History shows that forward-looking government investments in private companies can pay off handsomely in private-sector jobs and higher standard of living.
In 1962, federally funded NASA launched Telstar for AT&T. Since then, thousands of comsats have been orbited by private companies.
Worldwide, besides generating more than $200 billion in sales annually, the commercial satellite industry generates thousands of private-sector jobs and pays annual taxes vastly in excess of the initial subsidies it received in the 1960s, according to a 2015 Satellite Industry Association report.
President Woodrow Wilson in 1915 formed National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which provided aviation R&D to overcome problems of flight.
This was followed by the Air Mail Act of 1925, which allowed the U.S. government to contract for air mail service. In 1930, the McNary-Watres (Air Mail) Act encouraged larger aircraft. These government investments nurtured commercial aviation until it could sustain itself by transporting humans and cargo.
Today the private airline industry in the US generates $1.5 trillion in overall economic activity, 11 million US jobs, millions in tax revenues — while operating the safest form of transportation.
Similar stories of government investment paying off for the private sector and for human quality of life can be told about Global Positioning System and the Internet.
Tucson is poised to become a world-class commercial space center, and private-public partnerships and investments are key to making that happen. Tucson already boasts of space-related entities such as the Planetary Science Institute; the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab (LPL), Optical Sciences and Astronomy Departments; and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
These agencies bring many millions of dollars to Tucson and much prestige. Just the OSIRIS-REx mission to near-Earth asteroid Bennu, conceived and run by a team at UA LPL, garnered a $805 million NASA contract, much of which will be spent in Tucson.
On the commercial side we have Raytheon Missile Systems, Paragon Space Development Corporation, and World View Enterprises, Inc.
World View has already launched test balloons (called “stratollites”) into the stratosphere, including some carrying both private and government-funded experiments.
With Pima County investment, World View will be able to manufacture and launch their short and long-duration stratollites for communications, astronomy, science experiments, remote sensing, weather observation and tourism.
Riding a wave of commercial space activities led by Space X, Blue Origin, Bigelow Aerospace, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries and others, Vector Space Systems and partner Garvey Spacecraft Corporation are planning to build rockets in Tucson that will launch small satellites into orbit for the rapidly growing public-private market of imaging, communications and scientific inquiry.
All this could be just the beginning for the Tucson area. We are on the threshold of a revolution in commercial space, and the industry’s potential in terms of high-paying technical jobs and general economic activity is enormous.
For the political leaders in Tucson and the surrounding area, the question is therefore simple: Do you wish to nurture the industry here with reasonable public investments, or let others do it and thus reap the rewards elsewhere?