Commercial Space Frontiers
Bringing the Industry Home
The development of commercial space as a viable industry for southern New Mexico is rapidly materializing. Years of behind-the-scenes efforts have resulted in large research and project funding grants and a growing potential for creating new jobs.
Most of us are aware of the investment and progress at Spaceport America and we know that New Mexico State University is involved with related research, but the fact that the area is now being recognized and accepted internationally in a highly competitive research and development arena is nothing short of phenomenal. New Mexico, and especially southern New Mexico, and in particular the parents of New Mexico youth who want them to have access to challenging careers in this region, are the beneficiaries of this extensive effort.
The idea of an inland spaceport and its related industries and research is nothing new to southern New Mexico. Robert H. Goddard performed much of his rocket and gyroscope testing in the Roswell area between 1930 and 1945 and German rocket scientist Wernher Von Braun was initially brought to Fort Bliss at the end of World War II. Development and testing of the V-2 rockets captured from Nazi Germany took place at White Sands Missile Range, some carrying research payloads to the upper atmosphere. White Sands has remained a center for missile technology for the Army, Navy, and Air Force and also for NASA, which has its own test facility and shuttle landing site on the massive base. America’s space travel efforts began in southern New Mexico, they have continued here and it simply makes a whole lot of sense from every perspective to develop the nation’s personal and commercial space flight industry right here.
The potential is enormous for southern New Mexico, but to attract academia and industry leaders from around the globe to Las Cruces and to convince federal agencies that New Mexico State University should be the lead research institution for highly competitive funding, demands a lot of hard work, development of global contacts and a huge payload of savvy as to what grabs bureaucratic attention.
“It’s about getting things done, making things happen,” states Dr. Pat Hynes at the Sugarman Space Grant Building on the campus of NMSU. “There are lots of people willing to discuss opportunities, but the ability to seize a brilliant idea and move it toward a practical application requires focus, long-term commitment and a knowledge of which buttons to push.” That’s exactly where Pat excels. She emphasizes that New Mexico has always been the choice for space-related activities; she knows how to organize words, people and events; she carefully chooses whose noses to thump for attention and support; she understands that securing America’s lead in space technology depends on the involvement of the entire education spectrum; she absolutely understands that the required momentum can only be achieved through a partnership among government, the aerospace industry and research universities; she has discovered the secrets for submitting successful proposals and she has convinced industry leaders that they don’t have to spend seven days in a dusty stagecoach to reach Las Cruces – no small feat.
America’s National Space Program recognizes the ability of commercial enterprises to begin shuttling people, equipment and projects to suborbital and orbital elevations, with government priorities shifting to long-range space projects. Pat’s efforts are directed toward snagging a major portion of that commercial space industry for New Mexico. “The intent is to create new industry in this state,” says Pat. “Research conducted at our universities through these programs has to help with economic development and create jobs. We emphasize to the students involved that by taking advantage of this taxpayer money, their research is expected to give something back to the nation – it’s not research for the sake of research.”
Pat began her current journey in 1991 as director of the Center for Aerospace Science, Technology and Education (CASTE). It was established by the state as a focal point related to inland spaceport development. The issuance of the FAA license for vertical takeoff at Spaceport America was the culmination of that 18-year effort.
Since 1998, Pat has served as director of the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium funded by Congress for science-related research, education and public service projects. In addition to NMSU, the New Mexico consortium includes New Mexico Tech and the University of New Mexico. New Mexico State University President Barbara Couture states, “The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, under the leadership of Pat Hynes, provides extraordinary research and learning opportunities that drive economic development, strengthen degree programs and draw talented faculty and staff to NMSU. We are privileged to be providing cutting-edge educational opportunities at this time, for it is truly the dawning of a new era of excellence in space engineering and research.”
Also headquartered at NMSU, Pat was appointed director of NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research in New Mexico (EPSCoR). Established in 2007, the program supports aerospace research throughout New Mexico in a variety of fields from space communications to low-earth orbit vehicle testing.
As New Mexico’s plan for a spaceport began to unfold, Pat recognized the need to bring together some of the brightest minds in the global industry to discuss its achievements and challenges. In 2005, she co-founded and continues to serve as chairman of the International Symposium for Personal & Commercial Spaceflight, held annually in Las Cruces. The symposium itself is a boost to the local economy, but more importantly, it showcases the local assets related to the space industry – the impressive pace toward completion of Spaceport America; the largest block of controlled airspace in America (a huge asset for commercial vertical launches); the research capabilities at NMSU and partnering opportunities at its Arrowhead Business and Research Park; and the area’s educational efforts at all levels to encourage students to engage in space-related fields.
As a result of Pat’s track record for securing and administering research funds, coordinating government, industry and academia programs and establishing outreach education programs, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chose NMSU with Pat as its Executive Director to lead its new Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation. A consortium of universities and industry partners will address current and future challenges for commercial space transportation. Participating universities include Stanford University, Florida Institute of Technology, New Mexico Institute of Technology, Florida Center for Advanced Aero-Propulsion at Florida State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The efforts will include space launch operations and traffic management; launch vehicle systems, payloads, technologies and operations; commercial human space flight; and space commerce (law, insurance, policy and regulation) with the goal of achieving a safe and efficient air transportation system.
As previously mentioned, the outreach programs are extremely important to the future of this industry in New Mexico, but to actually participate in space experiments and space-related business is the epitome of enticements for students. In 2011, the third year of the program, over 50 student experiments will be launched from Spaceport America, including work from middle school, high school and college levels. The importance of student involvement is so obvious to Pat that she founded and serves as Executive Director of the Space Development Foundation to support summer internships for students across the globe in businesses related to personal and commercial spaceflight.
What an exciting era for anyone in southern New Mexico remotely interested in personal and commercial spaceflight. Catch up on related history at the White Sands Missile Range Museum and the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo. Take a day trip to the visitor center at the Very Large Array west of Socorro or the Sunspot Astronomy and Visitors Center near Cloudcroft – they are awe-inspiring sites. Schedule a hard-hat tour of Spaceport America, pick up memorabilia at our own Space Murals Museum on Highway 70 and get involved with next year’s International Symposium for Personal & Commercial Spaceflight. “Space” is happening all around us. It’s time for all of us to get involved.