Colorado’s Growing Space Economy

By Edgar Johansson


In 2001 I was fortunate to attend the national space symposium as it used to be called, as the representative of former Governor Bill Owens. At the time, I was the Director for Asia at the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). There had been a steady of Colorado’s space assets that left out key pieces of the message, that Colorado was one of the main epicenters of space, aerospace and defense industries in the nation. However, there were many folks and organizations that were very willing to share these messages and bring to light what Colorado businesses and academics were doing in the realm of space.

As a result of attending the 2001 space symposium, I was asked to represent the governor and a few key members of his staff as the space liaison. I joined the board of the Colorado Space Business Roundtable (CSBR) and began the journey that led me to become the organization’s current president and an active member of Colorado’s incredibly vital space, aerospace and defense community. But the story of Colorado’s space industry started almost 70 years ago at the end of the Second World War as a primary location for space, aerospace and defense due to two significant geographic reasons.

Following the Second World War, the United States government captured over 300 – railroad cars worth of V –2 rocket parts and components. With various scientists and specialist including Dr. Wernher von Braun, the United States decided they wanted to do research in conjunction with universities across the nation to develop sub – orbital rockets. So, in 1947, the Air Force Cambridge Research Center (AFCRC) contacted Dr. William Pietenpol, then Chairman of the physics department at the University of Colorado in Boulder, to participate. From the Chairman’s decision to contribute, the Upper Air Laboratory was born.

After finally receiving funding for the project in 1948, the Upper Air Laboratory was conceived. Within the first 10 years, the University sent up 19 Aerobee rockets from Holloman Air Force Base along with the Air Force and another 8 V-2 rockets from White Sands Proving Grounds with the Navy, and continued efforts to advance rocket research.

The UAL eventually expanded, flying instruments on NASA’s solar – observing rockets. The UAL eventually became the foundation for CU’s current facility – Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), which was and continues to be a driving force in interplanetary exploration and solar research. With the creation of LSAP, students, faculty, and researchers established a nexus to continue attracting inspired minds. With renewed energy, building upon collaboration with NASA, see you drew interest from various entrepreneurial ventures and industry organizations establishing LASP’s collaboration between education and business; firmly establishing Boulder as a top tier research program and facility for Earth atmospheric satellites, space and planetary sciences, as well as expertise in rocketry.

Just shortly after the Second World War finished, the Cold War developed. Colorado’s distinctive geography, again, said it apart from other locations around the United States, but this time its role was very strategic. Around 1957, in response to the development of long – range missiles by the Germans along with submarine – based launch capabilities, an agreement was signed in a plan was established to build a more secure location for our nation’s assets. The Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado Springs was chosen and has become one of the United States most treasured assets to date.

With the development of Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs became a vibrant community with businesses supporting the industry through cutting – edge technologies. The city has become one of the best – known military hubs in our nation’s space program. To this day, Space Command three other military commands call Colorado home. The depth and economic contribution to the community of Colorado Springs and around the state are so great; they may never be truly realized.

So why does the space, aerospace, and defense industry in Colorado means so much to our public servants and those of us who live here? The economic impact alone tells the greatest part of Colorado’s space story. The economic impact of this industry is expressed in innovation, which translates to significant capital investment ranking Colorado the third-largest space economy.

This translates to over 400 companies and suppliers, equating to roughly 162,680 jobs supported by space, 25,110 private-sector jobs, and 27,890 military personnel; resulting in $3.2 billion in annual payroll that is injected back into the Colorado economy. These numbers show that the space industry is vital to Colorado and should inspire are used to explore careers in this amazing industry.

Fifteen years ago Colorado was fourth in the nation for space economies, but with the diligent effort and hard work from the 400+ companies that call Colorado home or operate a significant portion of their business within Colorado’s borders, the state has moved up a notch to achieve the spot of third-largest space economy. Colorado is also lucky to have the help of eight prime space contractors, NASA research activities and incredible research universities. There are many small and medium-size companies contributing to these numbers, some with less than 10 employees. Showing that knowledge is big business, but the hearts and minds of innovative individuals, continue to make this state so exciting and one of the greatest space states to live and work.