Explaining Southern California's economy

SpaceX claims its first victims as Rocketdyne lays off 100

elon musk

Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk watches Dragon's progress inside of SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne last May. Rocketdyne is firing, but he could be hiring.

Not SpaceX directly. NASA is backing off from running its own missions - and is turning over the servicing of the International Space Station to commercial space companies like SpaceX. Elon Musk's Hawthorne-based startup just recovered the capsule from its first mission to the ISS on a $1.6 billion contract. 

But the money that NASA is spending on SpaceX and others who are offering lower-cost private missions is money it won't be spending on Rocketdyne, which was sold in July by parent company United Technologies to GenCorp for $550 million.

So Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is lay ing off 100 employees, most in the San Fernando Valley,  the Daily News reports.

If commercial space traffic really takes off (the puns are impossible to avoid here), this could become more of a trend. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, long-term, for Rocketdyne and other's Southern California based workers. SpaceX has created the groundwork for the region to become a center of private, startup space companies. They'll be employers, and if they're successful, they could make rocket scientists more than smart. They could make them rich.


Hello, commercial space! SpaceX launches first Space Station supply mission



The era of commercial space flight officially begins. SpaceX has sent its first full resupply mission to the International Space Station.

It didn't go off without a hitch — although what hitch there was the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster's computers handled deftly as it blasted a cargo-laden Dragon capsule toward the International Space Station last night. 

Something went wrong with one engine, but the Falcon 9 was able to adjust in flight and continue the mission. According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 is the only rocket currently flying that can do this. 

Also, it looks extremely cool when launching at night in Florida (see above).

This is the first of 12 missions that SpaceX will undertake, to resupply the ISS in the wake of the cessation of Space Shuttle flights. The Hawthorne-based startup — whose CEO, Elon Musk, also runs electric carmaker Tesla — proved earlier this year that it could launch a capsule, rendezvous with the ISS, and return cargo to Earth via the old-school splashdown route. 


Mars Curiosity v. SpaceX: Running the numbers

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Grant Slater/KPCC

Members of the project leadership team pass out high fives to engineers from mission control before a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Sunday night. At $2.5 billion, the Curiosity mission equals what NASA has given to SpaceX in funding.

KPCC reporters had been talking to Southland scientists and engineers and counting down the days until NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — prepares to land on the Martian surface. Follow the series online.

The spectacular success of JPL in landing the Mars Curiosity rover on Mars last night followed hot of the heels of SpaceX's stunning demonstration that a commercial spaceflight company — and a startup, no less — could do what only governments had been able to do: send a capsule to the International Space Station and bring it back home.

The JPL rocket scientists in their now iconic powder-blue polo shirts (not to mention mohawks) and SpaceX's engineers in their L.A. casual-cool mission control room threads formed a vivid contrast with the buttoned-up (and tobacco-friendly) NASA vibe of old. Something new is definitely in the air, er...airless void of space, and much of it is being designed and built in Southern California. SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, just south of L.A, and JPL calls Pasadena home.


Who will rule the business of space? Humans...or robots?

SpaceX-Falcon 9


SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasts off, with a capsule en route to the International Space Station.


The SpaceX Dragon capsule, with solar panels deployed. After a successful servicing mission to the ISS, it returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific.



If SpaceX gets its way, we'll see more guys like this flying into space on its rockets.


Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic is building spacecraft entirely with private funding, to do space tourism and also provide services for NASA.

Curiosity: Robot Geologist and Chemist in One!

NASA/ JPL-Cal Tech

This artist's concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

Test Rover Aids Preparations in California for Curiosity Rover on Mars


Mars Science Laboratory mission team members ran mobility tests on California sand dunes in early May 2012 in preparation for operating the Curiosity rover.

Space for Sale


Are we entering a brave new era of commercial space flight? Some entrepreneurs certainly think so.

KPCC reporters have been talking to Southland scientists and engineers and counting down the days until NASA's most ambitious rover yet — Curiosity — prepares to land on the Martian surface. Follow the series online.

Sunday’s landing of the Mars rover Curiosity has generated a lot of excitement about the space program. And with the arrival of commercial space-exploration startups in the big way — see SpaceX and its Space Station servicing mission, Virgin Galactic and its push into space tourism and launch services for NASA — the Curiosity mission has also revived an old debate: Should we focus on sending robots, or people, into space? 

We’ve been asking ourselves that question ever since we started blasting rockets into the void. The physicist Stephen Hawking strongly backs manned flights. He believes that it's imperative to colonize outer space if humanity is to survive (the Earth won't last forever, and you never know if a catastrophic event will occur, such as an asteroid strike or runaway climate change).


Rocketdyne is only worth half an Instagram?

Mercer 10129

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

This Feb. 12, 2009 photo shows buildings at the old Rocketdyne facility, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, in the Simi Valley area near Los Angeles. The company was just sold for $550 million.

The success of SpaceX and its historic Space Station servicing mission put the space business in California back on the map. But the sale of on a space pioneer in the Golden State reminds us that the economy has changed. In the 1950s, high-tech meant aerospace and rocketry. In the second decade of the 20th century, those industries still command respect and inspire a romantic view of the future. But if you want to sell your company for billions, smartphones and photo-sharing apps are the way to go.

This encapsulates the rise of Silicon Valley and the decline of Southern California. Although SoCal can still turn in some good results. As I reported back in March, United Technologies decided to sell Rocketdyne — the company makes exactly what it sounds like it makes, rocket boosters — to fund a record-breaking $16.5-billion acquisition of Goodrich Corp. UT has now completed that sale, to GenCorp for $550 million, according to the L.A. Times.