AZ Inno: ‘The Next Economic Frontier’: How Arizona Is Poised To Lead Deep-Space Innovation


Arizona Commerce Authority

AZ Inno

August 23, 2022


On any given Saturday in the fall, students pack into Arizona Stadium, home to the University of Arizona (UArizona) football team. They come for touchdowns, tailgating and (hopefully) a Wildcats victory. Few may guess, however, that below the east stands lies the technological building blocks of deep-space exploration.


At the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory, scientists, engineers and technicians are developing enormous 27-foot mirrors, larger than most aboveground swimming pools. The mirrors will power the Giant Magellan Telescope, expected to be the largest and most advanced Earth-based telescope in the world, when completed.

The mirror lab at UArizona represents just one out-of-this-world feature of Arizona’s vivid space ecosystem. Bolstered by world-renowned university expertise, a robust aerospace and defense industry, promising startups and unique natural advantages, Arizona is fully poised to capitalize on a rapidly expanding space economy.


Limitless horizons


Space spending globally is growing at its fastest annual rate in nearly a decade, according to the Space Foundation, hitting a record $469 billion in 2021. Morgan Stanley estimates that by 2040, the global space industry could surge to over $1 trillion.


Arizona features all the pieces needed to compete for new space investments, according to a 2018 Deloitte assessment. The firm compared Arizona with 13 other states with ties to the space industry across six focus areas including manufacturing, launch services area, validation and component testing, space situational awareness and mining. Only Arizona boasts a presence in every category.


Arizona’s attractiveness for space investments is amplified by the impressive base of industry leaders with operations in the state, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell Aerospace, Virgin Galactic, World View Enterprises and General Dynamics Mission Systems. Raytheon Missile and Defense, which advances technologies such as hypersonics, microelectronics and sensors, is headquartered in Tucson. Northrop Grumman Space Systems, one of NASA’s top contractors, has facilities in Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa.


“We’re proud Arizona is home to one of Starliner’s landing locations. Arizona has all the ingredients to drive the future of space travel,” said Mark Gaspers, senior manager of government operations at Boeing and chair of the Workforce Arizona Council. “With research and university preeminence, technology clusters in areas like optics and sensors, and a large engineering workforce to grow from, Arizona has the key components for the industry’s future.”


Expertise in abundance


The University of Arizona, which ranks fifth for NASA-funded activity, has long been at the forefront of space exploration dating to the founding of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the first Ranger missions to the moon in the 1960s. In recent years, the university was instrumental in creating the Near Infrared Camera, one of four scientific instruments onboard the James Webb Space Telescope.


In May 2011, NASA selected LPL to lead the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-REx launched in 2016 and will return with any samples collected in 2023.


At Arizona State University, scientists and researchers have been leading contributors for Mars missions since the NASA Viking missions in the 1970s. The university boasts 40 instrument facilities and laboratories and is participating in more than 25 active space missions.


“Space is the next economic frontier,” said Jim Bell, a professor and director of the Space Science and Technology (NewSpace) Initiative at Arizona State University, who is heavily involved in NASA missions like those of the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. “Advancements in areas like rocketry, satellites and space tourism are pushing the bounds of what was previously thought possible. That family weekend trip to the moon? It may be closer than we think.”


Talented startups


Top talent and unparalleled university expertise have helped fuel new space startups.


In Flagstaff, engineering research and development company Katalyst Space Technologies recently opened its headquarters. The company is focused on modular spacecraft designs and mission architectures intended to interact with on-orbit service. Katalyst was founded by a pair of Embry-Riddle graduates with a vision for a more accessible and sustainable future in space.


“We’re aiming to double our staff every year for the next few years,” said Katalyst founder Ghonhee Lee. “The built-in network of support in northern Arizona, from Moonshot to Northern Arizona University and its community of entrepreneurs, has been the perfect fit for us.”


Paragon Space Development, a Tucson-based company and global leader in life support and thermal control technologies, was recently awarded a long-term NASA contract to develop the next generation of space suits. Paragon will participate on a multinetwork team that could generate $3.5 billion in funding over the life of the program. The next-gen suits will be used for missions to the moon and the International Space Station.


Space tourism


Arizona is fast becoming a hotbed for space tourism, one of the space industry’s fastest-growing sectors. Grand View Research, a market research company, expects space tourism to be a multibillion dollar market by 2030.


In July, Virgin Galactic announced plans to open a new manufacturing facility in Mesa. The facility will serve as the final assembly point for the space travel company’s Delta class spaceships, creating 400 highly skilled aerospace engineering and manufacturing jobs.


Other notable space tourism activity in the state includes companies like Blue Origin, which is partnering with Arizona State University to lead the University Advisory Council for Orbital Reef, a commercial-use space station. The $130 million, NASA-funded effort would house researchers, tourists and commercial customers on the space station.


Additionally, Tucson’s World View will transport stratospheric ballooning tourists to the edge of space to view the curvature of the Earth and see the layers of the upper atmosphere.


Renewed interest in deep-space travel means further opportunities in the public and private sectors.

With a vibrant industrial ecosystem and some of the world’s foremost space experts, Arizona promises to continue to lead space innovation.


Learn more about Arizona's aerospace industries at


Read the full article HERE.