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Effort to create commercial space hub at Vandenberg Air Force Base moving quickly
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Effort to create commercial space hub at Vandenberg Air Force Base moving quickly

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A draft master plan for creating a commercial space hub at Vandenberg Air Force Base could be released around the end of April as a team of base, local industry and government representatives hope to get launch facilities ready for anticipated demand.

That effort got a boost recently when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to join the memorandum of understanding and kick in $200,000 to pay for development of the draft master plan.

James Hackleman, vice president and chief operations officer of REACH Central Coast, the Regional Economic Action Coalition, said the board’s decision to join the memorandum and provide funding shows the supervisors understand what a commercial space hub could mean to the local economy.

“This is a tangible action the county can take to help lay the groundwork for a growing industry to take root and flourish on the Central Coast,” Board Chairman and 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson said.

REACH, which is Vandenberg Air Force Base’s official representative for the commercial space industry, is just one part of the agencies that have signed the memorandum of understanding.

The others include the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Cal Poly and Deloitte, an industry-leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory service.

The draft master plan they’re putting together will not only analyze what infrastructure currently exists but what is needed and what kind of funding that will require.

It also will include an analysis of what a launch hub would mean for the economy, including direct, indirect and induced impacts.

“It will really underline the opportunity that exists,” Hackleman said.

With input from various sectors, the draft plan then will be refined into a final master plan that can be used for regional decision-making, budget allocations, government funding requests and attracting investors.

The local team is moving quickly in an attempt to be the first on the block, so to speak, with a commercial space hub and avoid being left in the dust by competing areas like Florida, which has been investing in space launch infrastructure for decades.

Already, work on the draft master plan has shown a critical need for investment in such infrastructure as launch pads, roads and communications equipment, and getting all that built would be a big draw for commercial launch companies.

“That way [United Launch Alliance] and SpaceX would only have to spend a few hundred million dollars on their launch vehicles,” Hackleman said.

He noted the growing demand for commercial space launches has been driven by a shift in the industry.

“The space industry, say, back in the ‘80s and even early ‘90s was an up-and-coming industry and it was primarily funded by the government,” he said. “But now we’re seeing the private sector stepping into that role, investing billions of dollars.”

He added, “The government only has private industry to launch national security satellites into space.”

As a result, over the next nine or 10 years, the demand for commercial space launches is expected to exceed the capability of existing facilities.

As the prime polar launch location in the United States, Vandenberg is in a position to capitalize on that demand, especially if it has facilities already prepared to go.

“Over the next decade, [we hope] to take advantage of the opportunity to catch this wave early rather than demand pushing us into the space industry,” Hackleman said Feb. 1.

Developing a commercial space launch hub that centers on Vandenberg but extends into the surrounding communities could mean millions, if not billions, of dollars for the Central Coast and would send economic waves washing across California.

“Right now, commercial space is a $350 billion industry globally,” Hackleman said. “That’s expected to rise to almost $3 trillion in the next couple of decades.”

Hackleman said a commercial space launch center here would create sustainable jobs ranging from assembly and manufacturing to engineering and development.

“These are very high-paying jobs that have real potential in regards to economic development in Santa Barbara County, and we want to be an active partner and participant in this planning effort so that we can help deliver good-paying jobs to the residents of Santa Barbara County,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.

Series: Recent Santa Barbara County Supervisors coverage

Read this collection of stories on Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors from the past year. Read all of our coverage of county government online.

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