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Huntsville Talks Space Technology at SXSW

Left to right: Mark Ciotola, Lucia Cape, John Roth, Olivia Holzhaus, and Heath Mills at SXSW in Austin in March 2022.

The Chamber took its Smart Place message to Austin, Texas, in March as part of the South by Southwest (SXSW) technology, film and music conference. This year’s event featured a Space Rush Summit as part of the Technology Track that focused on the future of space. The Chamber applied in July 2021 for a spot as part of the Panel Picker program that allows the public to vote for panel proposals, and we were notified in November that the panel had been selected.

The panel content was based on our ongoing efforts to create demand to land the Sierra Space Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport. Entitled “Microgravity: The Commercial Case for R and D,” the panel featured John Roth, Vice President of Business Development for Sierra Space; Olivia Holzhaus, founder and CEO of Rhodium Scientific; Mark Ciotola, CEO of Sustain Space; and Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s Senior Vice President of Economic Development, who moderated the panel.

About 50 people attended the session, and many more attended a coffee break and happy hour hosted by the partners before and after the session. The team was also invited to a dinner the night before with other Technology Track speakers.

Last year Sierra Nevada Corporation, which developed the Dream Chaser, announced that its space division would become Sierra Space, a subsidiary that would manage the Dream Chaser and other space activities including Orbital Reef, the commercial station being developed in partnership with Blue Origin.

The Chamber has been working with the Dream Chaser team since 2015 to raise awareness and support for the space plane as a key feature of Huntsville’s commercial space economy. The Dream Chaser enables payloads to land gently and be accessed quickly. Platforms like the Dream Chaser also allow for more frequent access to space and shorter turnaround from orbit to the laboratory.

In 2017 the Chamber co-sponsored a competition with the European Space Agency to identify commercial applications for the Dream Chaser. The winner was Sustain Space, and the CEO and his team traveled to Huntsville in 2018 as part of their prize package. They were introduced to HudsonAlpha and have been engaged with them since in advancing plant growth cycles to increase nutrition and resilience for use on Earth and in space.

The Rhodium team of Founder and CEO Olivia Holzhaus and Chief Scientific Officer Heath Mills joined the team in 2018 at the suggestion of Sierra Space. Rhodium facilitates on-orbit payloads at “the speed of business” while providing the quality assurance expected from land-based laboratories.

The message of the panel was that microgravity can provide the environment for not only scientific research but also applied research and development of products that are valuable to the medical, manufacturing and agriculture industries. With the reduced cost and higher reliability of access to low Earth orbit enabled by commercial launch providers and on-orbit platforms, the return on investment for companies will become undeniable. Companies that are prepared to take advantage of research and development in microgravity will be ahead of the rest.

Here is more information about the Chamber’s Dream Chaser efforts.

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