As the state of California grapples with a $20 billion budget shortfall and Northrop Grumman Corp. prepares to move its headquarters from Los Angeles to Washington, the California Space Authority (CSA) faces the daunting task of trying to retain and expand space enterprise in the state that once housed most of the dominant players in the aerospace industry. While the job is not easy, the 11-member team that makes up Sacramento-based CSA continues to champion every accomplishment made by California’s space enterprise, which includes commercial, civil and national security space programs in industry, government and academia.
Andrea Seastrand, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, also served in the California state legislature, where she crafted legislation creating the California Spaceport Authority. After leaving Congress in 1997, Seastrand founded the California Space and Technology Alliance, which in 2001 became CSA.
Seastrand’s interest in space programs stems not only from her job of representing Vandenberg Air Force Base and its district in Congress and the state legislature, but also from her belief as a former elementary school teacher that space is an important tool in helping to inspire young people.
Seastrand, who chairs California’s Aerospace Advisory Committee, a group that makes policy recommendations to the California Commission on Economic Development, spoke recently with Space News correspondent Debra Werner.
What is your view of the Obama administration’s plan to cancel NASA’s Constellation program and add funding for commercial space transport?
The president’s budget request for NASA is an affirmation of the nation’s desire to maintain its leadership in space. CSA is encouraged that the president has proposed a $6 billion increase in NASA’s budget over the next five years. We are pleased with the president’s support for the commercial space industry and an extension of the international space station. However, the proposed termination of the Constellation program is unfortunate and will have a significant adverse effect on all who have dedicated their experience and talents to that effort.
The budget is still in a state of flux. It will be interesting to see what Congress does. I don’t think we have heard the last word.
What are the challenges that California companies face in this business?
The challenges are great in the state of California and nationwide. The main challenge is economic uncertainty. We don’t know what kinds of regulation or taxation will be passed at the state level as a result of the economic crisis.
Another challenge is to be recognized by our policymakers in Sacramento and the governor. The total economic impact of California space enterprise exceeds $76 billion. It provides over 370,000 jobs and $19.4 billion in wages. Based on 2007 numbers, California space enterprise represents 40 percent of the $71.3 billion U.S. space market and 21 percent of the $146 billion global space market. California is blessed with so many industries seeking attention — nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, agriculture and tourism — that sometimes those numbers are lost. That’s why CSA works to make sure people understand how big this industry is in the state of California.
Are you concerned that California might try to balance the budget by passing on additional costs to industry?
If you talk to our members, that would be their big concern because it would drive business out of the state of California.
Northrop Grumman plans to move its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles to Washington; is that significant?
It is. An era is gone. We did have Northrop Grumman headquartered here and several other companies that were headquartered in California. But it’s a new day. All of these companies and corporations are looking to see where they need to have their headquarters so they can advocate for their companies.
I will say, though, in talking with the powers that be at Northrop Grumman, that they still are going to have their operations here. That’s what we are interested in: to make sure that the jobs are here and the work is here in California. That is the most important thing.
California also is home to many entrepreneurial space companies.
Many of them are in that small area of the Mojave Air and Spaceport, the first inland spaceport in America. We have XCOR Aerospace and Scaled Composites. Burt Rutan is working with Sir Richard Branson. We rolled out SpaceShipOne, SpaceShipTwo and the White Knight at the Mojave Air and Spaceport. Those vehicles are being manufactured at Mojave. Entrepreneurism is alive and well throughout the state.
Why do you think there are so many entrepreneurs in the state?
We had a forum a couple of years ago in Silicon Valley to ask that question. They said the number one reason was the diversity of the people. They come from all over the world. Also, people here are willing to take enormous risks, fail, learn from that failure and start over. Elon Musk, who not only has SpaceX [Space Exploration Technologies] but also the car company Tesla Motors, comes out of that culture. There is a big network of entrepreneurs in the state.
The legacy of aerospace in California is also very important. Early military and commercial planes were developed here, as were the first jet engines, GPS navigation, Apollo lunar module, lunar rover, space shuttle orbiters and Phoenix Mars Lander. We have the intellectual capabilities here.
We have the creative minds and the people who can take an idea through design, manufacturing and launch. We can actually launch in California, by Sea Launch in the Pacific Ocean, at Vandenberg Air Force Base or at the Mojave Air and Spaceport.
Also, we always chuckle about the fact that we’ve got our beaches and sunshine. But in the area of China Lake there are blue skies most days of the year. Weather does play a big factor when you are testing rockets and experimental planes.
Does the California Space Authority also advocate for changes in export controls?
Yes. That has been one of our major issues for a long time. We have an annual space week in Washington. This year it’s the week of March 8. We convene with our members and anyone who would like to join us in talking to our large congressional delegation and members of the executive branch agencies, including the State Department. ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations] has been a big issue because our members both in industry and academia say it hampers innovation.
It has hurt the satellite industry in California. It has also hurt young people, students working on projects in our universities. If they are foreign nationals, they have difficulty working on certain projects.
The president made a statement about reforming export controls. We were pleased to hear that. We know it’s all fluid right now. We will be looking for the details. It will be our number one issue as we walk the halls talking to 55 members in our congressional delegation.
Do you coordinate your advocacy work with other states?
We collaborate with our sister states. We are very involved in the Aerospace States Association. We have invited other states to join us in Washington. Florida and New Mexico have participated in the past. It’s a way for us to talk about the issues that affect us all. Each state can go to its own congressional delegations and advocate. Also, we can join together during the executive sessions when members of the federal agencies visit us. I believe Florida has announced that they will join us this year. While the competition is there, our concern is that we grow the industry in the United States as well as in our individual states to make sure that other countries are not nipping at our heels.
Has CSA also been an advocate for improving science, technology, engineering and math education?
Yes. Since we first became an organization, work-force education has been a major issue. I don’t think I need to tell you about the graying of our work force and trying to encourage our young people in science technology, engineering and math. We are also concerned about the technicians who work side-by-side with engineers and scientists. We are concerned about career technical education. We even stood up another organization, the California Space Education and Workforce Institute, to focus on science, technology, engineering and math education.
Are you making headway in this area?
I see headway when I think of where we started. It takes a while for people to understand the critical importance of this issue. Coalitions are forming that include the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association and state organizations. Even our governor recognizes the importance of supporting science, technology, engineering and math education. We just need to put our shoulder to the grindstone and keep pushing.