SpaceX launched its fifth batch of Starlink broadband satellites into low Earth orbit Feb. 17, 2020. Credit: SpaceX

SAN FRANCISCO – Washington state’s space economy is booming.

Between 2018 and 2021, the state long associated with aviation thanks to Boeing noted a 61 percent jump in economic activity tied to the space sector, according to a report released Feb. 22 by the Puget Sound Regional Council.

In 2021, Washington’s space economy generated $4.6 billion compared with $1.8 billion in 2018. Space-related jobs, meanwhile, surged to 13,103 from 6,221.

“While the development of launch vehicles and related activities by Blue Origin has been one source of growth, the advancement of satellite manufacturing and satellite-related services” by SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper and LeoStella “has also been a major source of new regional employment,” according to “Washington State’s Space Economy: 2022 Update.”

Washington is home to Blue Origin, an Aerojet Rocketdyne engine plant, and smaller companies like BlackSky, Kymeta, RBC Signals, Spaceflight Inc., Starfish Space, Stoke Space Technologies, Tethers Unlimited and Xplore.

“Washington is poised to become a major global space hub,” said Stan Shull, principal of consulting firm Alliance Velocity.

In fact, 38 percent of the 4,852 operational satellites in orbit on Jan. 1 were produced in Washington state, Shull noted in a Feb. 22 LinkedIn post. SpaceX manufactures Starlink broadband satellites in Redmond. LeoStella, a joint venture of Thales Alena Space and Spaceflight Inc., builds satellites in Tukwila.

Without major NASA or military space facilities, Washington “from a space standpoint is uniquely entrepreneurial,” said Sean McClinton, RBC Signals business operations manager and founder of Space Entrepreneurs, a group with nearly 1,000-members based in Seattle. “That’s where I see the real potential.”

To keep the state’s space economy growing, the Puget Sound Regional Council suggests the region focus on entrepreneurship, workforce development and venture capital.

Already, there are more job openings that space sector employees available to fill them. As a result, space companies recruit from software and aviation firms as well as local schools.

The University of Washington is taking a multidisciplinary approach to space-related research, education, training and outreach. Only by breaking down academic silos can the university create a digital space hub that brings together researchers, policymakers and organizations focused on space-related science, technology, engineering, law and policy, said Saadia Pekkanen, co-founder and director of the University of Washington Space Policy and Research Center.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...