A Rocket Renaissance on the Space Coast

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A renewed spirit of interstellar discovery is taking shape on the Space Coast—a growing energy toward commercial space innovation and entrepreneurialism that is being fueled in part by the work of Scott Henderson ’88 M.S., orbital launch director for Blue Origin. The private company is developing reusable rocket engines and launch vehicles that will dramatically lower the cost of access to space to support a vision where millions of people are living and working in space.

Beginning in 2014, Henderson led Blue Origin’s site search for its orbital launch complex, which would serve as the home to its orbital launch pad and a 21st-century manufacturing facility. After a two-year, multi-state evaluation process, the company landed on the Space Coast.

“There’s a certain cache about the Space Coast and its historical gravitas,” explains Henderson. “It’s where space happens in the U.S.”

Indeed, there’s something poetic about the next chapter of space innovation launching from the very foundations of its early explorers. Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, named for pioneering astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, will launch from a pad erected at the site of three former Atlas launch pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Blue Origin’s 750,000-square-foot rocket factory is located just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Exploration Park. Production of New Glenn will take place in this state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, with a first launch targeted for 2020.

While other rockets that launch from Cape Canaveral are built elsewhere, Blue Origin’s orbital launch operations—everything from manufacturing to launch and recovery—are all on the Space Coast, producing, partnering and launching a new era of space commercialization in Brevard County.

“Similar to the way Silicon Valley is the core for all things internet, Brevard County could be the nexus for the future of commercial space,” says Henderson. “Where everybody goes because it’s where the talent is, it’s where the creativity is, it’s where modern manufacturing is taking hold, it’s where the regulatory environment is good, and it’s a place where people want to live.”

Henderson himself has enjoyed a prestigious, multisector career on the Space Coast. After earning his undergraduate degree in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy, he spent 26 years in the military. His stint culminated as the commander of the 45th Launch Group at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where he led the team responsible for assembly, integration, test and launch of all Air Force and national security satellites. He transitioned that expertise into civilian space systems development at SpaceX and Raytheon before joining Blue Origin.

It was at KSC that Henderson learned about Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) and began his graduate studies in engineering management in the late ’80s.

“FIT is known for its high-quality technical education, and I chose the university because of that technical depth,” says Henderson. “Plus, there was a tight linkage between FIT and the Space Center, so it was kind of a natural choice.”

That technical prowess and industry connectivity has forged another natural collaboration between Henderson and Florida Tech. Through growing partnerships with FIT’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design (CAMID) and other university programs, Blue Origin hopes to complement its workforce and technology development initiatives.

CAMID helps U.S. companies advance their capabilities in globally competitive manufacturing methods while ensuring students are exposed to next-generation technology and ideas. CAMID’s applied research initiatives include implementation of the Digital Twin, design for quality/cost in additive manufacturing, development of secure IOT communication and the incorporation of augmented/virtual reality into design and production processes.

“We’ve reached out to the university as a partner to ensure that we communicate to the best and brightest,” says Henderson. “I fully expect we’re going to have FIT interns at Blue Origin very soon.”

Henderson’s Panther pride also runs in his family. His son, Will, earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry in 2016 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Florida. In his spare time, Henderson can be found at the Merritt Island Airport assisting his wife Sarah, a former Air Force pilot, who is building an experimental aircraft.

“It really feels like a new sense of energy,” he says. “Blue Origin is proud to help rekindle the excitement that was here back in the space heyday. If I can pass on that sense of wonder and pride of working in the space community to FIT students and graduates, then I am doing my part as an alumnus.”

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Christena Callahan is editor of Florida Tech Today magazine.

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