HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The new Alabama Space Authority took its first steps this week as members met around Wernher von Braun’s conference table in Huntsville to push for more aerospace activity and jobs in a state where the industry is surging.
Glenn Rizner, chief of staff of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Office, briefed authority members on the two general types of federal space licenses available to states and localities: launch sites and vehicle operations.
Authority organizers say don’t expect a drive for that yet — beyond what is already underway — but there could be a push later. If that seems a stretch, remember that one Alabama city is already working to land a private spaceship at its airport, Airbus is growing rapidly in Mobile, and other aerospace announcements have come in a steady stream.
With that background, the new Alabama Space Authority held its inaugural meeting Tuesday at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center around a table used by von Braun’s team when building America’s first rockets and the Saturn V.
State Sen. Gerald Dial (R-Lineville), who sponsored legislation to create the authority, was elected its chairman. Companion legislation was also introduced in the House by state Rep. Howard Sanderford (R-Huntsville).
Sanderford was nominated as vice chair, but nominated U.S. Space & Rocket Center Deborah Barnhart, who served on the Florida Space Authority. Barnhart was approved by acclamation.
“When you look at how much space activity we have in the state now with the expansion of Dynetics and ULA (United Launch Alliance), it’s such a critical mass,” Barnhart said Wednesday. “We just want to optimize that to not leave anybody on the sidelines.”
Barnhart said the authority will also work in areas including education and workforce development. “We can show young people there are plenty of great jobs here in Alabama that they and their parents and teachers just don’t know about,” she said.
Barnhart said trying to build a spaceport in Alabama might be something the state will consider. “There are already ongoing efforts in that direction for landing sites, and some are further ahead than others,” she said.
Huntsville is already seeking an FAA license to land Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spaceship at the Huntsville International Airport when it begins supplying the International Space Station and returning science data from the orbiting laboratory.
United Launch Alliance and Bezos’ Blue Origin company have both announced plans to build rocket engine plants in Huntsville, and Dynetics recently broke ground in Decatur on a three-building complex to test and develop next-generation large rocket parts.