Press Release

As NASA Shuttles Retire, Private Aerospace Sector Rockets Skyward in Colorado

By SpaceRef Editor
April 12, 2011
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Timed to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle launch, NASA today announced where its three remaining orbiters Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour will retire.

While the announcement signifies an end to the space shuttle program, the shift also represents a beginning to the private sector’s greater involvement in spurring commercial development in space exploration.

According to Colorado executives attending this week’s National Space Symposium, the premier gathering of the global space community, the state’s companies and entrepreneurs are best positioned to help the U.S. become the global leader in the space exploration race, given the state’s qualified workforce, top contractors, and Department of Defense and NASA research activities.

“Colorado ranks first in the U.S. for its high concentration of private aerospace jobs, and our aerospace industry is a crucial driver of Colorado’s economic growth,” said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. “Colorado is the nation’s third largest aerospace economy in total private aerospace employment and is fourth in securing NASA contracts. Over the past five years, aerospace jobs in the state grew by 6.5 percent compared to two percent nationwide.”

Major Aerospace Projects

Located in the Rocky Mountains and a mile closer to space, Colorado is home to a strong concentration of space-related military commands, eight major aerospace contractors, higher-education programs and more than 400 companies that develop unmanned spacecraft, instrumentation, remote sensing, ground control and navigation services, and launch vehicles for NASA and other agencies.

Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser Orbital Space System is being designed to carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station to space by 2014.

“Our Dream Chaser venture is a true Colorado project with major elements being run, managed and built here in the state,” said Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems. “We are significantly assisted in this effort by key Colorado partners such as United Launch Alliance, Adam Works and the University of Colorado.”

Sierra Nevada is currently competing with seven other aerospace companies to receive a portion of the second round of $200 million in funding from NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. Last year, the company received $20 million of the $50 million provided by NASA, the largest amount given out in the first round of CCDev funding.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle program, which is designed to fly human crews to the International Space Station, the moon, asteroids and eventually, to Mars.

In March, Lockheed Martin unveiled a new state-of-the-art Space Operations Simulation Center (SOSC) in Denver. This 41,000 square foot facility will be used to test and validate vehicles, equipment and software for future human spaceflight programs to ensure safe, affordable and sustainable space exploration.

“In the last few years, we have significantly expanded our operations in Colorado both in facilities and number of people,” Sirangelo said. “We believe that Colorado has all the essential elements to enable business success; business orientated federal, state and local government, a strong university system, a great lifestyle and healthy living environment to attract and keep people, and a growing base of suppliers and technical support companies.”

Entrepreneurs Spurring Growth

Late last year, NASA announced that it would partner with the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology (CAMT) to create the nation’s first manufacturing park designed to accelerate commercialization of new space and cleantech technologies. It is the first technology transfer collaboration outside one of the space agency’s own flight centers and research campuses. The five-year pact commits NASA’s name and one scientist to the manufacturing park, which could result in as many as 10,000 high-tech jobs in a Metro Denver.

“With the free exchange of ideas among our research universities and national entities such as the Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Park (ACE), our state is a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Clark.

For more information on Colorado’s aerospace economy and other companies in the state that are helping to drive space exploration innovation visit

SpaceRef staff editor.