Virgin Galactic deal puts space into reach
Tukwila-based Spaceflight, an orbital delivery service (think UPS for space), announced a deal to launch small satellites from Virgin Galactic's Launcher One, an aircraft that serves as an aerial launchpad.
By Seattle Times staff
Have anything you'd like to send to the final frontier? It's getting easier now with a deal between Tukwila-based Spaceflight and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.
Spaceflight, an orbital delivery service (think UPS for space), announced a deal to launch small satellites from Virgin Galactic's Launcher One, an aircraft that serves as an aerial launchpad.
Before the deal, Spaceflight could only send cargo that was piggybacked on larger satellites and released at their desired orbit. Now with the deal, Spaceflight can launch its client's cargo to the precise orbital level from Launch One.
Melissa Wuerl, Spaceflight's head of business development, says it can be a challenge to persuade owners of large multimillion-dollar satellites to allow Spaceflight's smaller cargo to tag along.
"You had to convince them that your small satellite wouldn't damage theirs," she said.
For penny-pinching cargo shippers, prices go as low $125,000 to send a one kilogram package slightly larger than a Rubik's Cube into a low orbit.
At the other side of the spectrum, costs go as high as $19.9 million for satellites that weigh up to 300 kilograms.
Cargo that hitches a ride on Launcher One does not reach far into the depths of space, however. Spaceflight President Jason Andrews said there is still a significant amount of atmosphere at those orbital levels. As a result, the satellites fall back to Earth in a few years.
"They'll come down naturally after three to five years," he said
In contrast with the massive satellites from the days of the Cold War, small is beautiful in the private space industry. That's because the smaller the satellite, the cheaper it is to send it into space.
"There are several trends in space. One of them is the miniaturization of space," Andrews said.
Spaceflight, established in 2009, is not Andrews' only space company in the Puget Sound region.
Andrews Space was his first entrepreneurial space effort. It builds components for small spacecraft. One of those components is the Sherpa propulsion system.
For those Spaceflight customers that want a little juice under the hoods of their satellites, they can order a Sherpa.
"We call it the space tug," Wuerl said.
Andrews' two companies, which have combined annual revenue of a little under $10 million, also have an impressive list of clients, including the Department of Defense, NASA and various private companies. But Andrews notes he can't reveal what some of his private clients send into the outer reaches of our atmosphere.
"We have some commercial customers that I can't disclose what they do," he said.
— Karl Baker: email@example.com
The Seattle region is in for above-average growth this year and next, according to a forecast released last week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The forecast, prepared by IHS Global Insight for the mayors' group, predicts the Seattle area's inflation-adjusted "gross metropolitan product" (a somewhat controversial concept among economists) will grow 2.7 percent this year and 2.4 percent in 2013.
That would place Seattle 64th out of the country's 363 metro areas, and ahead of the 2 percent gross domestic product growth that IHS projects for the nation as a whole.
Last year, Seattle's GMP grew by 2.6 percent, versus 1.7 percent growth for U.S. GDP — good enough for 59th place.
By and large, the metro areas expected to grow fastest this year are benefiting from oil and gas drilling — from Odessa, Texas, to Bismarck, N.D. — or a rebounding manufacturing sector (Columbus and Elkhart, Indiana).
GDP and GMP both are measures of an economy's total output of goods and services.
But what, if anything, do they have to do with jobs? Not as much as you might think.
Employment in metro Seattle should accelerate to 2 percent this year after last year's 1.6 percent increase, the firm projects. That would give our area the 93rd-best employment growth — better than the national rate of 1.4 percent, but a lot closer to the middle of the pack among all metro areas.
— Drew DeSilver, firstname.lastname@example.org
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