MSGC Conducting Study to Determine Market Demand for a Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex

1. Summary

Funded by a grant from the Maine Technology Institute and NASA EPSCoR, the Maine Space Grant Consortium (MSGC) is leading an effort to conduct a market study for a Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex (or sometimes referred to as SpacePort Maine) that would focus on the growing global nanosatellite market and become the foundation of a new space economic cluster, building on existing economic activity and attracting new companies to utilize its unique capabilities.

2. Background

Nanosatellites, which include “cubesats,” are small, 1 to 10 kg, satellites that can be launched into orbit by small to medium thrust, low-cost rockets to conduct a wide variety of sensing, technological, or communication functions. The market value of nanosatellites was $720 million in 2017 and is projected to reach $3.5 billion in 2022 largely due to their use in a broad range of commercial applications in all regions of the world. In terms of the global satellite market, Figure 1 shows the breakdown of the major portions of the satellite value chain.  From the current $269 billion satellite industry structure, the percentage revenue breakdown is; satellite services at 48%, network equipment at roughly 45%, satellite manufacturing at 6%, and finally about 2% attributed to launch services.  The innovations taking place in this market in the small satellite industry are starting to disrupt the revenue generation in the value chain.  It is this opportunity that the Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex intends to compete.

Figure 1: 2018 State of the Satellite Industry (Source: Bryce Space and Technology)

Nanosatellite industry is changing the way space and spacecraft are utilized, which is largely due to their very low cost compared to traditional satellites.  The low-cost aspect allows the ability to establish very large constellations that provide significantly higher revisit rates, or even persistent observation/ communication around the globe.  This dramatically increases the amount of information that can be acquired, which can then be used to benefit non-space industries such as marine sciences, forestry and agriculture, ocean transportation, security and law enforcement, etc.  Investigating this potential Maine industry areas that can be assisted with space assets, investigating the current Maine industry usage of space information and assets (e.g. satellite images, etc.) and how increasing the temporal and special resolution could aid their research, industry, and opportunities.  Opportunities that can enhance Maine researchers and organization capability, such as using this new capability to help other states or countries in those respective industries.

Figure 2: Small Satellites Outlook

Because of their relatively low cost, nanosatellites can be developed, built, and launched by a wide range of interested parties, from school groups, to the largest aerospace companies. With more information gathered from many more satellites in low-earth-orbit (LEO), data analytics is becoming a large part of the “ground equipment” needed to provide new services to organization like the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) and Bigelow Laboratories here in Maine.  Data analytics requires the space sector professionals working with the end-users to understand what useful service to provide.  This wide use will attract research and development (R&D) companies, startups, manufacturers, data analysis professional, launch providers, and suppliers to Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex to capitalize on new opportunities utilizing nanosatellites. These companies will employ a highly skilled and highly paid workforce, retaining graduates of Maine universities and colleges, attracting out-of-state skilled professionals, and positioning the state as a leader in the emerging and fast-growing global nanosatellite market. A technically and financially feasible Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex will be “the tide that lifts all boats,” paving the way for significant improvements in Maine’s economic prosperity.

During the Summer and Fall of 2017, the MSGC convened a small group of individuals to discuss potential bold initiatives to support Maine’s economic growth. Based on the state’s existing aerospace economic activity, geographical location, and infrastructure at Brunswick Landing and the Loring Commerce Centre, the concept of a Maine Space Exploratorium Complex emerged as a potential “moonshot” for Maine.

On February 28 and March 1, 2018, the MSGC invited over 60 participants representing education, government, and private sectors, including representatives from NASA and the FAA, to a two-day Visioneering workshop in Portland. The purpose of this workshop was to discuss the potential for developing a spaceport and Exploratorium Complex in Maine and inspiring the state to invest in economic growth centered on a space economic cluster. Presentations from Garrett Skrobot, NASA, Launch Service Program; Tim Pickens, Pickens Innovations; and Anne Cushman, Aerospace Engineer, FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, confirmed that building a spaceport and space exploratorium is a realistic possibility if structured properly. These national experts suggested that Maine is poised for a leadership role in launching constellations of nanosatellites based on the following advantages over existing U.S. spaceports:

  • Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex presents a unique advantage for Earth-observing satellites over existing launch sites because it offers both direct polar insertion and direct insertion to high latitude (45N) orbits.
  • The existing resources at Brunswick Landing and the Loring Commerce Centre will significantly reduce capital costs and accelerate development. As former military air bases, both locations have infrastructure in place needed to support large scale aerospace activities. Given its very rural and northern location, Loring provides potential northward launch avenues over low population density areas into polar orbits. Brunswick Landing is an established aerospace technology center, possesses several secured communication facilities, is close to population, technology centers, and major universities on the East Coast, and more easily accessible from a transportation perspective for visitors, technologists, and management personnel. Brunswick, being on the coast, offers launch corridors to the south and east, allowing for potential southward polar orbit, or high latitude equatorial orbits. This represents a key advantage as there is currently no US based launch site in the 40-50 degree latitude range.
  • Maine has the geographical and surrounding development characteristics to allow both vertical and horizontal launches.
  • At least two companies in Maine are already focused on launch vehicles. VALT Enterprises in Sanford is developing small, low cost launch vehicles. bluShift Aerospace, located in TechPlace at Brunswick Landing, has designed and is testing a rocket engine fueled by a sustainable product.
  • Maine has an existing supply chain that services the aerospace industry, including such companies as Arundel Machine Tool, PTE Precision Manufacturing, Brunswick Aviation Services, Albion Manufacturing, and C&L Aviation Group. Greisen Aerospace, also at TechPlace, specializes in the design and manufacture of tooling and satellite ground support equipment.
  • Maine is in close geographic proximity to Canada, which can be leveraged in building international development and cooperation in the space industry.

Building the foundation for Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex will require public and private sector investments. It also will require innovative public policies that support and incentivize investments and innovations in education, research and development, commercialization, and manufacturing. When completed, Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex will be positioned to address many of the challenges hindering Maine’s economic growth, including our aging workforce and population decline, low STEM and higher education attainment, worker skills gap and advanced technology that directly affect Maine’s economic competitiveness.

3. Conceptual Description of the Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex

Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex will be unique because it will offer new and emerging companies a facility where they can develop, test, and launch vehicles vertically or horizontally into polar orbits. This combination of capabilities does not exist anywhere else in the world.

Artist’s early rendition of the Maine Complex

The Launch Complex will be located at the Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone, a rural based location, to ensure public safety for vertical and horizontal launches of small/, low cost launch vehicles. The Launch Complex will include Launch Pad(s), Command & Control, Satellite Integration, Engine and Thruster test stands, and opportunities for tourism and education. The Launch Complex will take advantage of existing infrastructure at the former Loring Air Force Base, and, because of advances in launch mobility technologies, vertical launches could take place at other remote areas including offshore. The Launch Complex will give new and emerging companies a location to test and mature their launch vehicles/payloads for long term launch campaigns from Maine.

The Mission Control Complex will be located at Brunswick Landing and the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, and will include an Operations Center, a Data Analytics Research Center, Instrumentation Fabrication Laboratories, R&D and technology development facilities, an Exploratorium/Space Simulation environment for families and students.

Anchor tenants and/or global customers will use the facilities at both locations to advance their research and/or education needs. Together with global customers, both would be major sources of revenue for the Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex.

4. The uniqueness of Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex

Existing spaceports are all following the “airport” business model, generating revenue by leasing launch pads and arranging tours for tourists. However, the limited availability of large launch vehicles and inconsistent launch schedules makes it difficult to rely on consistent revenue. The Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex is envisioned as much more than a launch facility.

  • On site fabrication, integration, test, cleanroom, and storage facilities will allow researchers to iterate on design choices, optimize satellite and instrument performance, and seamlessly integrate all components together, all while maintaining chain of custody and hardware cleanliness and reliability.
  • A collocated operations center will allow for reliable command and data handling and telemetry monitoring.
  • A dedicated analysis branch including professionals, academia, and students will focus on extracting the most out of data: using advanced algorithms to monitor spacecraft health and safety and developing custom calibration and correction routines to ensure that science data is of the highest quality possible
  • An Exploratorium will provide tourists, families, and students with space-related inquiry-based simulation experiences using STEM, art, humanities, and human perception. The facilities will allow students and teachers anywhere in the world to participate through virtual learning in their classrooms, coupled with a companion, hands-on curriculum.
  • A research park will focus on the pursuit of space, where innovation, R&D and commercialization, problem solving, spacecraft launch, and dreaming big are routine occurrences.
  • The Complex will also include a major focus on data analytics where space industry professionals will collaborate closely with professionals in the natural resources to develop end-user products that will aid some of Maine’s largest industries, such as lobster and forest management.
  • Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex will also serve a global market for launching and using nanosatellites for observation and monitoring, scientific research, academic training, biological experiments, technological demonstrations and verifications, mapping and navigation, and reconnaissance.

5. Potential For A New Space Economy in Maine

The potential reach of a new space economic cluster is illustrated in Figure 1. With Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex as its foundation, the cluster will innovate and commercialize technologies for launching nanosatellites into polar orbits, including data analytics, sensors, imaging, communications, ground support, nanosatellite fabrication, and launch vehicles. Participants in the cluster will include Maine startups already engaged in space technology (e.g., VALT Enterprises and bluShift Aerospace), global space players attracted by Maine Space Entrepreneur and Innovation Complex’s unique capabilities, and major technology companies already in Maine (e.g., Texas Instruments, Bath Ironworks, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Pratt & Whitney, and ON Semiconductor). Another part of the value chain will produce innovative hardware and software products for globally-based end-user applications enabled by the nanosatellites, including earth observation and remote sensing; scientific research; astronomy; biological experiments; technology demonstration and verification; academic training; mapping and navigation; and reconnaissance.

Figure 3. Proposed Maine Space Technology Cluster

Maine’s colleges, universities, research centers, and K-12 public and private schools are listed on the left side of Figure 3. These institutions will participate in the cluster as nanosatellite developers and as customers of the spaceport and/or end-users of the ensuing applications for research and educational purposes, either onsite or virtually in the classrooms or research laboratories.

On the right side of Figure 3 are other entities that will participate in or benefit from the cluster. The service and entrepreneurial ecosystem will assist businesses and startups with regulatory compliance, law, logistics, finance, and innovation and commercialization. Tourism is also an important part of the value chain. The launch and mission control complexes will be an open environment that allows all aspects of the system to be viewed in real time. There will be opportunities for the public to be present during spacecraft integration and launch, and dedicated facilities for more hands on, interactive activities for school groups.

While a space technology cluster was not one of the Technology Clusters identified in the 2014 report prepared by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice for MTI, it will share supply chain elements with most of them. Figure 4 expands that report’s illustration of the relationship of Maine’s seven Target Technology Areas and 13 Technology Clusters to show how they align with research themes funded by MSGC and the NASA Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) over the past decade. The new space technology cluster will leverage these investments to enhance the economic benefits of industries already participating in another technology cluster, not replace or diminish those clusters’ impacts.

Figure 4. Alignment of Maine’s target technologies and clusters with NASA EPSCoR-funded research themes.

Figure 5 illustrates how Maine’s broad target technology areas fit into the small satellite value chain.

Figure 5: Maine Industry Interactions

6. Conceptual Implementation Phases of SpacePort Maine

Governing Authority (Timeframe – Immediate). This will serve as the governing authority over the other components. Central planning, budgeting, etc.

Data Analysis / Research Center (Timeframe – 1 Year). Data analytics, machine learning, and advanced statistical methods have only recently entered the field of spacecraft data processing. This area can be broken into two main categories:

  • Operational health and safety: monitoring spacecraft telemetry looking in an effort to detect/predict component failures, recommend operational changes to improve performance, maintain calibration, etc.
  • Science data analysis: use novel methods to gain additional insight out of the collected science data. ‘Science’ in this case refers to whatever type of data the payload is measuring. This topic area covers things like: improving resolution in space/time, noise filtering, corrections for external effects, etc. Basically, we make the data from the users better in some way.

Test Facilities (Timeframe – 1-3 Years). Many small companies will need a place to test engines and components prior to launch. This facility can be developed quicker and at a lower cost than the Launch Complex, providing an early revenue stream to SpacePort Maine.

Launch Complex (Timeframe – 2-5 Years). Facility for launch capability for small to medium thrust rockets carrying nanosatellites. The complex will include the following required facilities:

  • Runway or similar ‘launch pad’: this will require significant safety systems in place.
  • Satellite integration: spacecraft will arrive at the facility and need to be integrated into the launch vehicle. This will require a purpose-built facility to store satellites in a clean environment and provide space and equipment for the actual integration. As an operational environment, this space should be a clean room environment that provides for things such as ESD protection, running N2 purge of hardware, air filtering, black/white lite inspections, hardware cleaning, etc. Basically, we need to appear professional in order to attract serious clients.
  • Command and Control (C2): facility to run the launch process. This needs to include communication to all of the relevant launch teams, commanding to the spacecraft, monitoring of all systems, etc. This is another area where prospective clients will judge our system.
  • Related infrastructure: computer networks, fueling, cleaning, FAA or other licensing, etc. This covers the support items that keep us running.

Mission Complex (Timeframe – 2-5 Years). Building off of our initial C2 facility, we can build a world class operations center that manages missions that are not necessarily launched from our location. We would provide commanding, telemetry monitoring, calibration, health and safety alarms, mission planning, etc. This is an area that is critically important to the success of a mission but is often overlooked. The primary difference between C2 and the operations center is that the operations center is long term – it is not focused on the launch, but rather on the operation of the science and operational spacecraft hardware for the duration of the mission. For example, alerting the user if a current started to rise out of a safe range, tracing down the root cause for the anomaly and providing a mitigation strategy.

This would also complement the data analysis center. New analysis methods have been slow to permeate spacecraft operations because of the perceived risk associated with new techniques. If we can demonstrate a level of monitoring fidelity above and beyond the heritage, then we would have a real selling point.

Exploratorium / Tourism (Timeframe – Short + Long). In order to attract media attention, support from the community, etc. the complex will be an open environment that allows all aspects of the system to be viewed real time. In the short term, there will be viewing areas and opportunities for the public to be present during spacecraft integration and launch. Longer term, dedicated facilities will be constructed with more hands on, interactive activities and a museum of some of our early successes.

Instrumentation Fabrication Laboratory (Timeframe – Long). Long term, SpacePort Maine will develop a foothold into all phases of the mission. Our short-term plan focuses on the final phases: integration + test, launch, and operation. Having a ‘one stop shop’ allows us to also provide expertise in hardware design and fabrication. Providing off the shelf instrumentation that is specifically designed to work well with our resident launch and operations systems will provide significant advantages over other spaceports.

Nanosatellite missions typically are more concerned with cost than they are with performance. For this reason, they might not want a custom design for their instrument when an off the shelf design, that we would provide, could get them 90% of the data quality for 10% of the price.

Education (Timeframe – Ongoing). Working with local K-12 schools, community colleges, public and private 4-year colleges, and STEM internships, we can better prepare students to enter the workforce with specialized skills that we will need at our complex.

7. Existing U.S.-based SpacePorts

There are 10 existing FAA-licensed, non-federal, publicly-supported spaceports in the U.S., shown in blue on the map. The Pacific Space Complex in Kodiak, Alaska launches both large and occasionally nanosatellites into polar orbits and Vandenberg Air Force Base occasionally launches large satellites into polar orbits,although neigher facility is dedicated to conducting polar launches. Earlier this year, the Air Force announced it was opening a “polar corridor” that would allow certain rockets to launch spacecraft from Cape Canaveral into north-south orbits circling the poles (http://www.parabolicarc.com/2018/ 01/03/polar-launches-coming-florida/).

NASA operates launch sites at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The U.S. Air Force operates launch sites at Vandenberg and Edwards Air Force Bases in California and at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The U.S. Army operates a launch site at White Sands Missle Range in New Mexico. Privately owned and operated sites include Blue Origin in Van Horn, Texas; SpaceX in McGregor, Texas (engine testing only), and another under construction in Boca Chica Village, Texas; and the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute’s Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks.

7. Economic Impacts of Selected Spaceports

A 2005 study estimated that New Mexico’s SpacePort America has the potential to provide the basis for creating about $460 million of additional economic activity, with some 3,460 new jobs in 2015 (8).[1] These figures could increase to about $550 million of additional economic activity and 4,320 new jobs in 2020. In 2007, the New Mexico Legislature authorized $225 million for the development of Spaceport America. As of 2016, the total project cost was $218.5 million. The economic impact of SpacePort America in FY16 was estimated at $21 million, a 20X return on investment of $944,000 from the New Mexico General Fund (9). However, this economic impact was due the construction of the facility which employed over 1400 workers in New Mexico. As the Spaceport moves into operations, the jobs are projected to become more permanent. According to the 2016-2020 Buisness Plan, Spaceport America boasted that it was on its way to becoming self-sustaining having consistently generated at least 50% of its operating expenses between FY12 and FY15 (10). These revenues came primarily from its only major tenant, Virgin Galactic, and from a SpaceX contract.  Because Spaceport America has failed to yield the promised economic benefit due to its tie to a stop-and-start commercial space industry, a bill was introduced in the New Mexico Legislature in 2015 to sell the spaceport.  Although the bill failed, it sent a message to the community that additional public support would not be forthcoming until the spaceport’s operations became financially viable (11, 12).

Spaceport America’s proposed FY2017 operating budget was $6.4 million of which $1.74 million was for personnel, $2.36 million was for contractual services, and $2.3 million for other expenses (13). The spaceport’s projected revenues included $1.63 million from Virgin Galactic; $2.5 million from other customers, special events, tourism/merchandising and sponsorships; and $2.3 million from the New Mexico General Fund.

After change in leadership at Spaceport America in 2016 the New Mexico Legislature was encouraged with the spaceport’s new strategy for becoming sustainable and less reliant on public funds. Earlier this year, the state’s FY2019 $6.3 billion approved budget boosted the state’s annual contribution to Spaceport America’s operating budget from $375,900 to $675,900 to support Spaceport America efforts to attract more businesses to the facility outside of Truth or Consequences (14, 15). The budget also includes $10 million “for the planning and construction of an aerospace satellite testing and development hangar,” the bill reads. “The appropriation is contingent on the New Mexico spaceport authority contracting with a vendor specializing in advanced aerospace products and technologies to use the hangar.”

In 2005 the Florida Space Authority commissioned a feasibility study on a new spaceport using NASA assets following the termination of the Shuttle Program (16). This analysis found that by 2010, a commercial spaceport could potentially benefit Florida by contributing between $6.3 and $17.5 million of additional economic activity, and between 35 and 115 new jobs, from ongoing suborbital and orbital spaceport operations, depending on the market share captured by the state. By 2015, Florida’s economic benefit from a commercial spaceport could increase to between $7.4 and $25.4 million of additional economic activity and 50 to 165 new jobs. In both cases, the principal driver of economic impacts is expected to be the growing suborbital space tourism market. The study also looked at the cost of two options for constructing a commercial spaceport: a combined site or a split site. The primary disadvantage of a combined site is the cost of constructing a new runway, which is by far the most expensive component of a spaceport. Since a split site uses a pre-existing runway by partnering with a functional airport, it represents a tenfold (or higher) cost savings over the combined site option: between $10.5 and $28 million for the construction of a split site versus $185.5 to $278 million for a combined site. Based on this study, the Florida Space Authority decided to invest in the development of Cape Canaveral SpacePort utilizing existing NASA and Air Force launch assets at Cape Canaveral.

A newcomer to the spaceport community is the proposed Spaceport Camden in Woodbine, Georgia. A recently released economic impact study of the project estimates that it would annually generate about $22 million in economic activity and 190 direct jobs (17). This initial economic impact is based on a given construction time-frame of 15 months for Spaceport Camden and associated infrastructure. Construction impact includes $7.21 million in direct revenue which grows to $9.23 million as these direct revenues move through the economy.

8. References

  1. Prospects for the Small Satellite Market. Brief Extract, Euroconsult Executive Report, 2017.
  2. Nanosatellite and Microsatellite Market by Component – Global Forecast to 2022. Markets and Markets, 2017.
  3. Re-Examining Maine’s Economic Position, Innovation Ecosystem and Prospects for Growth in Its Technology-Intensive Industry Clusters. April 2014.
  4. The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual: Lisa Goldman, Kate Purmal and Anne Janzer. Wynnefield Business Press (June 14, 2016), 288 pages.
  5. The Space Foundation, 2017. The Space Report: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Authority. Colorado Springs, CO. 66 pages.
  6. Gulliver, Brian S., and G. Wayne Finger, G.W. (2014). “Spaceport Infrastructure Cost Trends”. AIAA SPACE 2014 Conference and Exposition, 4-7 August 2014, San Diego, CA. 8 pages
  7. FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Retrieved on June 6, 2018 from https://www.congress.gov/amendment/115th-congress/house-amendment/565?r+3
  8. New Mexico Commercial Spaceport Economic Impact Study for State of New Mexico Economic Development Department. Futron Corporation, 31 pages, 2005.
  9. Economic Development Impact for New Mexico. Zach De Gregorio, Chief Financial Officer, SpacePort America. Retrieved http://nmpolitics.net/index/2017/08/is-spaceport-america-taking-flight/ on June 2, 2018.
  10. Spaceport America Business Plan: Bringing the future ot the present. 2016-2020.
  11. Spaceport America: New Mexico’s Protracted Gamble on Commercial Spaceflight. Retreived on June 15, 2018 from https://undark.org/article/spaceport-america-new-mexico/
  12. Some Question Heavy Taxpayer Investment In Spaceport America. Retreived on June 15, 2018 from http://krwg.org/post/some-question-heavy-taxpayer-investment-spaceport-america
  13. A Close Look at Spaceport America’s FY2017 Budget Request. Retreived on June 15, 2018 from http://www.parabolicarc.com/2016/01/28/close-spaceport-america-fy-2017-budget-request/
  14. Feasibility Study of a Florida Commercial Spaceport for Florida Space Authority. Futron Corporation, 77 pgs, 2005.
  15. Jeremy Spencer (August 23, 2017). Spaceport’s economic summary assumes $20 million annual impact. Published AllOnGeorgia. Retrieved from https://www.allongeorgia.com/uncategorised/spaceports-economic-summary-assumes-20-million-annual-impact/ on June 1, 2018.
  16. Feasibility Study of a Florida Commercial Spaceport for Florida Space Authority.  Futron Corporation, 77 pgs, 2005.
  17. Jeremy Spencer (August 23, 2017). Spaceport’s economic summary assumes $20 million annual impact. Published AllOnGeorgia.  Retrieved from https://www.allongeorgia.com/uncategorised/spaceports-economic-summary-assumes-20-million-annual-impact/ on June 1, 2018.
  18. Martins, S.S; Kim, J.H.; Chen, L.Y.; Levin, D.; Keyes, K.M.; Cerdá, M.; and Storr, C.L. (May, 2015). Nonmedical Prescription Drug Use Among U.S. Young Adults by Educational Attainment. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. 50 (5): 713–724.