When you think of the nation’s centers of space exploration and technology, cities like Houston, Cape Canaveral and Huntsville, Ala. come to mind. Not so much Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania.
Driving the News: At its annual conference last week, the Keystone Space Collaborative announced plans to build a Space and Innovation District on an eight-acre site on Pittsburgh’s North Side.
- The district will be located on land now used as parking lots and owned by the Carnegie Science Center, just blocks away from the headquarters of Astrobotic Technology Inc., a company that two years ago received a $200 million contract to send the first U.S. rover to the Moon.
- “We have the perfect blend of advanced technologies for serious aerospace supplies and technology, said Justine Kasznica, founder of the Collaborative. “There’s so much space work being done already in Southwestern Pennsylvania.”
- The conference drew about 300 people, a who’s who of state and local officials from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia who want to promote the fast-growing industry. The collaborative is just two years old but attracts NASA officials and seems to have support from an array of politicians.
Lunar logistics: Astrobotic, founded in 2007 by graduates of Carnegie Mellon University, now employs more than 200 people.
- Long famous for its Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon, is among the top recipients of federal grants for space technology research. Its graduates have started many companies that rely heavily on robotics and artificial intelligence.
- Over the past 16 years, Astrobotic has evolved and grown into a “lunar logistics provider,” a sort of combined travel agent and freight forwarder for space travel. The company now partners with private businesses and government agencies around the world to develop and deliver their scientific equipment and experiments to the Moon.
- John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week that the company is committed to being “at the crosshairs” of the efforts to redevelop its neighborhood.
Trillion-dollar industry: Now valued at $470 million, the global space industry is expected to grow to a $1 trillion industry by 2030, a rate of 6 to 10 percent growth every year, according to Kasznica, a lawyer who also is counsel to Astrobotic.
- While Carnegie Mellon gets national attention for its innovation, the collaborative is being promoted as a broadly regional effort that includes many institutions in the Tri-State area, Kasznica said.
- The University of Pittsburgh is home to the Center for Space, High-performance, and Resilient Computing, which is partnering with Astrobotic on VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) exploration of the Moon’s surface for water and ice, which could be used to manufacture breathable air and rocket propellant for future human exploration.
- The project is a precursor to NASA’s 2024 mission to put astronauts on the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years.
- Penn State University’s aerospace program is well-ranked nationally. Ohio State University is the lead university partner of a multimillion-dollar NASA-funded effort to develop a new generation of commercially based, human-occupied space stations. Ohio State’s research and innovation will support the Starlab commercial space station.
- West Virginia University, just one hour from Pittsburgh, is home to the West Virginia Small Satellite Center of Excellence.
- And NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center in Brook Park, Ohio near Cleveland was founded in 1942. Most recently, it has been a major player for research in NASA’s Artemis Program, a robotic and human Moon exploitation project.
- “We are stronger as a region, and there’s really quite a lot in it,” Kasznica said.