BY FREDA MIKLIN
On July 21, Denver South sponsored a program about advancements in Colorado’s aerospace industry and their impact on our lives. It was organized by RioT, an economic development organization that is focused on emerging technology markets. RioT describes itself as a “convenor helping to make connections.”
Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice-president, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems and current Entrepreneur in Residence at Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado, said he was a “serial entrepreneur” who got into the space industry in what eventually became the Virgin Galactic program. In 2004, he “was fortunate to be part of a team…that was able to take a human and send that human into space two times in a month without any government financing.” Speaking about today’s “very vibrant commercial space sector,” he shared that, “Just about a year ago, there were about 3,000 satellites in orbit operational in the world; that number has doubled in the past year,” and will grow to 20,000 in the next five years.
Describing himself as a futurist, Sirangelo was the chief innovation officer for the State of Colorado for three years. He helped build a community for aerospace in Colorado. That effort resulted in the state’s ranking going from between eighth and tenth to between first and third in the aerospace industry, depending on what one measures. As did all the speakers on this subject, Sirangelo emphasized the importance of teamwork, noting that over 25 companies worked (with United Launch Alliance in Centennial) on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover that continues to explore the surface of the planet Mars.
Connecting to the everyday world, Sirangelo said that many of the features in today’s cell phones are things that he “was building to put into space ten years ago.” He continued, “We are beyond hardware…If you could imagine the amount of data that’s going to come from space and multiply it by 20, in the next five years, what new industries, what new applications, what new focus will come out of that?” He pointed out that, “What made the iPhone, what made the Google phone, are the apps that go on that phone. When we move to the future, the data from space is going to be so much different from what we’ve seen before.” Focusing on jobs, Sirangelo pointed to “all the different kinds of people who are going to be necessary to build those teams.” Telemedicine is a technology that benefits from data gathered in space. Also, there is a highly expanded ability to understand agriculture from data gathered in space.
On innovation, he pointed out that Colorado has 12 to 14 major business sectors. Most states have five or six.
Sirangelo talked about the reach of the University of Colorado, where he is “entrepreneur in residence.” CU has 50,000 people scattered in 80 countries around the world and is the number one funded NASA institution in the United States. As well, the State of Colorado is the number one in the country with well over 500 companies.
In response to a question, Sirangelo said that the issue isn’t getting data from space, there’s plenty of data. It’s making it useful quickly. He predicts that wired communication will disappear and that two key industries that will continue to be helped by space are bioscience and agriculture. He also believes that government’s role in space will decline as that of private industry expands in space in the future.
For those old enough to remember the movie “2001 A Space Odyssey” and its computer named HAL, Sirangelo shared that the name was taken from the company IBM by the writer of the movie, Arthur Clark. He saw IBM as key to the future, so he took the letters of the name IBM “and shifted them one to the left to come up with HAL.”
Shelli Brunswick, COO of Space Foundation, described her group as one that “brings together the global space community,” and is the “trusted organization for information, education, and collaboration.” She continued, “In 2020, the global space economy was $447 billion. According to Bank of America, by 2030 it’s going to be $1.4 trillion and by 2040, over $3 trillion. This is exponential growth…Every country uses the space industry, which is 80 percent commercial.” Brunswick shared that the number one industry that utilizes information from space is data analytics because “there’s so much data coming from all the satellites. Now imagine what’s going to happen with all the electric vehicles coming on the market and all the sensors on them.” The data will be processed using artificial intelligence. She pointed out how space impacts us every day, in our food, our travel, and our health, among other aspects of our lives. “The space ecosystem has been democratized,” and everyone has a place in the industry, regardless of who they are or what their background.
Justin Cyrus, CEO of Lunar Output of Golden (LO), founded in 2017, said that his company develops technology focused on advanced instrumentation and robotics. They have governmental contracts with the U.S. Air Force and Space Force, as well as the first contract from NASA to collect space resources and transfer ownership of them to the agency for the handsome sum of one dollar. Happily, LO also has commercial clients, including MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), from whom they have a 2018 contract that involves “taking CO2 out of the Mars atmosphere and turning it into oxygen.”