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The opportunities for Washington State aerospace suppliers in the space economy

While Washington State has long been a leader in the space sector, honing in on the state’s strength in the sector has necessitated a change in thinking among industry advocates.

We really are a space state, but we are an entrepreneurial space state. There is no single standing federal or defense space presence like a Johnson Space Center, like what you would see in Texas or Florida or parts of Virginia,” said Emily Wittman, President & CEO if the Aerospace Futures Alliance and Washington State Space Coalition. “We are really entrepreneurial and are companies see themselves as closer to technology companies on the cutting edge of research and development, innovation and testing rather than a traditional large aircraft manufacturer.”

Wittman provided an overview of the opportunities for aerospace suppliers in the space economy during a Wednesday work session in the House Community & Economic Development Committee.

According to data presented by Wittman, there are over 3,000 operational satellites in orbit and over 100 orbital launches per year. The US government spends about $50 billion per year for purposes related to space.

Within the broader space market, Washington State is on the forefront of the satellite manufacturing and launch ecosystem.

There are lots of opportunities in global defense, but where Washington State really shines is less in defense contracts and really in this entrepreneurial space ecosystem,” said Wittman

For perspective, space related manufacturing has not reached the scale of commercial aerospace in terms of revenue. Global space satellite manufacturing revenue was about one quarter of Boeing’s commercial airplane revenue ($30 billion) in 2019.

Despite that small scale, Wittman said there are still plenty of reasons why aerospace employers should look to engage with the space industry. When surveyed, 16 aerospace companies – Boeing was not among them – reported a 47 percent single year loss in revenue in 2020. That computed to a 23% loss in total employment at those 16 companies, representing over 600 individuals who lost aerospace jobs in Snohomish County due to the pandemic.

A new industry like space manufacturing is one avenue for diversification, says Wittman.

Investing in aerospace and manufacturing is one of the five core recommendations for long-term economic recovery in Washington State listed by the Senate Committee on Economic Recovery’s Blueprint for Recovery. Diversifying the aerospace manufacturing sector was cited as one of the specific solutions.

We need to think about incentives for manufacturing and explore other avenues. We need to think of our state not just as Boeing state, but as a potential aerospace hub,” said Sen. David Frockt.

According to an AFA & WSCC survey of 40 space companies based in Washington State, the companies directly employ over 5,000 workers, a figure which Wittman says is growing.

Space is only one facet of Washington’s diverse aerospace sector, though it has been a historically significant part of the state’s economy.

In a presentation on the history of the space industry in Washington State, the Department of Commerce recounts that Boeing began building the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) at their Kent facility in 1969, and the first vehicle was delivered just 17 months after the contract was signed. Three LRVs remain on the moon, and were designated as Washington State Historic Landmarks in October 2020.

Looking ahead, Wittman underscored AFA & WSCC’s support for a house bill that would direct the Department of Commerce to complete a study of public policies that might encourage development of the new space economy and the geographic distribution of space economy sector employment and training opportunities across Washington.

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