Home to more than 25 aerospace companies, Southern California could enjoy a boost in the industry locally now that the U.S. Space Force plans to locate one of its three commands near the Los Angeles airport.
U.S. Space Force officials announced on Thursday, April 8, that its Space Systems Command – tasked with developing and buying space technologies – will operate at the Los Angeles Air Force Base’s Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo. The command is set to officially be activated this summer.
The Space and Missile Systems Center has gone through a number of reorganizations since it opened in 1954. The new designation as Space Systems Command is the most significant, said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, the center’s commander. “We will further build upon the success to more effectively deliver cutting-edge space systems needed to ensure the future of our national security and prosperity.”
Los Angels Supervisor Janice Hahn called the announcement “huge news.”
“The LA Air Force Base isn’t just the anchor for thousands of jobs in SoCal’s aerospace industry, it is the brain trust of the Air Force,” she said. “Today’s move is a resounding vote of confidence by the federal government in what has long been a pillar of our local economy – and in the talented people who work there.”
Establishing the Space Systems Command in Los Angeles will help secure the region as an aerospace hub at a time when other places, such as Colorado, have been competing for that business, said Van Espahbodi, co-founder of the Starburst Accelerator, which assists aerospace startups.
“Southern California and South Bay, in particular, is experiencing its biggest tech renaissance since the Cold War, with record-setting venture investments generating hundreds of new businesses,” he said.
Among the aerospace companies headquartered in the region are SpaceX in Hawthorne, Rocket Lab in Long Beach, Relativity Space that recently moved from Inglewood to Long Beach and Virgin Orbit in Long Beach.
“So it’s no surprise the formal standing up of Space Systems Command acknowledges the strength and leadership of our region, not just for our nation, but how innovation in space technology will affect the daily lives of our fellow citizens,” Espahbodi said.
In L.A. County, 50,000 jobs are directly related to the aerospace and defense industry, much of them in the South Bay, making the region a leader in the nation, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.
Military officials said it’s hard to forecast if there will be a greater stimulus to local aerospace companies, but there will be a focus on enhancing the speed at which the command will develop, field and test new space capabilities.
“We’re looking at wider opportunities to involve non-traditional vendors and smaller businesses and seeking innovation where it occurs,” Major Nick Mercurio, a spokesman for Space Force, said.
He also said a focus will be on more environmentally friendly development practices, such as more digital engineering that doesn’t need large warehouses to put together prototypes.
“It’s an option that hadn’t existed 20 years ago,” Mercurio said. “We weren’t designing, building and testing satellites in a completely digital environment then.”
Even if hosting the command in Los Angeles doesn’t lead to a boon of large government contracts, Judy Kruger, senior director of strategic initiatives for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, said, “Any type of visibility that we get for the region that names us and identifies us as space and aerospace leaders in this field is good for jobs and good for the economy.”
“I see this announcement as something that helps grow our industry and it’s so much needed in an economy that’s looking to recover,” Kruger said.
Leading aerospace and defense industry contractors with operations in the Southern California also include Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Aerospace Corp. In addition, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale serve as key facilities in NASA’s flight research.
“With every passing day, space becomes more critical for our national security and for commercial activities, and I’m pleased that Southern California and Los Angeles Air Force Base will be at the center of an increased emphasis on space,” said Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County), who with Congressman Ken Calvert (R-CA) are co-chairs of the California Aerospace Caucus.
“Southern California was already leading the way on aerospace and space innovation, and establishing the Space Systems Command at LA AFB will position our region for further growth,” Lieu said in statement. “We are ushering in a new era focused on space and I’m thrilled Southern California and LA AFB will be at the forefront.”
What is Space Force
The U.S. Space Force is the newest branch of the Armed Forces, established on Dec 20, 2019. It is the sister branch of the Air Force, meaning the secretary of the Air Force oversees it.
There are presently 4,800 uniformed Guardians who serve in the Space Force.
“No military service has a closer daily contact with the average American citizen,” Mercurio said. “Space capabilities are woven into everyday life making it faster, precise and more connected.”
For example, the GPS constellation of orbiting satellites not only provide the little blue dot on your cellphone map, but also guide aviation and commercial shipping and provide the timing signal that allows global financial markets to function and power grids to operate.