Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and technical geniuses are turning their attention to the commercial space business. They believe that with the infusion of entrepreneurial capital, brainpower, and a good degree of partnering, the space industry can become a fundamental source of jobs and high-tech development. As a state government entity, Space Florida is eagerly trying to position Florida in this new space race. Dale Ketcham, chief of strategic alliances for Space Florida, is ASAP’s opening keynote speaker at the upcoming ASAP Global Alliance Summit, March 2-5, in Orlando, Florida. For Ketcham, “the sky is not the limit” as the traditional government-only space program transitions to a multi-faceted, cross-industry collaboration with avant-guard billionaires and space entrepreneurs, cutting-edge university R&D programs, an IT industry evolving at high speed, well-established corporations, US federal agencies, and global allies. He plans to provide a broad perspective on how partnerships and collaborations have evolved and morphed in the space industry, and what we can envision for the future.
What is the mandate of Space Florida as a government entity receiving state funding?
From the inception of the space age, government investment was the seed corn needed to start and grow the space industry, much as was the case in the early years of railroad and aviation development. But there has always been an understanding that a robust commercial sector would be needed for long-term sustainability. That perception is now becoming reality. Perhaps nothing highlights that perception moreso than the commercial payload launch market. For decades the United States had 100 percent of the market. But the launch sites were at NASA or Air Force locations. The Europeans saw an opportunity, created a purely commercial launch site in South America, and the US market share eventually evaporated. New American entrepreneurs are beginning to recapture that market, and the impetus for the creation of Space Florida in 2006 was to build the nation’s growing space industry market and capitalize on the half-a-billion in capital assets Florida already had invested in launch pads, labs, etc., from two decades of collaboration with government and industry.
How did you get involved in Space Florida? What is your history in the space program?
I grew up in Cocoa Beach starting in 1955. I learned to walk as a toddler on the beach. It was a frontier town in the early days of the space program, and I was surrounded by astronauts and engineers. There was a lot of money coming into the area to beat the Russians to the moon. I went on to attend the University of Florida. At the time I wasn’t aware of the implications, but President Nixon abruptly cancelled the Apollo space program, which crushed us economically down here. My dad was trying to avoid bankruptcy. Thousands of homes were abandoned. Ironically, when my older son left to attend the University of Florida, the shuttle program retired. So part of my mission in life has been to make sure that when my grandson or granddaughter goes on to the University of Florida, we are no longer dependent on government funding to provide jobs in Florida’s space industry. I spent 10 years working on the shuttle program for Rockwell, and then I was a district director for a local congressman while he served in Washington on the space subcommittee. I also worked for an engineering firm that was working on the shuttle and then became director of the space program at Enterprise Florida - a public-private entity that was previously the state Department of Commerce. I then was director of the Spaceport Research and Technology Institute at the University of Central Florida. I joined Space Florida four years ago.
Look for the full interview in ASAP’s February eNews, a benefit of membership to ASAP.