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Public-private partnership to boost NM space industry

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s rocket scientists are joining hands in a new initiative to add a lot more thrust to the local space industry.

Public and private sector representatives have formed a novel partnership, New Space NM, to hitch their collective fortunes to the world’s rapidly-emerging commercial space industry, said Brad Clevenger, president and CEO of Albuquerque-based SolAero Technologies Corp., which makes solar panels for spacecraft.

“We already have a pretty robust satellite and space environment in New Mexico, with data, satellite and even launch companies operating here, but very little cooperation or collaboration among them,” said Clevenger, an initiative leader. “As today’s shift from government to commercial funding for space technology gains force, we see real opportunities to strengthen New Mexico’s competitive standing around the world if we work together rather than independently to build our strengths.”

The partnership’s first order of business: a comprehensive report on the state of New Mexico’s industry, including its strengths and weaknesses and the strategies needed to build a thriving industry cluster.

The group — which includes leaders from private companies, state universities and government entities like the Air Force – is raising $80,000 to finance the study. It already has about half that amount with help from the Albuquerque Community Foundation, which is acting as fiscal agent and taking donations and administering the funds, Clevenger said.

DeRaad Tech Connections, a local consulting firm led by former Air Force Research Laboratory executive Casey DeRaad, will compile the report.

“It’s a six- to eight-month project,” DeRaad said. “We’re just getting started, but we hope to have a report ready by November.”

That includes analysis of the industry sectors attracting private investment and ways to leverage those opportunities to lure more companies to New Mexico while growing the ones already here.

Until recently, industry development depended almost wholly on government investment with private contractors providing technical services, DeRaad said.

“There was almost zero direct private space investment before 2009, but last year private funding reached $3.9 billion,” she said. “As the shift to commercial investment gains force, it’s not just the big contractors like Lockheed Martin that gain new opportunities, but small- and medium-sized firms as well.”

The global space market reached about $350 billion in 2016, according to a report last fall from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. It estimates the market will grow to about $2.7 trillion over the next three decades.

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