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By on May 19, 2016

To Infinity and Beyond: Puerto Rico Targets Space Industry

Space is no longer a final frontier for Puerto Rico, but a vast universe filled with business opportunities. In the coming decades, the lure of the island’s beautiful beaches and plush tropical forests will be joined with reaping the benefits of space exploration for leisure and economic growth.

COVER STORY ARTWORK FOR MAY 19, 2016The global space economy grew by 9% in 2014, reaching a total of $330 billion worldwide, which will continue to expand with each passing day, according to space industry officials. There is no reason, they say, for Puerto Rico not to grab an important piece of this pie, as the island’s ideal location provides a strong competitive advantage versus other areas.

For example, the island is closer to the equator than competing jurisdictions, which means commercial rockets would use less fuel to launch into space, thus saving money. Since Puerto Rico is also surrounded by water, rockets would not be forced to fly over people, industry officials said.

“Puerto Rico has everything required to take off and become a leading aerospace hub. We have stable weather, plenty of skilled and resourceful technicians and a world-class manufacturing community with ample knowledge of federal laws, regulations and cleanroom technologies. The island is also No. 3 in the world for available scientists and engineers, according to the World Economic Forum, and has affordable housing and very competitive and cost-effective universities and health systems. To sum up, we have plenty of idle capacity that could readily be put to use for all kinds of aerospace activities and opportunities,” said Arnaldo Soto, past president & chairman emeritus of the Puerto Rico Construction & Infrastructure Cluster.


Space Development Conference

To inspire and engage all Puerto Ricans to become part of the space movement, José Molina, co-founder of Spaceport Puerto Rico and member of the National Space Society and Luisa Fernanda Zambrano-Marin, director of the Arecibo Observatory Space Academy and a member of the Society, the NSS Puerto Rico chapter and production by CEC Global Events brought to Puerto Rico the National Space Society’s 35th Annual International Space Development Conference, which began this week and runs through Sunday at the Sheraton Hotel & Casino in San Juan’s Convention Center District.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, will deliver a talk titled “Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars” during the International Space Development Conference.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, will deliver a talk titled “Cycling
Pathways to Occupy Mars” during the International Space Development Conference.

Dubbed “Space Without Borders,” the event brings together hundreds of top aerospace industry leaders, space exploration pioneers, leaders of academia, scientists and space enthusiasts, all interested in developing a space-faring civilization.

Puerto Ricans attending the event will have the opportunity to rub shoulders with former astronauts, such as Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, and space advocates like Rick Tumlinson, chairman of Deep Space Industries, an asteroid-mining company that recently signed an agreement with Luxembourg to test launch the company’s Prospector X spacecraft, and Ellen Ochoa, director at the Johnson Space Center and a former National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) shuttle astronaut.

The event’s conferences will also reach out to everyone. Topics include everything from communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence to building space stations, hotels and space settlements.

“The International Space Development Conference is for everyone interested in or involved with all things about space, including space exploration, moon settlement, Mars exploration and settlement, living in space, new discoveries, innovative technologies, commercialization of space, asteroid harvesting, space solar power, space tourism, and space law and policy,” organizers said.

The convention is expected to be a precursor of developments this year that represent baby steps for Puerto Rico into the space knowledge economy.


Roosey Roads: Aeronautical to astronautical

Molina said the island has already made strides in the “aeronautical” industry with the arrival of companies such as Lufthansa Technik and Honeywell Puerto Rico, but “we don’t have an astronautical firm.”

Through the proposed Spaceport Puerto Rico, project spearheaded by SPACEINNOVA LLC, a horizontal takeoff and landing site for spaceplanes at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba, Molina, who supports with operations and marketing, said he hopes the space industry will become the “new economic motor” that replaces the former Section 936 tax incentives of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code that were phased out in 2006.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, will deliver a talk titled “Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars” during the International Space Development Conference.

The former naval base, which comprises 8,720 acres, with 3,409 acres reserved for redevelopment, possesses the ideal airport for such an endeavor.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, will deliver a talk titled “Cycling Pathways to Occupy Mars” during the International Space Development Conference.

This summer, Sylvia Ramos de DeKeizer, CEO of SPACEINNOVA, owners of the Spaceport project, said she expects an announcement of a contract with the P.R. Ports Authority to rehabilitate Roosey Roads’ airport and its buildings. The area needs to be cleaned up because of the growth of vegetation and bushes. They will start by cleaning up about seven acres, which will take seven to eight months, and will also refurbish existing structures. The idea is to have space industry-related companies move into the area.

“We want to attract companies like Virgin Galactic [a spaceflight enterprise] and XCOR, [which developed a suborbital, horizontal takeoff & landing, rocket-powered spaceplane],” she said.

DeKeizer said the idea is to promote a space knowledge community at Roosevelt Roads that can create jobs. She revealed that there is already “a very well-known” space industry company that will do business with Spaceport, but she declined to reveal the name of the firm.
These companies will enjoy a host of tax incentives and advantages for moving their operations to Puerto Rico or to conduct research. SPACEINNOVA and the Ports Authority plan to share marketing strategies to promote the area.

Space: The Final Frontier

With the end of the Apollo program, which resulted in the first landing by humankind on another celestial body, and NASA’s spa

ce shuttle program, all space exploration-related activities have been taken over by the private sector. No civilian passengers have yet been brought into space by the private sector, but it is only a matter of time for that to happen.

Nonetheless, there have been some recent successes. For instance, on Dec. 21, 2015, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket fulfilled a major challenge for the space community—reusability.

SpaceX rocket as it launches into space

Launching satellites, spacecraft and other materials into space is expensive because the launch vehicle is only used once. After delivering their payloads into orbit, rockets either burn up in the atmosphere or crash into the ocean. To resolve this issue, Space X built a rocket that can return to base, using its rocket engines to land vertically.

“This flight marked the first successful vertical landing by a large first-stage rocket, which reached space, and the second stage carried a payload into orbit. Creating reusable rockets is a fundamental requirement for spaceflight to be inexpensive enough for general and large-scale use,” the National Space Society said. SpaceX will be recognized during the convention with the National Space Society’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Science & Engineering.

The National Space Society’s governor, Jeff Greason, is receiving the organization’s 2016 Space Pioneer Award for Entrepreneurial Business for his work in the industry and for founding Agile Aero Inc., which will seek to break through a rapid prototyping barrier that has slowed aerospace development for the past several decades.

He praised the U.S. government for providing a huge service in developing the technology that these current companies are using in the private sector.

“Most activity in space right now is funded by private investors. What is going on is the development of a real economy in space,” Greason said.

While many other economic sectors focus on one product, the space industry is different because there are lots of companies working on different products.

“Some work on transportation…some in human space flight, some on satellite communication, while others are working on areas such as asteroid mining,” Greason said as he noted the industry’s economic possibilities.


Blastoff from Puerto Rico

Tumlinson spoke to Caribbean Business about Puerto Rico’s options in joining the space race despite its fiscal and economic crisis. The island must set up a group of committed individuals who will help promote Puerto Rico as a player in the space economy, he emphasized.

“Sometimes, in the middle of a bad time, is when you have to take the initiative to create a better future. Space is one of those activities that is iconic and sends a message that there is a future out there,” he noted.

The achievements of Tumlinson’s Deep Space Industries asteroid-mining venture, along with other businesses and space advocates, include leading the team that turned the Mir Space Station into the world’s first commercial space facility. He praised the fact that President Obama signed into law last year the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which recognizes the right of U.S. citizens to own the asteroid resources they obtain and encourages their commercial exploration and utilization.

He said he hopes that whoever is elected U.S. president in the November elections promotes young innovators who can utilize the 60 years the nation has invested in space and turn it into something that will completely change the future. “We are at the moment when, for the first time in history, we will be breaking away from the planet and creating a civilization in space,” he said.

SpaceX rocket as it launches into space

SpaceX rocket as it launches into space

At the conference, Tumlinson will be speaking on “Colonizing Dead Worlds in the Name of Life.” His speech will be given prior to the presentation of a space pioneer award to Orlando Figueroa, owner of Orlando Leadership Enterprise and a former NASA senior executive.
Mark Hopkins, chairman of the executive committee for the National Space Society, whose main concern is creating a strategy to drive people into space, said the industry is moving at an accelerated pace and he is interested in legislation that will hasten space development and space settlements. Legislation to that effect has attracted Congress’ attention.

Along with its location, he said Puerto Rico has other advantages that help it become a major aerospace hub, including its low-cost labor force and high-quality aerospace professionals. The advances in the commercialization of space is an area that can help Puerto Rico ease its fiscal and economic crisis.

Robert T. “Bob” Geolas, president & CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina (RTF), who will be attending the conference, recalled that more than 50 years ago, North Carolina suffered through many of the fiscal problems that Puerto Rico is currently enduring, such as the departure of its college-educated graduates who could not find work in a state whose main industries were agriculture, textiles and furniture. The state also had one of the lowest wage infrastructures and a poor education system.

The state managed to turn things around as it went into research & development. In the 1950s, academics began to discuss the idea of creating a research park to take advantage of the studies going on at Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina. The RTF, one of the major research centers in the world, was created with the help of private contributions and assistance from the state.

Puerto Rico needs to remember, he said, that big ideas like a spaceport take time, and the “process” is not dependent on a single event, but many interdependent events, such as investments in education and partnerships, as well as the political will to push forward “bold ideas.”
“I do understand the challenges…. You cannot become dominated by bad news. You need to plan tong term,” Geolas said. While he said tax incentives are important, Puerto Rico also needs to provide a good environment for R&D as well as innovation, through research laboratories and universities.

In that regard, Lucy Crespo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust, said the trust has funded different investigations in the area of aerospace. She cited the example of Honeywell, which has a laboratory studying the effects of electromagnetic waves on planes. She also noted that the Arecibo Observatory’s presence in Puerto Rico is playing a key role in the convention. Convention attendees will be able to enjoy a series of talks about the observatory that include planet observations and space flight-accessible asteroids.
Soto said the island is still missing a formal R&D culture to back these efforts to turn the entire island into a Science Park.

“With the Puerto Rico Science Trust under Crespo’s leadership, the Science City in the former Oso Blanco Penitentiary is quickly becoming a reality. With 1,200 acres within Roosevelt Roads also to be dedicated for R&D, the Spaceport Puerto Rico project has a good opportunity to succeed. The vision is there and all the pieces are coming together,” he said.

“A great amount of work remains to be done…. For Puerto Rico and other new Aerospace Clusters and spaceports to be successful, we will need to cross over to other industries and obtain wide support, such as aviation MROs [maintenance, repair & overhaul], hotels, pharma, agricultural research, IT [information technology], communications, etc.,” he added.

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