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OM in the News: Cluster Analysis in the Mojave Desert

January 3, 2014
Cluster of 17 "New Space" companies in Mojave Desert

Cluster of 17 “New Space” companies in Mojave Desert

IT BEGAN with a boom. In 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier. He flew from Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, America’s main center for experimental military flights. This base was out-of-the-way of prying eyes and surrounded by landscape into which a crash (and there were many) would not inconvenience anyone. Now, reports The Economist (Dec.21,2013-Jan. 4, 2014), the Mojave Desert is emerging as the site of a cluster of what has come to be known as New Space.

The center of activity is 20 miles from Edwards, around the Mohave civilian airfield, now dubbed the Mojave Air and Space Port (see photo). Today, 17 rocket and space-related companies operate in the Air and Space Port. Most hope to make their money from launching satellites. Two, though, plan to enter the trade of taking tourists into space. Scaled Composites has designed and built SpaceShipTwo, a rocket plane intended to carry paying passengers to 100km above Earth using a hybrid rocket engine. Competitor XCOR’s vehicle, Lynx, plans to fly this year.  It, too, is a rocket plane, but is designed to take off from a runway under its own power.

Stratolaunch Systems proposes to take the air-launched-rocket principle and push it to the limit.  Orbital Sciences makes an air-launched rocket, Pegasus, which is used to put satellites into orbit, and the firm also has a contract to resupply the International Space Station. Firestar Technologies is developing a liquid fuel that requires only one tank and no complicated mixing mechanism in the motor, which simplifies engineering. Interorbital Systems is designing small, cheap rockets that can be strapped together in bundles, using as many as are necessary to lift a given payload into orbit.

Mojave is the U.S.’s latest technology cluster (which we discuss in Chapter 8, Location Analysis–see Table 8.3), with firms both competing and collaborating, and a mixture of large and small companies.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. How is this location cluster similar to other high-tech clusters? Different?

2. Why do these firms choose to be near one another?

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