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Commercial Space Exploration Opportunities for Manufacturers: Part 2

Following an earlier blog forecasting strong space industry growth, including satellite communications, space exploration and travel, we talked with five Manufacturing Extension Partnership Directors from California, Washington, Maine, New Jersey, and Arizona who shared current insights about the industry.

The NIST MEP system has worked with 25 clients in satellite communications and space vehicles through 48 projects, giving the staff direct insight into this burgeoning, but unsettled field. In NASA’s Emerging Space Report they listed the top two tiers of industry suppliers of which NIST MEP has worked with 34% of the 68 companies identified.

Perhaps the overwhelming point made by the five MEP Directors is to remember that space and launch vehicles is a nascent industry from a manufacturing perspective. Several companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are finalizing their “re-usable” rockets and as such, are still in a design and testing stage where the value is in product development, not yet production and cost savings.

Some of their needs currently include composite materials for lightweight durability, batteries, or specialized components. Quick turnaround, high innovation, particularly in this niche market, is valued, but recognize that as with aerospace in general, traceability in manufacturing (i.e. Smart or Digital Manufacturing) will be key, which means paperwork and patience is a long-term “play”. Several of these forefront companies are driven by a major investor whose vision shapes the company’s approach, which is often very futuristic and developmental for the time being.

A couple of avenues that smaller firms have used to access this market include participating in the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program where their early stage work is funded by a federal agency. As their work is noticed by the leading edge companies, conversations begin. Other small firms have tried utilizing a “Technology Driven Market Intelligence” approach, which MEP centers support, whereby companies identify new markets and contacts for their technologies and business development. If you already are a supplier to the aerospace market you may have some chance to move laterally.

As viewed by IBIS World in analyzing the Space Vehicle and Missile Manufacturing Industry, “The market entry by new companies is expected to cause a number of industry enterprises to climb at an annualized rate of 1.1%…Nonetheless, many current industry players will continue to restructure…” suggesting this is a market in flux at present.

To capitalize on MEP’s experience in this industry, please contact your local center if you’re interested in trying to enter this industry as a long-term opportunity.

About the author

Tab Wilkins

Tab Wilkins is Regional Manager for Strategic Transition and Senior Technology Advisor at NIST MEP, primarily supporting Centers in the western US. Prior to joining NIST, Tab helped establish and run two MEP centers and has a varied background in non-profit management, leadership development and technology-based Economic Development.

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