If you look up in the night sky and catch a glimpse of a satellite passing over, there’s a good chance “Made in Washington” is stamped on its side.
Washington’s space economy is booming, thanks in large part to its century of global leadership in aerospace combined with its dominance in the technology space. In the last four years, the state experienced a 61% increase in economic activity tied to the space sector, according to a report released recently by the Puget Sound Regional Council. And there’s plenty of room for exponential growth.
According to the report, Washington’s space economy generated $4.6 billion in 2021 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.”
In fact, 38% of all operational satellites in orbit at the beginning of the year were built in Washington. That’s nearly 2,000 satellites with many more to come. SpaceX’s Starlink network will eventually have tens of thousands of satellites in orbit, meaning years of work ahead for SpaceX in Redmond.
SpaceX isn’t the only player in the satellite market. LeoStella, a joint venture of Thales Alena Space and Spaceflight Inc., builds satellites in Tukwila. Other major companies in the sector include Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and smaller companies like BlackSky, Kymeta, RBC Signals, Spaceflight Inc., Starfish Space, Stoke Space Technologies, Tethers Unlimited and Xplore.
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.”
Currently, more jobs are open in the space sector than employees to fill them. Employees are being recruited from technology and aviation firms, a nod to the changing face of Washington’s economy where tech is king.
To meet growing industry demand, institutions like the University of Washington are adopting a multidisciplinary curriculum approach to evolving industry needs, focusing on research, education and training that cross academic disciplines that were at one time siloed. Bringing together researchers, policymakers and organizations focused on science, engineering and technology – all Washington strengths – will continue to spur further sector growth.
Learn more about Washington’s growing space economy in Spacenews.