Since the dawn of the space age, Utah has dreamed of becoming a port of call for the aerospace industry.
The dream is finally coming true. Virtually every U.S. mission launched into the heavens now carries some piece of Utah with it. Utah-made technology is lifting men into space and allowing kids to talk to Mom in Arizona via fiber optics and satellite communications.And with Utah scientists and firms winning the state a name in the space hall of fame, officials are ready to cash in on the industry they hope will make the trek to the Wasatch Front.
It's already begun. Technologies and companies that were only dreams in 1979 are providing jobs in 1989 and have the potential to bring in megabucks by 1999.
With the decline of U.S. smokestack industries in the past decade, Utah's economy, like that of other states, has shifted toward high technology. And aerospace has led the way. For every Kennecott, there are now a dozen Evans & Sutherlands; for every Geneva, 25 Globesats.
A survey of 266 high-tech industries operating in Utah during 1987 showed a total of $3.16 billion in sales. Of those, seven aerospace equipment and systems firms accounted for $1.4 billion in sales, up 10 percent from 1986.
Well-known Hercules and Morton Thiokol are on the list. But so are RI Corp. and FlameCo Engineering - hardly household names yet for most Utahns. It's just such relative unknowns that officials are banking on to make the future of the state's aerospace economy.
The money is just beginning to roll in, say industry and state officials.
"I think we have the potential of growing as fast as we can expand," said Lynn Blake, director of business development in the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, adding, "The importance of our total technical base in Utah is increasing about 10 percent a year. The aerospace portion of that will increase even faster."
"Right now, we're gearing up for the aerospace firms," said Stan Nance, a budget specialist with the economic development office.
Utah companies already are finding a wealth of business in small-satellite development, proving that small can be profitable.
The state has become home to numerous satellite firms that provide communication and information links around the globe.
Firms with names like Intraspace and Globesat, along with heavier-weight contenders such as Hercules Aerospace, are reaching to the skies with small satellites that have a relatively low, $25 million price tag.
And the "cheapsats," as they are known, offer a world of possibilities to a variety of users who would be shut out if they had to fork over $500 million or more for larger satellites.
Trucking and railroad companies could use satellites to track shipments more effectively, and retail chains could relay inventory information between cities within the same marketing region.
L. Rex Megill is one of the dreamers who is helping to create the state's aerospace future. He left his electrical engineering and physics position at Utah State University in 1984 to start Globesat because lab work wasn't enough for him.
"University research programs rarely finish (projects) up to a product. Somebody else has to put the knobs on." Megill wants to see a satellite project through from start to launch.
What Globesat offers is a general-purpose satellite that sits in a low earth orbit. Larger satellites need higher placement in orbit and require space ships such as the shuttle to put them into line.
But smaller satellites, such as the ones proposed by Globesat and Intraspace, can be placed in orbit by expendable launch vehicles such as smaller rockets and missiles, saving customers' money.
Big companies such as Hercules are also benefiting from this small-is-beautiful movement. Hercules Aerospace and Orbital Sciences have teamed to produce Pegasus, a winged rocket that can be launched piggyback from a B-52. Pegasus would allow satellites of about 200 pounds to be launched into a low earth orbit at half the cost of conventional launches.
Utah's commitment to building a space industry already is attracting attention from Southern California entrepreneurs with dreams of their own.
Bob D'Ausilio had been working for Western Union on large communications satellites when the space shuttle Challenger disaster put everything on hold. He had worked on small, space-based testing and was considering spinning off on his own.
D'Ausilio decided to move to North Salt Lake and start his company, Intraspace, because of the support he received from Utah and Davis County officials.
"We found a way to enhance a business plan ahead two years," D'Ausilio said. "So it was worth it to me to move to Utah. Now I really know it was a good business move," since he now is sitting on two healthy contracts for small satellites for the military.
The Connecticut native plans on hiring a substantial number of people at all levels within the year because of those contracts, which he said came from the efforts of Utah officials who helped him secure a facility and backing.
Although D'Ausilio likes Utah and is glad he moved, he and others still are concerned by the lack of needed support services for aerospace in the state.
D'Ausilio still travels to Southern California to buy supplies. While he jokes that he can fly to his destination and get there faster than when he had to drive to work in California, it would be nicer to have those supplies here.
"Why should a company move into an area if you don't have the infrastructure?" he said.
State science advisor Randy Moon hopes to interest more companies in providing the goods and services for aerospace and aviation, from widgets to special cleaning processes.
"If you have only one or two isolated" companies doing that, "it's pretty tough to create an infrastucture," he said.
Creating that infrastructure means helping companies start up and letting those companies already producing products know about the wealth of funds available from federal contracts. The state now is focusing more effort on helping those companies.
Hill Air Force Base, for example, bids out $1.4 billion a year in contracts. Four years ago, Utah companies got 3 percent of those contracts. Thanks to state efforts to inform and assist local bidders, Utah firms last year got 11 percent.
The process involves educating the public, lawmakers and companies on what is available in Utah and enticing firms to see the future in air and space.
"The things that we are doing are not only strengthening what's here but having them diversify" so what can go on the space station can go on an airplane with minor revisions, said Blake. That way "we're not tied to a one-horse product."
The one-horse employers of Kennecott and Geneva are gone, as are the days when most of Utah depended on the mines and mud to make a living. Looking to the skies can add to the state's outlook, and its citizens' checkbooks.