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SpaceX opens office in Alabama to be 'part of Rocket City'

October 28, 2010 |  3:31 pm


Space Exploration Technologies Corp. quietly opened a new office Thursday in Huntsville, Ala., dubbed "Rocket City" for its long history with U.S. space missions.

The company, better known as SpaceX, tried to keep the news under the radar, but it was revealed in an online press release by Huntsville Space Professionals, a nonprofit group that aims to put local unemployed aerospace professionals to work.

Kirstin Brost, a SpaceX spokeswoman, said the company didn't issue a release on the new office because it will be small, employing just a "handful" of workers.

"The location was chosen because of the proximity to key government partners and customers," she said. "We want to be part of 'Rocket City.'"

The office is in Cummings Research Park, a business park whose occupants include aerospace giants such as Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. It's near the U.S Army's Space and Missile Defense Command acquistion center and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

There is also a large, unemployed talent pool ready to be tapped, said Andrew Sutinen, director of Huntsville Space Professionals.

Sutinen estimated that about 900 Huntsville aerospace workers have been put out of work since President Obama announced the cancellation of the Constellation program, which would’ve put astronauts back on the moon by 2020, and sent NASA in a new direction.

SpaceX currently employs more than 1,100 people, most in California. The firm makes its rockets in a sprawling facility in Hawthorne that once housed the production line for Boeing's 747 jumbo jet.

The news comes just weeks before a key launch of its Dragon spacecraft, a cargo capsule that might one day carry astronauts into space, which is now slated for Nov. 18.

In June, SpaceX’s nine-engine rocket, the Falcon 9, made its maiden flight from a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX after becoming a multimillionaire in Silicon Valley. He poured most of his personal fortune into the venture.

The Falcon 9 launch marked a major milestone in efforts to shift spacecraft development -- which has long been dominated by governments and large, established aerospace firms -- to privately funded start-ups.

In addition to the Hawthorne and Huntville locations, SpaceX has employees in Texas and Florida -- both NASA nerve centers.

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: The SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket lifts off at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in June. Credit: Matt Stroshane / Getty Images