The Commercial Spaceflight Federation set the stage for new leadership as well as new initiatives during its meeting in Seattle this week, says the industry group’s president.
CSF President Eric Stallmer told GeekWire that the meeting signaled the Emerald City’s rising status amid a rising wave of entrepreneurship focused on the space frontier.
“Seattle has really become a hub city for commercial space activity,” he said, “so it’s really a no-brainer for us to come here. … I foresee more companies developing and coming up to Seattle.”
Those companies will follow in the footsteps of ventures such as Blue Origin (founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos), Vulcan Aerospace (funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen), Planetary Resources (which counts Google execs and Virgin billionaire Richard Branson among its founding investors) and Spaceflight Industries (backed by Allen’s Vulcan Capital and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital, among others).
Stallmer said Seattle’s investment base, plus the talent base fostered by such companies as Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon, added to the region’s natural appeal.
The Washington, D.C.-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation was founded a decade ago, in the wake of the privately funded flights of the SpaceShipOne rocket plane, to nurture up-and-comers in the commercial space industry. Its more than 70 members include Seattle space ventures as well as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace, Moon Express and Sierra Nevada Corp.
During this week’s meeting, planetary scientist Alan Stern was chosen to take the helm as chairman, Stallmer said. Stern is a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., as well as principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
Stern’s ties to the commercial space industry include roles as chief scientist for World View Enterprises, co-founder and CEO of Uwingu and co-founder of the CSF’s Suborbital Applications Researchers Group. Over the years, he has been a consultant to Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Moon Express and other space ventures – and served as NASA’s associate administrator for science in 2007-2008.
Stern will take over the chairmanship from Frank DiBello, president and CEO of Space Florida.
Stallmer mentioned two initiatives that came to the fore during the Seattle meeting: One is a plan to pay tribute to Patti Grace Smith, who blazed a trail for private-sector spaceflight as the Federal Aviation Administration’s associate administrator for commercial space transportation between 1997 and 2008.
Smith passed away in June at the age of 68 after battling pancreatic cancer.
“She was just a great champion for us,” Stallmer said. The CSF plans to establish a scholarship program in her name, to fund education and travel for students interested in the commercial space industry, he said.
Another initiative involves coordination between commercial air traffic and the rising number of commercial space launches. As more spaceports ramp up for business, some air carriers have expressed concern about the potential for route changes and flight delays.
“It’s not going to let up,” Stallmer said of the rise in launches. “There are only going to be more. … We want to get ahead of this.”
Stallmer said the CSF plans to increase its contacts with airlines and aviation officials to address the challenge.