Colorado's aerospace industry ranks 2nd in the nation for private sector aerospace employment. With four military commands: Air Force Space Command, Army Space Command, NORAD and USNORTHCOMM and three space-related Air Force bases, Colorado is a strategic location for the space industry. Along with major Department of Defense facilities and NASA research activities, the state’s universities are among with world’s best for aerospace engineering. Colorado is also actively cultivating innovation and commercial space opportunities, developing Spaceport Colorado and pursuing federal designation as a test site for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs).
Many of the nation’s major aerospace contractors base important operations in Colorado, including Ball Aerospace, Boeing, ITT Exelis, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and United Launch Alliance. These companies are leading some of the nation’s most significant space projects. Sierra Nevada Corporation is changing the commercial space landscape with its Dream Chaser space transportation system, and Lockheed Martin is developing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to carry astronauts on deep space missions. Meanwhile Ball Aerospace serves as an important anchor, headquartered in the region and serving civil, commercial, and military markets. In 2010 NASA awarded contracts totaling more than $1.5 billion to Colorado aerospace companies, earning the state a fourth-place ranking nationally.
More than 400 consulting, engineering, manufacturing, and supplier companies provide space-related products and services in Colorado. These companies machine precision parts and manufacture optical and remote sensing equipment; they serve as the innovative backbone of the state’s aerospace cluster, supplying the primes with instrumentation and composite materials, on the one hand, and taking risks deploying innovative technologies in the marketplace on the other. Fully 69 Colorado companies have won technology development and commercialization grants since 2001 via NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research or/Small Business Technology Transfer program, and a further 193 companies have won similar grants to develop technologies for the Department of Defense.
Colorado is at the center of global innovation in the aerospace and space industry, hosting the National Space Symposium annually in Colorado Springs.