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My View: Arizona is becoming a star in commercial space sector

Phoenix Business Journal

On many clear evenings, it’s no surprise to see me casting my eyes to the stars. That’s especially true when I’m reflecting on my past while considering what lies ahead in our future.

Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council

One of the early stops in my career found me working as a principal engineer at Ford Aerospace. Even then, I knew space held the potential for paydays. Little did I realize that the commercial space industry was going to help sustain Arizona’s economy for years to come in Arizona.

There are a number of companies in the Valley and beyond that have used our state as the launch pad for ideas leading to enterprises offering products and services ranging from satellites orbiting the earth to space tourism in the next few years.

In the East Valley, the name Northrop Grumman is behind two campuses. Gilbert is home to a new administrative and engineering building created to expand the company’s Northrop Grumman’s multi-building satellite manufacturing campus, which was already one of the largest of its kind in the nation. Clients include NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense and commercial customers. A few years ago, a campus was opened in neighboring Chandler to serve as home to Northrop Grumman’s launch vehicles business.

Tempe is the home of KinetX Aerospace, the first private company qualified by NASA for deep space navigation. In addition, it offers world-class expertise flight dynamics, operations and systems engineering. The KinetX Space Navigation and Flight Dynamics team has navigated spacecraft on complex planetary exploration missions such as OSIRIS-REx, MESSENGER and New Horizons. KinetX also specializes in the design, development and operation of large-scale space systems including Iridium.

Speaking of Iridium, which has its business operations in Tempe, the company offers the only mobile voice and data satellite communications network that links people, organizations and assets to and from anywhere around the world in real time. In 2019, the company completed an upgrade of its satellite network and launched its new specialty broadband service, Iridium Certus.

Stretching to Tucson

Arizona’s commercial space corridor also stretches south to Tucson. Paragon Space Development Corporation has worked on every major human space flight program since 1999 and its hardware has flown on NASA spacecraft (e.g., Space Shuttle, International Space Station), foreign spacecraft (e.g., Soyuz, Mir) and commercial spacecraft.

Paragon’s expertise in engineering, design, analysis and manufacturing combined with its patented ECLSS Human-Rating Facility and Testing Facilities has made it a leader in the development of innovative life support and thermal control solutions. The company is part of the Northrop Grumman team that will create the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) for the Lunar Gateway outpost planned to orbit the moon.

Want to get a closer look at the moon but don’t think you’ll make the cut for NASA? World View Enterprises is the creator of the Explorer Stratospheric Capsule that will use balloons to take you and others to the stratosphere as soon as early 2024 for $50,000 each. The memorable moment will be seeing the Earth’s curvature against the blackness of space.

It’s worth noting that Paragon and World View share a common pedigree. Both companies were founded by Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter, who have launched the company Space Perspective in Florida. The company’s Spaceship Neptune will be lifted by a SpaceBalloon for an experience similar to that being marketed by World View.

Back in Tucson, Phantom Space Corp. helps companies design, build and integrate spacecraft from single small spacecraft to the complete buildout of constellations. With a track record of successful satellite programs, spacecraft design and various space missions, one of its products is Daytona, a mass-manufactured expendable two-stage rocket considered the most efficient and cost-effective small payload rocket in the world.

FreeFall Aerospace is developing revolutionary antenna technology for ground, air, and space. Spherical antennas offer a wide field of view, efficient beam steering, and low mass to simplify and improve satellite communications. This allows entire constellations of low-cost satellites to be integrated in a complete communications network. The technology is based on research in high-frequency radio astronomy at The University of Arizona.

This overview is just a sample of what is happening in Arizona. While there are plenty of voids in space, there are far fewer when it comes to our commercial space industry.

Steve Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.


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