Advances in Space Transportation Systems Transforming
January 12, 2022
From a seaside perch overlooking the hustle and bustle
of ships coming and going at Port Canaveral on Florida’s east coast,
Dale Ketcham reflects on decades of history with nostalgia.
“I moved here and learned how to walk on Cocoa Beach three years
before NASA was created” in 1958, he said.
Not only can Ketcham trace his life alongside the U.S. space
program, he’s had a firsthand view of the transformation of the
economies of communities surrounding NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
several times since the 1950s.
“The space program continued to progress, but it was always
government-focused,” said Ketcham, adding that the configuration did
not bring long-term stability to the local workforce.
“For 50 years roughly, Florida’s Space Coast was the place for
launch” but not production of spacecraft, said Brian Baluta of the
Economic Development Commission (EDC) of Florida’s Space Coast.
Most of the equipment used in the Apollo and space shuttle programs
in the last half of the 20th century was shipped to Florida for
assembly.When Atlantis touched down in 2011 on the final shuttle
mission, it marked the end of an era in human spaceflight, with
painful economic consequences for the Space Coast.
“The job losses started to pile up, and that happened to coincide
with the Great Recession,” Baluta said.“And that was really a
one-two punch for this area. In 2011, unemployment was 12% at that
point. The economy and its outlook (were) not that strong.”
Baluta’s organization responded by forging a plan to boost the
fortunes of the area’s workforce — permanently.
“It started with taking the unusual step of reaching out to the
companies who were likely to produce the successor to the space
shuttle," he said.“At the time, it was called the Crew Exploration
Vehicle, and there wasn’t a contract for it yet,” he said. “But we
reached out to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing — the
companies that would likely compete and win for that contract. And
we made the unusual pitch of, ‘If you win the contract, not only
should you consider launching from Cape Canaveral, but you should
consider assembling your spacecraft here.’”
The concept took off.
“Just like diversifying a portfolio, if you diversify the area and
your products, you can ride through those lows,” said Lockheed
Martin’s Kelly DeFazio. Her company won the contract to create
NASA’s next-generation spacecraft transporting humans back to the
The Crew Exploration Vehicle, now called Orion, is the crew capsule
of the upcoming Artemis missions. Instead of making them elsewhere,
some of Orion’s key components are pieced together at Lockheed
Martin’s new STAR (Spacecraft, Test, Assembly and Resource) Center
near Titusville, Florida, which is the former home of Space Camp and
the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.
“This particular center here was an 18-month, $20 million investment
by Lockheed Martin, and that is helping to expand the manufacturing
footprint for the Space Coast and allowing us to increase throughput
(output) over time to support the lunar mission,” said DeFazio, who
is also a longtime resident of Florida’s Space Coast. She now
oversees the work at STAR Center, which includes creating wiring
harnesses and the application of thermal tiles that will protect the
Amid all the activity at STAR Center, DeFazio said local excitement
“I think that it will start to become very clear with the launch of
Artemis 1 that there is a difference," said DeFazio. “And you know
what? We’re going to take humans farther than they have ever gone
“When I was growing up with the original seven astronauts, it was
really a frontier town,” Ketcham said. That Wild West frontier town
description is also how he characterizes the present-day Space
Coast, with government contractors and private companies jockeying
for real estate and launch access.
“In many ways, we’re going back. … The workforce is younger,
particularly with Space X. They aren’t afraid to fail,” Ketcham
‘The more the merrier’
Space X, Blue Origin, and the Airbus and One Web partnership are
just a few of the growing number of companies now with facilities
near the rocket launch pads at Kennedy Space Center, thanks in part
to the efforts of the EDC and organizations like Space Florida,
where Ketcham now serves as vice president.
“We just had an announcement this week that there will be a small
launch company called Astra coming here to build small rockets for
small satellites, which is a big new component of the space
industry,” said Ketcham. “But we’ve also got Firefly, Relativity
coming — and others will be coming after that.”
The more the merrier said Ketcham, who believes the flurry of
activity not only helps the local economy but also keeps the United
States competitive globally in what he sees as a new international
China leading the race
“The Chinese will put more rockets into orbit than we will because
the Chinese are competitive, very smart, very capable, very
well-resourced and very committed. And they are the major
competitors in space,” Ketcham said.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson agrees.
a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations hearing conducted
remotely last year, he signaled alarm over the recent successes in
the Chinese space program, including landing a rover on the surface
of Mars, and is concerned that their ambitions are not limited to
the red planet.
“They want to send three big landers to the south pole of the moon,”
Nelson told members of Congress. “And that’s where the water is. And
we are still a year or two away from a much smaller lander going
Nelson wants U.S. lawmakers to increase NASA’s funding so the agency
can complete the Artemis program, which plans to return humans —
including the first woman — to the moon, with Mars as an eventual
“I think that’s adding a new element as to whether or not we want to
get serious and get a lot of activity going on landing humans back
on the surface of the moon,” he said.