To Infinity and Beyond: How Space impacts Florida's economy
The Space Coast saw more than 50 launches this year, and is on pace to set yet another record.
Jim Gregory is the Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
He explains how space is impacting our lives down on Earth.
Listen to the full conversation in the player above.
Talia Blake: How do these launches impact our economy here in Central Florida?
Jim Gregory: It's all about jobs. It's a big impact. There are so many jobs that are associated with the space industry. Over 150,000 jobs throughout Florida are related to the space industry in some way. And that could be anything from people who are getting the launch vehicles ready to creating the technologies that go on the spacecraft - the guidance systems, the navigation systems, the rocket propulsion. There's all kinds of core technologies that feed into the spacecraft and the rocket that people work on. So, we're very proud of this vibrant ecosystem that we have here in Florida.
Talia Blake: Speaking of the job market, how does the Kennedy Space Center specifically impact the job market here in Central Florida? And is it the largest driver of the Space Coast economy Or are there other employers?
Jim Gregory: Kennedy Space Center is just one of many, of course, they're the most visible and the most famous going back to the 1960s from when it was first created. But we have a large and growing number of companies that are setting up shop here in Florida, and that's what's exciting. There's traditional aerospace giants like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and the United Launch Alliances, but then you've got all these new startups. We often call it a new space industry, and many people have heard of SpaceXand Blue Origin. Interesting, they formed out of the dot-com era. All the money from Amazon.com, a lot of that is going into Blue Origin. It's pretty cool to think about. Every time you buy something on Amazon, you're maybe in some small way helping the space industry because Jeff Bezos is the owner of both companies. And you've got SpaceX with Elon Musk. It's just a really exciting time. But there are some other companies that people may not have heard of. Sierra Space is an example. There's a lot of other small companies that feed into this larger ecosystem and all of these are employing people in really high paying jobs. And that helps the economy as these people invest in our community and live daily life. That spreads out and improves the quality of life for everyone around the Titusville and Brevard County and Orlando and Daytona regions.
Talia Blake: So for someone who doesn't live near the Space Coast or work in the space industry, why should they care about the space economy?
Jim Gregory: The space economy is going to be impacting all of us to a greater extent in our daily lives. We see that one of the biggest drivers of the launches happening right now is SpaceX launching their Starlink satellites. If you're not familiar with the Starlink satellites, its these huge constellation of satellites that are providing Internet across the globe. This has an impact on far flung places like Ukraine. It's having a big impact on how the war is played out there. It has an impact on people out in remote areas getting access to services that they need, not just streaming cat videos on YouTube. And it really has a huge impact on our economy. So, I think that as we see that grow, Starlink will be a great asset when a hurricane comes through. We still need that internet connectivity and but the grid gets knocked out. That's just one example of how what's happening in space affects us here on Earth. There's all kinds of satellite systemsthat provide scientific data about thedevelopment of hurricanes, and feeding critical information into computer models that help us predict the development and intensity of hurricanes. Of course, that affects us when we see a storm coming. We want to know, 'do I need to evacuate, or can I stay put?' So, those are just two small examples. But maybe a third example would be of how space impacts us in our daily life is GPS. We don't often think about it, because we just take it for granted, but our smartphones of course have GPS sensors in them that synchronizes the clocks with a cell phone towers. It tells us where we are, and a whole host of other things. Uber wouldn't be possible without GPS, or DoorDash. All these other things that we take advantage of in daily life is because of these unseen satellites out way out in space providing this positioning information for us. So that's why space is such a critical investment, and why we're seeing so much happening in that area.
Talia Blake: Actually, I had to use GPS to get here for this interview because it's my first time visiting Embry Riddle. So speaking of that I'm wondering, obviously, there's a lot of upsides to space, like you just mentioned GPS and satellites for hurricanes, but is there a downside to having so many launches from our coast?
Jim Gregory: There are a few that people are starting to pay attention to. Number one is air traffic. As we launch rockets and the cadence increases, they have to set up a No Fly Zone around Titusville and Cape Canaveral and that can limit or constricts the flow of traffic, especially coming into Orlando. That gets even more challenging when you got thunderstorms and all the other things that we deal with here in Central Florida. So air traffic is one impact that we pay attention to. Another is the environmental impact of the rocket launchers. There are byproducts of the combustion from the rocket exhausts that are entering the atmosphere, and that's not been studied a whole lot yet. I think a lot of scientists are eager to understand what are the implications of this, especially as that rocket exhaust is at all layers of the atmosphere, from here at the surface level and on up to high altitude. They're trying to understand what impact that will have and there are a lot of open questions there that people are seeking to understand. So certainly, those are things that we have to keep in mind as the the cadence of the rocket launches goes up.
Talia Blake: Like I mentioned earlier, I had to use satellite GPS so I could get here for this interview, and I'm wondering, how do our region's universities like Embry Riddle UCF and Florida Tech Support this space industry?
Jim Gregory: That's great, and I can speak especially to Embry Riddleof course, as my home institution. We're all about training and educating the workforce for the future because space is inherent to the mission of the university. We're Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, that encompasses everything that flies, so aircraft and spacecraft. We're educating the aerospace engineers, space operations, mission controllers, and a whole host of pretty much at any touchpoint in the space industry. We educate the workforce for the future. We're always innovating to develop new curriculum to keep up with where the space industry is going. We are seeking to educate people who are critical problem solvers who can really address these challenges that we face, such as environmental impacts and the air traffic system while also advancing the mission of the company. This is our goal is to create very well rounded engineers who are gonna have a big impact, a positive impact, on humanity as we do this. That's one part of our mission is education. The other part is research. So we have amazing faculty are doing outstanding research to innovate the next technologies that are happening on spacecraft. So that could be one faculty member, Riccardo Bevilacqua is in Aerospace Engineering here at Embry Riddle. He's working on concepts to steer spacecraft using shape shifting, kind of like a transformer type concept, to manipulate the very small amount of aerodynamic drag that's in the lower earth orbit to get the satellite to clean up orbital debris. Space junk is actually another big challenge as we have all these increased launches. As satellites die, we need to clean that up or find some way to keep orbit clean, because the space junk will end up colliding into other satellites that we do want to keep operational. It's a big problem that people are paying attention to right now. This is the kind of thing that Embry Riddle faculty researchers are working on to innovate and develop the new inventions that will address those challenges.
Talia Blake: Speaking of research that is being done here and shaping the next generation of aerospace engineers, what does the future look like for our space economy?
Jim Gregory: The sky's the limit, and maybe in this cast it's not the limit in this case, right? There's so many things. There's people talking about space tourism. Right now, that might be only accessible to the ultra wealthy people. But who knows, maybe in our lifetimes, that could be something that we could just take a weekend trip to space to experience, low Earth orbit and microgravity. Boy, if that was not too expensive, I'd be all on for that. So I think that's where people are trying to reduce the cost of access to space, the launch cost, and improve the safety where people wouldn't think about the hazards of getting to space. That maybe the risk would be equivalent to air travel or car travel. So I think that could be in the future is space tourism, where people are going to space for a very cool experience. I think that's going to be the future of a lot of economic development there. Then there are many other ways where companies are taking advantage of that space vantage point of Earth observation. For example, there are ways for companies to make money off of the data streams that they generate in space. So sensor systems and satellites that monitor weather systems. There's many people who now haveGarmin inReach devices where pretty much anywhere you are on the planet, you can signal for help by the press of a button and that is all going through a satellite or multiple satellites to signal to people that you need help, and they'll come find you wherever you are. So there's just many different touch points. It's going to continue to grow and I think make life better for people here on Earth and also generate well All of that we can invest in, in humanity. I think as we think about other opportunities in space, so far I've been referring to what's happening in Earth orbit, but we are looking beyond to. NASA has a mission to go to the moon, the Artemis mission in late 2024. And then beyond. And then of course, Mars is captivating everybody's attention. I think that is inspiring to us as we think about what else is out there. Is there water and the pole of the moon? Is there water to be found on Mars, which would be a big enabler for life support? We're eagerly anticipating that and Embry Riddle is actually a part of the effort of going to the moon. So we're not connected with Artemis, but just later this year, in 2023, we're developing a camera system called Eagle Cam that's going to the moon so we're very excited about that where our students had a tremendous opportunity to work on a project of real space hardware that's going to the moon later this year. So there's a lot of cool things happening.
Talia Blake: Jim Gregory is the Dean of the College of Engineering at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Jim, thank you so much for talking with me today.
Jim Gregory: Thanks, Talia. It's my pleasure.