Colorado aerospace: Our heritage, our future

By Jay Lindell, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade

For more than 70 years, Colorado has been at the forefront of aviation and aerospace capability for our nation. During World War II, it was not only Colorado’s great flying weather, but also the state’s central location that was a major reason for the development of Lowry (Aurora) and Peterson Field Army Air Corps (Colorado Springs) bases. Following the war, the North American Air Defense Command was based in Colorado Springs as a command center for defense of the U.S. and Canada from air attack. And in 1955, the Glenn L. Martin Company (now Lockheed Martin Space Systems) established a plant in Waterton Canyon to the southwest of Denver to build the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile to support defense capability for our nation. The site was considered a highly strategic central U.S. location.

Over the decades, Peterson Air Force Base evolved as a hub for Air Force space activities to include Air Force Space Command (1982) and U.S. Northern Command (2002).  Additionally, Buckley Air National Guard Base became Buckley Air Force Base (2000) and today is a key space operations center for our national security. NORAD’s mission has also evolved, and now includes space-based surveillance for ballistic missile attack warning. The significant initial presence and growing space-based defense capability in Colorado stimulated the development of a space industry and related research at Colorado universities.

Today, Colorado is a national leader in the aerospace industry. Colorado companies are at the forefront of America’s return to human spaceflight, and our state plays a critical role in developing the technology and satellites in global weather monitoring, earth observation, and space weather prediction.  We are at the center of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and remote sensing technologies that have revolutionized our ability to improve navigation, agriculture, disaster response and national security. Not only are GPS satellites developed and built in Colorado, GPS is operated and maintained by Air Force Space Command.

The key to Colorado’s thriving aerospace economy lies in its broad spectrum of companies, products, research and development institutions that develop technology for commercial, military, and civil space applications. The breadth and depth of Colorado’s aerospace industry are rooted in support from four military commands, eight major space contractors, NASA research activities and several universities involved in extensive space research. The University of Colorado and the Air Force Academy are recognized as having top aerospace engineering programs in the nation.

Colorado ranked first in the nation in 2015 for private sector aerospace employment and second in the total direct employment of aerospace workers.  The aerospace industry in Colorado supports more than 160,000 workers in space-related jobs, with more than 400 companies and suppliers providing space-related products and services. The wealth of talent, research assets, and synergy between industry, government, research institutions and workforce development organizations cements Colorado’s role as an aerospace leader for our nation.

Colorado has a deep and proud heritage in aerospace and will remain at the core of Colorado’s economic growth.  Aerospace has been a significant part of our heritage will continue to be a catalyst for our future economic progress.

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