South. Georgia recently made a bid to land Space X, a rocket ship company, as the inaugural tenant of a proposed “spaceport” in Camden County. Today, a guest columnist says creation of a commercial space industry bodes well for Georgia, while the other writer encourages state officials to embrace a golden opportunity.

South Georgia needs space

By Michael Mealling

I grew up in Tifton and Brunswick and have family in Waycross, Moultrie, and Savannah. I drive through that part of the state and see small towns dying. The proposed spaceport in Camden County is the best opportunity to help South Georgia’s economy. We should do whatever it takes to make it a reality.

When NASA was looking for a location to launch rockets in the early 1960s, a group of Georgia businessmen promoted southeast Georgia as a potential site. Their proposal ran a close second to sites in Florida. After a great deal of discussion, visits and evaluation, NASA decided to locate its facility at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Prior to that selection, eastern central Florida was very empty with only 17,000 people. Since then, the Kennedy Space Center has grown to become the world’s leading space launch facility, a tourist attraction that helped spur the population’s growth to 700,000. Imagine if NASA had chosen southeast Georgia instead.

Had that decision been made, Georgia would be the nation’s leading space launch location. Our coast would have received legions of tourists. The high-paying, high-tech jobs created by the space industry would be in this state.

Very seldom in life do you get a second chance, but now Georgia is getting a do-over. Several years ago, NASA decided to push launches to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) into the commercial arena. NASA will still do research into deep space and government-related launches, but LEO activities will be done by commercial companies.

These companies need a location for commercial launches. Government launch sites like Kennedy give priority to government needs, and commercial lift-offs take a back seat. If commercial launch is to move into the mainstream, private operators need a site that puts the priority on commercial needs.

Georgia has what some have called the perfect location. The Camden County site meets every requirement the commercial launch industry needs. Flights happen over the ocean; weather permits year-round operations; population is limited, and cities and infrastructure are close enough to be accessible.

An industry insider recently told a state representative, “In real estate, it’s location, location, location. You have the best location in the country for a commercial spaceport. If you develop it right, you will have the best commercial spaceport in the country, possibly the world. If you don’t, it will be the biggest mistake in 10 generations.”

Who would have thought in 1960 that Cape Canaveral would become what it is today? Georgia missed out on that opportunity 50 years ago. Texas and Florida see this opportunity and are aggressively going after it with resources, including cash incentives. Spaceport Georgia is being lead by a small county with few resources. Georgia has been given a second chance for something very special. Decisions are being made now by companies like SpaceX and Bigelow Aerospace.

For the sake of cities like Jesup, Woodbine and Blackshear, Gov. Nathan Deal and the state economic development office should do everything possible to attract these companies. The future of South Georgia depends on it.

Michael Mealling is president of the Georgia Space Society.

Embrace the commercial space industry

By Bob Scaringe

Aerospace transport companies like Space X are drastically reducing the cost to launch payloads into low earth orbit. XCOR Aerospace Inc. is drastically reducing the cost per tourist of a sub-orbital flight, and Bigelow Aerospace is launching inflatable space habitats intended for tourism, with one of the first to be installed on the International Space Station.

You may be surprised to know that all of these companies are interested in locating and launching from Spaceport Georgia in Camden County.

An A.T. Kearney study commissioned by the California Space Authority, a now-defunct nonprofit, quantified the U.S. space market as between $70 billion to $82 billion in 2009 and the global market at more than twice that amount. Looking at the space market, we can see a ripple effect as the direct investment in the space industry is multiplied through suppliers.

Another report says the economic impact of the space industry was $277 billion in 2010, a yearly increase of 12 percent. The report also cited the U.S. space industry as a supporter of more than 1 million jobs.

It is reasonable to assume that if Georgia initiated a serious market development effort, a 1 to 3 percent increase in U.S. space market share is feasible in three to five years. In an $80 billion space industry, a 1 percent market share increase equals $800 million of additional direct investment in Georgia. How many other markets is the state pursuing that match that kind of potential?

Georgia has been described by two commercial space companies as “the best location on the East Coast for launch.” The Camden County Spaceport site has been referred to as “a gold mine.” The location launches to the east over water. Forty-eight other states wish they had our geographic location to launch and logistically support launches in Florida and Georgia.

Georgia Tech produces more aerospace engineers than any other program in the country, providing a future Georgia space industry employer the luxury of a robust pipeline of engineers. Blue-collar skills in the Georgia aeronautics industry have crossover application in the space industry. Georgia is a right-to-work state; California, Colorado and Washington, where a lot of the space industry is currently located, are not. By any metric, Georgia has a strong story to tell a potential space industry employer.

The probability of Georgia increasing market share by 1 or 2 percent in the next few years is pretty high if the state simply commits to developing the space industry. The space market’s $80 billion size and Georgia’s current market share make this opportunity worth the investment.

Space is an industry of the future. It offers diversification to the aeronautics industry, and it will some day morph into a transportation industry.

The space market is real. Georgia can win against other states.

Bob Scaringe is chairman of the Georgia Space Working Group.

16 comments Add your comment

Camden County Native

April 18th, 2013
10:29 am

It is high time the folks in the ATL need to know that there is another state outside of I-285.
Coastal GA is Georgia’s next economic engine and we deserve resources to help us get there. We have been ignored for far too long.

Time to realize there are others in this state besides folks in Atlanta.

Peaches In Space!!! — Peach Pundit

April 18th, 2013
8:03 am

[...] into space if we land a bid for SpaceX to build a spaceport.  Michael Mealing and Bob Scaringe pen two separate editorial’s on Rick Badie’s AJC blog.  According to Michael, Georgia was the 2nd choice for the spaceport now in Cape Canaveral, FL [...]

Ismael Moriwaki

April 17th, 2013
11:19 pm

That is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Brief but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!

Samantha

April 17th, 2013
8:55 pm

I agree 100% with Larry Russell – this needs to be bigger news in Jacksonville, as it would impact us more than expansion at KSC. And both FL and GA lose if the business goes to Texas. Is it possible to get a partnership together?

Shamehia

April 17th, 2013
5:12 pm

The State needs to be all over this project like a duck on a june bug, it would seem to be a win-win across the board.

It could even help accelerate Newt’s dream of colonizing the moon.

Michael Mealling

April 17th, 2013
4:46 pm

Centrist,
There was some reluctance to get out in front of the environmental impact statement that is currently in progress but I don’t think we can wait. Since the site in question was previously used to manufacture pesticides, putting a space port there would actually improve the environment of the site. You can help move things along by sending an email to the Governor’s office asking them to put everything behind the effort.