Jason Spencer. Credit: Georgia House of Representatives

Ever since Explorer 1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 10:58 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1958, launching objects into space has been the almost sole purview of Florida and California. Georgia has not been a major player in the space industry. We’re an aerospace power with most giants of the industry located here, being a world leader in aerospace exports and having a leading aerospace workforce; however, those efforts have focused on the aero part of the aerospace industry, not space.

Several years ago, NASA began to push the low Earth orbit aspect of its mission toward commercial companies. Small, emerging space companies, many of which had been in existence, began to grow, develop and flourish. The commercial space industry came of age. That opened a window for other states to become part of this high-tech, exciting business.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development saw an opportunity to create a space working group to study the industry and the potential in Georgia. The results of that study were positive and showed a potential, and so the department began to reach out to companies in the commercial space arena by attending conferences and meeting with companies across the space spectrum. They touted our location, our proximity to launch facilities, our logistics capabilities, our workforce and our low cost of doing business — all the things that make Georgia such an attractive aerospace location.

Initially, the pace of this effort was slow, but as the department slowly overcame the inertia of not being a target for space ventures, companies began to take notice. They began looking at Georgia as a possible space destination. The interest was increasing, but companies needed a site specific to their needs. They needed a place that could take advantage of those special things that Georgia has to offer, but that could also serve as a port to launch vehicles into the vastness of outer space.

Just at this time, a property in Camden County became available. It was a property that appeared to have everything necessary for a spaceport, and the county’s leadership said, “Why not here?”

As space companies heard about the property and visited it, many agreed it was potentially the finest location in the country for a commercial spaceport. It is located on the coast, so launching immediately over the Atlantic Ocean provides a nearly unrestricted launch range for the launch of a spacecraft to a wide range of orbits. It has ample room for companies to do testing, research and development, or manufacturing on the property or within close proximity. It is also remote and very secure. The site even has a space history, as Thiokol used it in the early days of the space program to build and test solid fuel rocket engines. The idea for a spaceport in Georgia was born.

Camden County Administrator Steve Howard and the Camden County Commission have worked diligently on this project, and recently finalized the process to purchase the property where the spaceport launch sites would be located. An old Chinese proverb says a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This single step initiates the journey toward full development of Spaceport Camden, and that effort has now started in earnest.

The economic possibilities for Camden County, southeast Georgia and the entire state are limitless. This industry has high-tech, high-paying jobs, which are exactly what we hope to attract. Gov. Nathan Deal stated his goal of attracting this type of job in the early days of his administration. It opens countless doors, and also shows the vision of our state as we accept this challenge.

Gen. James Oglethorpe and his group founded Georgia because they saw an opportunity. This effort to create a commercial spaceport in Georgia is this generation’s special opportunity.

There will be hurdles to overcome, but if all goes well, Spaceport Camden will become a reality. Southeast Georgia will be transformed, and Georgia will round out its aerospace resume while becoming the nation’s newest space destination.

Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer (R) represents the citizens of District 180, which includes Camden, Charlton and Ware counties.