Two military bases share the airfield at Pittsburgh International Airport. They’re tasked with protecting the skies over the U.S. and its allies.
On Friday, the region added another military presence—one that aims a bit higher.
Representatives from the U.S. Space Force were on hand to open a new innovation center in Pittsburgh’s North Side devoted to the growth of the space industry, a development directly related to the region’s burgeoning tech and life sciences sectors.
“There’s an incredible number of new and innovative businesses that have grown up here in Pittsburgh in the areas of autonomy and robotics and space technology and advanced manufacturing that is incredibly important for the future of the United States Air Force and the United States Space Force,” said Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations for the Space Force and a native of nearby Beaver County.
The facility is shared by the Keystone Space Collaborative, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit focused on advocacy and support for the space industry in the tri-state area, and U.S. AFWERX, the Air Force’s innovation branch that pairs tech firms with military personnel.
Intended to be a collaborative space for the Space Force, Air Force and other companies focused on space—such as Pittsburgh’s Astrobotic—to meet and partner with regional businesses and tech firms, the center will be temporarily located in Nova Place until a more permanent home is found.
The new facility may be a sign of things to come, said Brian Kennedy, senior vice president for operations and government affairs at the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
“I can’t say how often I’m now hosting inbound military delegations,” he said. “I probably hosted 100 just in the last eight months—probably 100 different generals, program directors, three-star, four-star [generals] that are coming to Pittsburgh looking for solutions.”
An AFWERX official said the U.S. military has about $1 billion earmarked to fund new initiatives and research for private companies working in the space industry, some of which will be spent in Western Pennsylvania.
“People talk about Silicon Valley, people talk about Austin, Texas,” Thompson said. “I will tell you, this center and this region is the full equal of those regions as well.”