With a new public awareness campaign and a new group of backers, a Maine organization is trying to turn the state into a hub for the so-called New Space industry.

Terry Shehata, executive director of the Maine Space Grant Consortium, said his organization and others are launching Maine Space 2030, a drive to position the state as a leading center for space exploration within a decade.

Among the initiatives planned this year is a three-day conference in Portland in November, showcasing Maine’s support for space operations and educating audiences about the scientific work and commercial development underway, Shehata said.

Maine is poised to take a lead role in the commercial use of space, he said, with dozens of aerospace companies already located here and new programs to help educate students and workers. Companies can reach space from Maine with new commercial rockets that are far cheaper and easier to launch than the huge rockets used to put astronauts on the moon, Shehata said.

The state is also geographically well-positioned for launching satellites that will loop over the Earth’s North and South poles, and for launches aimed over the Atlantic Ocean, he said.

If Maine becomes more heavily involved in space activities, it could boost the state’s economic output – currently about $84 billion a year – by about $1.1 billion annually within 20 years, according to a University of Southern Maine analysis, Shehata said. The New Space industry could also produce up to 5,500 jobs in Maine, he said, and keep science students from leaving the state after graduation.


Shehata said details on the November conference await input from the consortium’s board, which the state Legislature is expected to appoint this spring. An invitation has been extended to Jessica Meir, a Maine-born astronaut who participated in a NASA spacewalk in 2019, he said.

Meir hasn’t responded yet, Shehata said, but he hopes she can attend as a Mainer with a strong connection to the space program.

Meir was recently passed over as a crewmember for the Artemis II mission, which is scheduled to orbit the moon next year, but she is still in the running for Artemis III, which is scheduled to land on the moon in 2025.

Shehata said the goal of the conference is to raise awareness of efforts to involve Maine and Maine companies in space and promote broader science education in Maine schools and colleges.

He said the space missions of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the space shuttle program, were all massive government-led programs. But space exploration is now shifting to private companies, which can often operate less expensive programs with wider commercial applications.

Those companies are “driving the direction” of the current use of space and “that’s what the new space economy is about.”

Shehata said that to succeed as a space-oriented state, Maine will need to draw more space-related businesses and build up research and development at the state’s colleges and universities. That will create a pipeline of students and workers to support space-related businesses, he said.

There are plenty of potential launch sites in Maine, he said, including the former Loring Air Force Base in northeastern Maine and Brunswick Landing, the former naval air station that now serves as a business campus. He said other sites could also be used because the newest generations of rockets are smaller and don’t require massive support systems like those at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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