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Colorado U.S. Senators Introduce Bill to Honor Edward J. Dwight, Jr. as a Pioneer in Space and Civil Rights

Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse introduced the Edward J. Dwight, Jr. Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2023 to honor the life and legacy of Ed Dwight Jr. days before he made history at 90-years-old as the oldest person on Earth to travel to space upon Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft.

Dwight first made history in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy invited him to join the U.S. Air Force’s astronaut training program as the country’s first African American astronaut candidate.

However, he was never granted the opportunity to fly to space due to racism within the program.

After completing his military service, Dwight moved to Denver, where he became an IBM engineer. He later opened a restaurant and worked as a real estate developer before pursuing his passion for sculpting full-time. Today, Dwight’s sculptures are collected by museums, institutions and art enthusiasts around the world, including the Smithsonian.

The Congressional Gold Medal would recognize Dwight’s historic service, example of excellence despite adversity, and contributions to art and Black history.

“Ed Dwight is one of our country’s greatest living legends,” said Bennet. “Despite racism and prejudice, Ed never stopped reaching higher and became a trailblazer in the worlds of art, science, aviation, and now, space travel. His successes are Colorado’s successes. It is a privilege to one day recognize Ed’s place in American history with the highest honor bestowed by the United States Congress.”

READ: 4 Ways Colorado Continues to Lead America’s Aerospace Industry

“Colorado’s Ed Dwight made history in 1961 when he was the first African American considered to be an astronaut,” said Hickenlooper. “Yesterday he made history again as the oldest person to go to space!”

“While serving our country in the United States Air Force, Ed Dwight Jr. broke barriers by becoming the first African American to enter a training program from which NASA selected potential astronauts. In the years since his time in service, he’s continued to make his mark on our nation — producing notable sculptures of historic Black Americans that are now landmarks in communities across the country, including the city of Denver.  As he fulfills his life-long dream and rocket into space, I am honored to be leading an effort with Senator Bennet to award Ed with a Congressional Gold Medal,”said Neguse.

“Ed Dwight, the first Black astronaut candidate deserves to receive the Congressional Gold Metal,” said Patricia Duncan, Colorado activist and author. “Senator Bennet’s bill will honor a man who lived out [his] lifelong dream by going up in space as [Ed] continues to be a mentor to Astronaut Victor J. Glover who will be going to the moon in the future. [This bill] awards a humble man receiving all the recognition [he has] earned and deserves.”

“I would like to sincerely thank Senator Bennet for recognizing and acknowledging my father, Ed Dwight’s contributions to Colorado, our culture, and the country as a whole,” said Tamara Rhone, Dwight’s daughter. “It means so much to me and my family as I know he appreciates that he is not forgotten in this journey to be a positive example for others to follow.”

In 2020, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond presented Dwight with the Commander’s Public Service Award and inducted him as an honorary member of the Space Force, for his contributions to the United States, space and history.

4 Ways Colorado Continues to Lead America’s Aerospace Industry

If space really is the real frontier, Colorado is a critical outpost at the edge of the wilderness.

The state’s long legacy as an aerospace hub has provided a launchpad into the new era of commercial space. Many ongoing projects seem to have been lifted straight out of science fiction, from asteroid mining to next-generation space stations to optics that can see the history of the universe.

READ: Colorado’s Aerospace Industry Booms — From the Front Range to Outer Space

This innovation isn’t happening in Colorado by random chance.

“What we have is the best-on-the-planet aerospace ecosystem,” says Robert Beletic, aerospace and defense industry manager at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). “It’s like nowhere else and it’s because of several factors. Success breeds success.”

He cites a pair of key statistics: 37,000 private aerospace jobs and $13 billion of annual industry output. “We have more people working in aerospace per capita than any other state, or any other country, for that matter,” says Beletic. “California actually has the largest aerospace ecosystem, but it’s not much bigger than ours, and they have seven times the population.”

The longtime presence of military, academia and major aerospace companies has fostered a talent pool that has catalyzed dozens of ambitious startups, he adds. “It’s a bunch of separate reinforcing pieces that work together synergistically.”

Good defense

The chief of mission operations for True Anomaly, Tom Nichols met his co-founders during his military career while serving in the U.S. Space Force’s 4th Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Space Force Base east of Colorado Springs.

Launched in early 2022, the company quickly surpassed 100 employees as it raised a $17 million Series A and $100 million Series B in 2023. Its mission control facility is in Colorado Springs, and its spacecraft manufacturing facility, a.k.a. GravityWorks, is in Centennial.

“I was 11 years active-duty military as a space operations officer,” Nichols says. “It was a very safe, peaceful domain, and in our careers, we saw the development of capabilities to degrade, destroy, or deny our U.S. space capabilities.”

True Anomaly seeks to counter that with satellites designed for “rendezvous and proximity operations,” he says. “Our satellites are focused on getting in close proximity to other satellites and taking pictures.”

The launch window of True Anomaly’s first two spacecraft is March 2024. Nichols forecasts the company will be manufacturing a satellite a week with 200 employees by 2025.

While the company considered manufacturing in Florida, Texas or California instead of Colorado, the Centennial State won out largely because of its talent pool. Nichols, echoing Beletic’s description of the three-legged stool of military, academia and the private sector, also points to “proximity to customers” at the state’s U.S. Space Force bases (Schriever, Peterson and Buckley).

Beletic points to his alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy, as the prime conduit for the Space Force. “You have more than 50 percent of the U.S. Space Force in this state, three of the six bases but probably 60 percent of the assets,” he says.

READ: The Colorado Aerospace Industry is Combating an Alarming Pilot Shortage — Here’s How

Stellar smarts

Beletic is quick to note that Colorado’s military talent does not exist in a vacuum.

“The universities are the best in the world for aerospace. CU Boulder produces one out of every four astronautical engineering Ph.D.s in this country, and it has more students studying aerospace than any other university on the planet. Colorado School of Mines has the first extraterrestrial mining program.”

Within CU Boulder’s Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Science, the flagship Smead Program brings together graduate students, faculty and visiting professors to conduct cutting-edge research.

“We just hit our 77th anniversary as a department,” says Smead Director Chris Muldrow. “Primarily, it was focused on aeronautics to start with, but then as space became much more of a topic of conversation in the ’50s, we started bridging out into that area as well.”

Today, Muldrow says “the triad” of defense, research and industry are feeding a wave of “new space” startups, and many such seeds are planted at CU Boulder.

“We actually have a very robust startup community on our campus. We have sources for our faculty and our students to get that entrepreneurial experience while they’re at CU, and then go build some startups.”

He points to Smead faculty member Scott Palo, CEO of Niwot-based Blue Cubed, a manufacturer of satellite communications systems, and former faculty member Bradley Cheetham, president and CEO of Boulder-based Advanced Space, which helps customers with flight dynamics and technology development.

“There is so much interest and engagement in what’s happening in the new space area,” says Muldrow. “I think there’s still that relevance between the government and large industry and academia. The new space companies today and the commercial ones that are starting up are leveraging technologies that have been built over decades of R&D.”

He adds, “SpaceX has done amazing things in our industry, but they would not have done nearly as much as they did as quickly as they did if some of those basic rocket technologies were not developed from the ’40s and ’50s to the present.”

Muldrow says CU Boulder is collaborating with Star Harbor, which is developing a mixed-use space flight training facility and R&D campus on 53 acres in Lone Tree. His experience meeting with Star Harbor leaders led him to believe Colorado has to emulate Florida and tell its story about being a space powerhouse. “Even insiders didn’t realize what we had going on here,” Muldrow says.

READ: The Stars Are Aligning for Colorado Aerospace

A virtuous cluster

OEDIT’s Beletic says major players like Lockheed Martin (where Muldrow worked for 13 years), United Launch Alliance, Ball Aerospace and Sierra Space give military and academic talent numerous career options within Colorado.

“Lockheed Martin’s building the Orion spacecraft that will take us back to the moon, and it’s already own,” he says. “[Ball] built the optics on the James Webb Space Telescope, which can look farther out in space than we’ve ever seen before. This is to me is like science fiction: It can look back 13 billion years to within a couple hundred million years of the Big Bang.”

These big companies have a gravity of their own, but it’s conducive to entrepreneurs looking to take flight with startups.

Beletic points to Denver-based satellite maker York Space Systems and Ursa Major Technologies, Berthoud-based manufacturer of 3D-printed rocket engines, as two fast-rising companies.

“All this feeds on each other. So now let’s say you’re the best at building solar panels or you’re the best at building the radiation coating protection for solar panels. Guess where you want to be? You want to be in Colorado.

” He’s quick to point out that Lockheed and others rely on a network of machine shops, software developers and other suppliers, noting, “62 percent of our aerospace companies have 10 or fewer employees.”

Growing the map

Not all of this activity is taking place on the Front Range. Case in point: Agile Space Industries manufactures and tests rocket propulsion systems in Durango.

Now employing more than 60 people, the business spun o from Advanced Mobile Propulsion Test (AMPT), launched by Agile founder Daudi Barnes in 2009. The two sister companies merged into a single entity in 2019 and closed on a $13 million seed round with participation from Lockheed Martin Ventures in 2023.

Leveraging additive manufacturing and chemical propulsion systems, Agile has already shipped its first flight hardware, with much more in the pipeline.

“We expect them to be landing on the moon later this year, which we’re very excited about,” says COO David Cuthbertson. “We have other hardware that is nearing completion for launch systems, and a third set of different hardware that will be delivered in [mid-2024] for a satellite constellation.”

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Cuthbertson worked in oil and gas before an opportunity with Agile lured him to Colorado. Quality of life was a big part of the decision to take the job and move his family to Durango.

“We’re committed to opening up the Western Slope,” Cuthbertson says. “I see a lot of the companies actually shifting their headquarters to Denver and moving to Denver, which is great for Colorado in general, but it’s gotten really crowded, and there’s a lot of beautiful space out here on the Western Slope.”

Durango, Montrose and Grand Junction “have a great industrial base,” he adds. “The heritage oil and gas folks, who are craftsmen in their own right, are providing the industrial base for much of Colorado. Those skill sets are really applicable to what we do in aerospace.”

Another benefit to Agile’s operations: elevation.

“We test things in a vacuum, so we’re trying to replicate the in-space environment,” Cuthbertson says. “[Durango’s 6,512-foot elevation] actually reduces the amount of energy taken to replicate an in-space environment, a vacuum system, because we’re already at a lower atmospheric pressure.”

And the coastal launch paradigm won’t be dominant forever. Cuthbertson thinks places like Durango check all of the boxes. “As we move toward a spaceport with vertical launch and vertical landing, you’re no longer constrained by geographical location because you want to go up versus necessarily horizontal trajectories,” he explains. “Right now, folks who are establishing the spaceports have surged away from the large populations.”

Countdown to the future

From high-precision machine shops to the recent federal designation as a quantum hub, the planets have aligned in a big way in Colorado.

Beletic thinks the sky — make that deep space — is the limit.

“The future is super bright,” he says. “We have the best aerospace ecosystem on the planet. We have all the pieces. If you were building a football team, you wouldn’t want just quarterbacks, you’d want linemen and halfbacks, defensive ends, you name it. We have all those pieces.”

Why Colorado Needs Sustainable Power Solutions for Modern Aviation

In recent times, there’s been a growing call for sustainable power solutions in modern aviation. As the aviation industry aims to cut down on its carbon footprint and address climate change concerns, finding alternative energy sources has become a top priority. 

READ: United Airlines & MSU Denver Join Forces to Tackle Pilot Shortage

Challenges in traditional aviation energy

Traditional aviation relies heavily on fossil fuels, contributing not just to greenhouse gas emissions but also to depleting finite resources. The unpredictability of oil prices and the geopolitical complexities linked to oil dependency further complicate matters. Additionally, the weight and volume of aviation fuel increase operational costs and constrain aircraft payload capacity. These challenges have spurred the industry to seek alternatives that are environmentally friendly, economically viable and uphold safety and efficiency.

One major hurdle faced by the aviation sector is the environmental impact of traditional aviation energy. The combustion of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases, exacerbating climate change. This has heightened pressure on the industry to explore sustainable alternatives.

Beyond environmental concerns, the reliance on fossil fuels poses economic challenges. Oil prices’ volatility and susceptibility to geopolitical tensions make it hard for airlines to forecast and manage fuel costs, affecting their profitability and ability to offer competitive prices.

Moreover, the weight and volume of aviation fuel directly impact operational costs and aircraft payload capacity. Increased fuel weight results in higher consumption and a reduced payload, affecting both efficiency and the ability to transport cargo and passengers profitably.

READ: Becoming a Zero-Emissions State — How Alternative Fuels Are Transforming Transportation in Colorado

Emerging technologies in sustainable aviation

The aviation industry continually seeks innovative solutions to minimize its environmental impact and transition to a more sustainable future. Several emerging technologies have garnered attention for their potential to transform the industry. Let’s delve into some of these technologies.

1. Solar and electric technologies

Solar and electric technologies are promising sustainable power solutions for aviation. Solar-powered aircraft, equipped with photovoltaic cells, have completed successful long-duration flights, harnessing the sun’s power for clean and renewable energy. While limitations in energy storage currently restrict their use for larger planes, they hold potential for short-haul flights and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Electric propulsion systems are being explored as potential replacements for conventional jet engines. These systems use electric motors, eliminating the need for fossil fuels and offering lower emissions and reduced noise pollution. Ongoing research aims to develop efficient electric propulsion systems for commercial aviation.

READ: How E-Bikes Will Transform the Transportation Economy in Colorado in 2024

2. Ground power units: A game-changer

In the dynamic landscape of aviation and aerospace operations, ground power units (GPUs) emerge as a game-changer, revolutionizing the way aircraft are serviced on the ground. These indispensable units play a pivotal role in supplying power to aircraft systems, ensuring a seamless and efficient turnaround between flights.

The environmental impact of aviation has become a critical consideration in the industry. Ground power units contribute significantly to sustainability efforts by allowing aircraft to switch off their onboard auxiliary power units (APUs) during ground operations. By utilizing external power sources like GPUs, aircraft can minimize fuel consumption and emissions, aligning with the global push for greener aviation practices.

3. Biofuels and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)

Biofuels have emerged as another sustainable power solution. Derived from renewable sources like plant oils, algae and waste products, biofuels offer a cleaner alternative to traditional jet fuels. Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), produced through advanced biofuel technologies, has been successfully tested in commercial flights, significantly reducing carbon emissions.

4. Hybrid propulsion systems

Hybrid propulsion systems, combining traditional and electric propulsion, provide another avenue for sustainable aviation. These systems use electric motors with combustion engines, enhancing efficiency and reducing emissions. Hybrid-electric aircraft in development aim to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, contributing to a greener and more sustainable aviation industry.

Challenges and considerations

Despite the promise of sustainable power solutions in aviation, several challenges must be addressed. High research and development costs, along with the scale-up of sustainable technologies, present financial barriers. The lack of infrastructure for alternative refueling and recharging poses a challenge, as do safety regulations and certification processes that need updating to accommodate new technologies. Achieving widespread adoption requires collaboration among stakeholders, including airlines, aircraft manufacturers, governments and research institutions.

Charting the course to a greener sky

In conclusion, sustainable power solutions offer a promising avenue for reducing the environmental impact of modern aviation. Technologies such as solar and electric systems, biofuels and hybrid propulsion provide viable alternatives to traditional aviation energy. Overcoming challenges and ensuring widespread adoption necessitate continued innovation, investment and collaboration. Embracing sustainability in aviation can pave the way for a greener and more environmentally friendly future of air travel.


Eric Barton is an accomplished writer with a passion for delving into the intricate world of aviation and mechanics. Armed with a strong educational background and hands-on experience in the aerospace industry, Eric has emerged as a sought-after expert in specific areas, including avionics, propulsion systems, and structural engineering.

Made in Colorado (Winter 2023): Capella Space’s High-Resolution Satellites

There’s a common misconception that the United States doesn’t manufacture much anymore. In reality, the country continues to out-manufacture China on a per capita basis, and domestic growth outpaced the global average for the first time in years in late 2022.

Colorado is a case in point. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that employment in Colorado’s manufacturing sector peaked in 1998 at 192,200 workers. That plummeted to 122,200 employees in 2010, but the state’s manufacturing workforce has steadily grown to surpass 150,000 as of late 2023.

With these dynamics front and center, this year’s “Made in Colorado” profiles illuminate 10 of the state’s pioneering manufacturers, makers of whiskey, satellites and just about everything in between. Today, we’re highlighting Autonomous Tent Co, the world’s first movable five-star hotel.

READ: Inside the Colorado Semiconductor Industry Renaissance — CHIPS Act Sparks Manufacturing Revival

Capella Space

Aerospace & Aircraft

Louisville, Colorado


While Capella Space is headquartered in San Francisco, the company planted its manufacturing flag in Boulder County within a year of its founding in 2016.

The first company in the U.S. to commercialize synthetic aperture radar (SAR), Capella launched its first prototype in 2018. That was followed in 2020 by Capella-2, a satellite capable of producing the world’s highest-resolution commercial SAR imagery, primarily for applications in defense and disaster response.

It’s all about seeing the 75 percent of the planet that’s under the dark of night or cover of clouds or smoke at any given time. “We design, build and operate our own satellites, and those satellites can image the Earth through rain, smoke, clouds, daytime, nighttime,” says Mack Koepke, Capella’s VP of global sales and marketing. “Our satellite systems send a radio signal to Earth, and that radio signal bounces back from Earth to our satellite system. Depending on how that radio signal interacts with what it touches on Earth, you start to gain a picture of what is going on, on Earth.”

There’s a reason the startup immediately looked to establish manufacturing in Colorado. “It was such a rich pool of talent that we frankly just couldn’t pass up,” Koepke says. “We really wanted to ensure that we had a footprint here in Colorado to leverage the excellent workforce that comes out of places like the University of Colorado, as well as some of the legacy aerospace companies that we have, like Ball Aerospace, Lockheed and others.”

The company, which has raised more than $200 million in venture capital to date, has expanded its Colorado facility twice and now occupies a 32,000-square-foot space in Louisville with about 50 employees.

“This larger facility allows us to actually increase the throughput and volume of satellites that we manufacture,” Koepke says. “With this newer facility, we’re actually going to be able to build at least one a month.” With a dozen satellites in orbit as of late 2023, Capella could double its constellation in a year at that rate.

Koepke says Capella eschews slow and methodical protocol in favor of a nimbler design and manufacturing model. “That allows us to take a clean sheet of paper, design a satellite system, and go all the way to production and actually build one of those systems in a really short amount of time,” he explains. “For us, a clean sheet to an operational satellite system can be 12 to 18 months, whereas on a legacy system, that might be on a timeline of seven to 10 years.”


Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

United Airlines & MSU Denver Join Forces to Tackle Pilot Shortage

Metropolitan State University of Denver is partnering with Aviate, United Airline’s pilot career-development program, to combat the nation’s pilot shortage by putting more aspiring aviators in the flight deck.

MSU Denver is the only four-year university in Colorado to partner with United’s Aviate program, which offers a secure pathway and a conditional job offer as a United first officer. Former and current MSU Denver students and instructors who meet eligibility requirements are able to apply.

READ: The Colorado Aerospace Industry is Combating an Alarming Pilot Shortage — Here’s How

“For me it was just a very natural fit here in Denver,” said Marc Champion, vice president of Flight Operations for United Airlines and an MSU Denver Aviation alumnus. “We have one of the top aviation schools in the country, co-located with one of our biggest hubs.”

United intends to hire more than 10,000 pilots this decade. Once selected for the Aviate program, MSU Denver participants will continue to gain experience and build flight hours that will help them earn their commercial pilot’s licenses. Then participants will fly for an Aviate-participating United Express carrier or Part 135 operator (non-commercial operating carriers such as a private jet service or cargo carrier) to continue building flight hours before transitioning to United.

“United Airlines has been a longtime partner of the University, given our program’s history, reputation and accessibility in the heart of Denver,” said Kevin Kuhlmann, MSU Denver Aviation professor and lead in establishing partnerships with airline carriers. “Hundreds of MSU Denver alumni have successfully navigated the pipeline and moved on as industry leaders for United.”

MSU Denver student Morgan Katnik, one of the first students to be accepted into United’s Aviate program, inspects a plane at Fort Morgan Airport on July 15, 2023. Photo by Alyson McClaran

Morgan Katnik, a 25-year-old senior in MSU Denver’s Aviation and Aerospace Science Department, is one of the University’s first applicants to be accepted in the Aviate program. He’s most excited about the direct pathway and seamless transition once he completes the program, as well as the coaching he’ll receive from a United pilot.

“One of the biggest benefits for me was the real-world interview experience, so to speak,” said Katnik. “I was sitting in the same room waiting for my interview with more established career pilots, so that was a great a feeling to receive the same level of treatment.”

READ: FlyteCo Tower to Provide Scholarships for Women to Pursue Pilot’s License in Honor of One Year Anniversary

The need for new pilots like Katnik has never been greater. By the end of the decade, as more pilots retire, the shortage could approach 60,000, according to some estimates. That’s why, as post-pandemic air travel has surged, airlines, educators and the federal government are stepping up efforts to shore up the workforce.

Congress, which has until Sept. 30 to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, continues to grapple with solutions to the shortage, including a provision to extend the working age of pilots.

MSU Denver, meanwhile, earned special authorization by the FAA in 2021 that allows Aviation students at MSU Denver to apply for FAA Part 121 pilot jobs — expediting their path to major and regional carriers — after they complete 1,000 hours of flight time instead of 1,500 hours, under the FAA’s Restricted-Privilege Airline Transport Pilot authority.

And airlines are implementing their own pipeline programs, such as Aviate.

While addressing the pilot shortage is of the utmost important for the airline industry, diversity is also top of mind for major carriers, including United, Champion said.

“The perspective that individuals bring from diverse backgrounds and cultures helps us collectively make better decisions as an airline and Metropolitan State University of Denver tends to have robust outreach to underrepresented communities,” he said.

That perspective aligns with the mission of MSU Denver, one of the most diverse four-year institutions in Colorado. As of last fall, 31% of MSU Denver’s students who are on track to become professional pilots were people of color and 20% were women, the latter well above the industry standard of 6% in the U.S.

Champion said new generations of pilots bring a focus on technology and automation that previous generations didn’t see in their lifetimes.

He emphasized that new pilots entering the industry should stay on top of innovations to keep themselves competitive. He cited congestion in U.S. airspace as one of the major constraints to the industry’s growth and accommodation of the rising demand of people who want to travel.

“We need a lot of people who are not only working for the airlines but who are also looking to help solve some of those problems in the future,” he said. “How do we find ways of expanding the space that’s available to us or maximizing the space that’s available to us at our already-congested airports?

“There’s a lot of need for finding ways to make things more efficient, to use technologies that enable us to put airplanes closer together in the air and on the ground.”

Good News for Colorado: Space Command Headquarters will Remain in Colorado Springs

Space Command headquarters will remain in Colorado Springs after two-years of conflict over the potential relocation to Huntsville, AL. The decision preserves the nearly 1,400 Colorado jobs and annual economic impact of $1 billion reliant on Space Command’s HQ in Colorado Springs.

“The decision to keep Space Command in Colorado is in the best national security interests of the United States, and it respects what our military professionals have articulated all along,” said J. J. Ament, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “Colorado is a leader in the aerospace industry, and Space Command’s military and civilian workforce and their families, are valued in our communities. The Chamber and our partners worked tirelessly to advocate for Space Command remaining here, and we’re proud to support the lead efforts of the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. We’re especially grateful to Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper for their advocacy in elevating operational readiness over politics.”

READ: Colorado’s Aerospace Industry Booms — From the Front Range to Outer Space

Colorado is renowned for its access to talent and the state’s leadership role within the aerospace industry. Many unique space assets, including a highly cohesive ecosystem of aerospace companies, academic organizations, military partners and economic development groups work to make Colorado the best place for the aerospace industry. Colorado is also the nation’s #1 state for employment concentration in aerospace.

The state’s central location in the country also attracts aerospace industries and workers from coast to coast and globally. Simultaneously, the state’s abundance of high-tech companies are developing viable, cutting-edge technologies in fields such as renewable energy, cyber and quantum. This dynamic atmosphere for business growth further supports aerospace through cross-sector industries that advance aerospace development.

READ: The Colorado Aerospace Industry is Combating an Alarming Pilot Shortage — Here’s How

“Colorado is a unique and unmatched ecosystem of space and advanced industry, and with the second largest private space economy in the U.S., it’s where Space Command belongs,” said president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and executive vice president of the Denver Metro Chamber, Raymond H. Gonzales. “Space Command’s dedicated workforce plays a major role in our communities and in Colorado’s economic growth, development and prosperity. We’re thrilled to have Space Command remain in Colorado, and we’re proud to have advocated with our colleagues in Colorado Springs to keep this important headquarters in our state.”

To learn more about Colorado’s aerospace industry, view the Metro Denver EDC’s aerospace industry cluster study.

About the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce

For 156 years, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce has been a leading voice for Colorado’s business community. With a membership that spans the state, the Chamber is an effective advocate for small and large businesses. The Chamber’s family of organizations includes the Metro Denver EDC, the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation, the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, the Colorado Competitive Council and B:CIVIC. For more information, go to


About the Metro Denver EDC

Often called a “center of influence,” the Metro Denver EDC was the nation’s first regional economic development organization. A division of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, from Castle Rock to Fort Collins and Golden to Greeley, we represent the nine counties and 66 communities that contribute to our robust economy and incredible culture. As the economic development function of the broader Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the EDC serves a 9-county territory that represents two-thirds of the state’s population and three-quarters of the GDP.

Entrepreneur of 2023: Joe Laurienti

As an undergraduate at University of Southern California, Joe Laurienti was looking at a career building rocket engines, but the landscape was a bit monolithic at the time. 

“When I was leaving undergrad, if you wanted to work in propulsion, if you wanted to work in rocket engines, it was pretty much NASA or a big legacy prime,” he says. “The truth is you might work on one rocket engine during a 30-year career.” 

SpaceX and Blue Origin changed that dynamic by the end of the decade, “something I didn’t expect to happen in my lifetime,” says Laurienti, founder and CEO of Ursa Major Technologies in Berthoud. “They were taking a completely new approach.” 

The two companies’ emergence kicked off a confounding industry trend. “The shift I saw after them was private companies raising venture capital, but they were raising venture capital to try and be an also-ran to SpaceX or Blue Origin,” says Laurienti, now 33. “Quite literally, companies were raising money with the business plan of being in second place. 

Ursa Major Ripley Hotfire Test At Hq
Ursa Major Ripley hot-fire test

“What really struck me here was that it was not preordained that SpaceX or Blue Origin was going to own an entire market. They were first movers, and the analogy I use was that the first mover for the PC boom was IBM building a mainframe. Not that IBM lost market share or owned the entire market, it was that they innovated and brought a completely new, vertically integrated class to market that allowed Intel, AMD, Nvidia, to service Dell, Compaq, HP, Apple.” 

Laurienti founded Ursa Major Technologies in 2015 to focus exclusively on propulsion made via 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. “I don’t think Ursa Major would have existed without additive,” he says. “If our business model is not to prolong the notion of ‘first movers have to own the entire market, everybody else is an also-ran,’ we have to expand the market beyond what current capability calls for. To me, the only way to do that was to use really novel manufacturing so that we could iterate more quickly, we could bring more products to market, we could help 20 different launch companies. We could try to create the next 10 SpaceXes as opposed to just taking one shot on goal.” 

As a manufacturing engineer, Laurienti was familiar with 3D printing, but he didn’t see it used much for spacecraft before starting Ursa Major. “When Elon [Musk] bought a 3D printer at SpaceX, it was always printing chess pieces,” he remembers. “SpaceX is absolutely now printing and flying hardware, but the timing of Ursa Major’s genesis and 3D printing becoming much more ubiquitous in aerospace was really hand in hand.” 

Ursa Major Hq With Longs Peak And Mount Meeker
Ursa Major HQ

Founding Ursa Major by himself, Laurienti initially worked at his apartment and a coffee shop. He hired his first employees at a small attic office before the company needed space to start testing rocket engines in the real world. Ursa Major is now based on a 90-acre campus in Berthoud; the head count roughly doubled to 250 employees in 2022. The company has raised more than $130 million in venture capital to date. 

“I grew up out here, so I had some familiarity with the amount of aerospace industry that was out there,” Laurienti says. “On the talent side, we can bring in folks who are experienced from the companies out here, but for me, it was much more the upstream, supply-chain side. Manufacturing was becoming much more readily available with aerospace-grade machine shops.” 

After eight years of R&D and testing, the first missions powered by Ursa Major’s Hadley rocket engines are scheduled to blast off in summer 2023. “We should have at least two or three missions this year,” says Laurienti. “It’s a pretty big milestone to have not just our first attempt, but enough engines deployed to have multiple attempts.” 

Ursa Major HQ with orange logo
Ursa Major HQ

Laurienti says entrepreneurs shouldn’t take criticism personally. “I always like to tell entrepreneurs that the best feature you can develop is thick skin, because you’re going to have a lot of investors and customers and potential employees tell you no,” he says. “You’re going to hear that you’re crazy a lot, so thick skin is the number-one attribute of an entrepreneur.” 

Flexibility is another key: “Looking back, I think I’d go back and tell myself, ‘Just be ready to change your plans constantly.’ I definitely remember times when we’d set out for a year or a project or a customer obligation with these grandiose ambitions that have to turn 90 degrees at the drop of a dime.” 

That’s especially critical when it comes to making rocket engines. “You’ll put an engine on a test stand expecting to have your very first customer delivery, and then go blow it up,” he says.


Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer’s Colorado, Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming, Frommer’s Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver’s Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected]

Colorado’s Aerospace Industry Booms: From the Front Range to Outer Space

Colorado’s aerospace industry is thriving. From a mission to the moon to earth observation and quantum computing, the state’s companies and universities are contributing to the industry’s growth and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in space exploration and technology. With a rich history and a robust ecosystem of space and advanced industries, Colorado has become a hub of innovation and progress in this field.

READ: The Colorado Aerospace Industry is Combating an Alarming Pilot Shortage — Here’s How

In recent years, Colorado has seen significant advancements in space exploration and technology. From developing cutting-edge technologies in fields such as hypersonics, interplanetary spacecrafts, cyber and more, the state is at the forefront of innovation in the aerospace industry. This is evidenced by the high concentration of major space contractors in the state, with nine of the nation’s top aerospace companies having significant operations in Colorado.

Colorado-based companies play a significant role in NASA’s space exploration programs. The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and person of color on the moon, and more than 184 Colorado companies support its supply chain. The Artemis program has several crucial components, including the Orion spacecraft from Lockheed Martin, the Commercial Lunar Payload Delivery Services operated by Deep Space Systems, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Space, and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from Boeing. Northrop Grumman provides the solid rocket boosters, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) provides the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which helps propel the Orion spacecraft to the Moon.

Additionally, a Colorado-based company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), is developing a new rocket called Vulcan. The Vulcan Centaur is ULA’s next-generation rocket that will replace the Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles and will have its inaugural flight later this year. The Vulcan is designed to be more cost-effective, flexible, and reliable than its predecessors, with a reusable first stage and a wide range of configurations to meet various mission requirements for the U.S. Space Force, NASA, and commercial customers.

But it’s not just established companies that are making waves in Colorado’s aerospace industry. The state’s startup scene is thriving, with companies like Astroscale and Lunar Outpost developing innovative new technologies and business models. The state’s universities and research centers are also contributing to the industry’s growth, conducting cutting-edge research and educating the next generation of aerospace professionals.

READ: Top Company 2022 — Aerospace

All these developments and innovations were on display at the recent Aerospace Day at the Capitol, the largest yet with over 400 attendees and 55 exhibitors. Co-hosted by the AIAA Rocky Mountain Section, Aerospace States Associations, Colorado Business Roundtable, Colorado Space Business Roundtable, Colorado Chapter of Citizens for Space Exploration, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and Colorado Space Coalition, the event provided an opportunity for companies and attendees to network with the aerospace industry in Colorado and discuss the industry’s importance with state legislators.

The event was kicked off with a networking breakfast and the Senate reading the aerospace resolution, which underscored Colorado’s position as the top state in the U.S. for aerospace per capita, with over 30,000 aerospace workers and over 300 aerospace companies in the state. The Colorado General Assembly strongly urged and requested the federal government to “take action to preserve and enhance American leadership in space, spur innovation, and ensure our continued national and economic security by increasing funding for space exploration and activities.” During the lunch program, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera read the Aerospace Day Proclamation and her and Governor Polis gave brief remarks about the importance of the aerospace sector in the state.

Additionally, Colorado hosted the Space Symposium in mid-April, an annual event that brings together over 10,000 space enthusiasts from around the world. Held each spring in Colorado Springs, it is considered a leading showcase of the entire space community ecosystem.

The state of Colorado has long been a leader in the aerospace industry, and recent innovations and developments only serve to solidify its position. As the industry continues to evolve and innovate, Colorado will remain at the forefront of aerospace for years to come. 


Christie Lee
Christie Lee
Debbie Brown
Debbie Brown

Debbie Brown is president of the Colorado Business Roundtable and Christie Lee serves as Co-Chair of the Colorado Chapter of Citizens for Space Exploration and is the State and Local Affairs Director at ULA.

The Colorado Aerospace Industry is Combating an Alarming Pilot Shortage — Here’s How

With the nation’s second-largest aerospace economy, Colorado is home to more than 400 aerospace and aviation companies. To keep Colorado at the forefront of aerospace innovation, we must have a strong talent pipeline. Yet, our workforce is at a crisis point. There are millions of open jobs but people lack the skills needed to fill them. The aerospace industry faces an aging workforce and a limited pipeline of skilled talent, resulting in a lack of pilots and aviation and aerospace engineers.

READ: The Stars Are Aligning for Colorado Aerospace

Oliver Wyman estimates the aviation industry is facing a deficit of about 8,000 pilots, or 11% of the total workforce, and says the shortfall could reach 30,000 pilots by 2025. In 2021, Boeing forecasted the global industry’s need for 626,000 new maintenance technicians over the next two decades compared with 612,000 pilots. The average age of an aerospace engineer is 45.

As an industry, we must invest in educating, training and mentoring the next generation of talent. Wings Over the Rockies™ Museum launched Wings Aerospace Pathways (WAP) in 2019 to address these workforce challenges. WAP focuses on building aerospace skills and facilitating experiences that prepare middle and high school students for careers in aerospace and beyond. As an enrichment program, students come from a diverse array of school environments – online, homeschool, hybrid and traditional in-person schools. Each student spends one day per week at WAP participating in hands-on, experiential learning in a real-world context.

Students take a wide range of courses focused on project-based learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM). The skills learned, such as teamwork, problem-solving, design thinking and applied technology reach beyond aerospace and are skills needed in many fields. In addition, students have the ability to earn industry certifications and concurrent enrollment credits through Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology.

READ: Top Company 2022 — Aerospace

A unique component of Wing’s WAP is its mentoring program which pairs students up with professionals from Lockheed Martin, a longstanding industry partner, to help shape the next generation of aerospace industry professionals. Through a generous grant from Lockheed Martin for the 2021-22 school year, this program gives students the prerequisite skills needed to succeed, whether they go directly into the workforce or continue their studies in college. Building off technical skills learned in the middle school program, high schoolers hone their experience to attain certificates such as the FAA Part 107 Unmanned Aerial (Drone) Pilot, or participate in general avionics classes in conjunction with Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology.

Educating and preparing the next generation of aerospace professionals requires companies in the aviation industry to invest in mentorship and education programs. During the 2021-22 school year, Lockheed Martin volunteers helped provide guidance and mentorship to WAP classes in StellarXplorers and Rocketry. During the initial year, 12 mentors rotated becoming “regulars” to support the rocketry class and four of them were dedicated to the StellarXplorers class. The mentors showed students the Ansys Systems Took Kit which is software for digital mission engineering and systems analysis that Lockheed Martin uses to control satellites. The students had the opportunity to work on real-life applications and see how they operate within a nationwide competition of over 300 teams.

READ: Sarah Tiedeken O’Brien Leads With Mentorship in Mind

WAP mentors not only help guide students in the classroom but also practice for competitions and help secure internships. The Rocketry Program at Wings, now in its second year, continues to have mentors help students build the standard rockets kits, as well as student-designed and 3D-printed fins, nose cones, stabilizers and parachutes. The real-life experience that mentors bring to the students is vital to the student’s development as it allows them to understand more about what day-to-day life is like in the industry. The program has been such a success that WAP students are now returning as mentors.

A collaborative effort between non-profits, educators and aerospace industry companies is necessary to address the labor shortage our industry is facing. This is only the beginning of the challenges the industry may face, and it’s crucial that we all band together to address these growing concerns. Keeping Colorado’s economy thriving requires us to continue investing in the aerospace industry by feeding its talent pipeline. The next generation of aerospace industry professionals are bright, passionate and excited about their futures. Let’s continue to provide them with the skills and opportunities to thrive in this ever-changing industry that is shaping the future of our world.


John Barry 1Michelle Mcmahon No TextJohn Barry is president and CEO and Michelle McMahon is Director of Education/WAP for Wings Over the Rockies Museum. For more information visit, 

Top Company 2022: Aerospace

The outpouring of applications for this year’s Top Company awards is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of enterprises that do business in the state. Applications for the 35th annual awards numbered in the hundreds, and it was particularly encouraging to see so many companies rebounding from two years of COVID restrictions, with most posting revenue and employee gains approaching—and in some cases, exceeding—pre-pandemic numbers.

This year’s Top Company winners and finalists represent 13 industry categories, plus a startup category for companies in business less than four years. Entrants were judged on three criteria: outstanding achievement, financial performance and community involvement. The judging panel was made up of ColoradoBiz magazine’s editorial board and two representatives from the business community.

Winner — Barber-Nichols


Since 2015, Barber-Nichols has grown more than twofold – in terms both of revenue and its workforce, as the company has expanded from 72 employees to 180 in the past seven years. 

The Arvada-based firm provides pumps, compressors, turbine systems, rocket engine turbo pumps, motors and thermal management solutions across aerospace, cryogenics, defense and energy sectors. Barber-Nichols has been at the forefront of aerospace innovation for 50 years and is showing no signs of stopping.  

“BN continues to experience rapid growth in current business industries including undersea power and propulsion systems, thermal management systems, space-based applications and advanced power generation and energy storage,” the company says. 

To facilitate expansion, the company acquired property adjacent to its current campus. The new facility will improve manufacturing efficiency by consolidating BN’s machining, quality control and manufacturing support operations. By designing, manufacturing, and testing turbomachinery, Barber-Nichols continues to push the envelope of integrated engineering. 

Among the company’s goals: Continue 15% year-over-year growth in four product group areas; maintain a top-notch employee-centric culture with a 4.9 out of 5 Glassdoor score; and manufacture mission-critical products that impact the world. 

Meanwhile, the company is helping to develop the next generation of aerospace technicians, as it offers an apprenticeship program with Red Rocks Community College.