Anchored by the nation’s West Coast rocket launch range and a rich air and space legacy, the Central Coast is a prime launchpad for the new commercial space race and air-mobility innovation.
Vandenberg Space Force Base — the nation’s western launch range since 1957 and fast-growing commercial launch site — sits in the center of the region, with vendors, contractors and commercial partners spread throughout the Central Coast and a new commercial tech park in the works. Two nearby universities — Cal Poly and University of California-Santa Barbara — fuel innovation and develop a steady stream of talent (including astronauts!) and start-ups.
UCSB, with a leading science program, has $17 million in active NASA-sponsored research projects. Cal Poly, with a top aerospace engineering program, co-developed the CubeSat mini-satellite standard now used worldwide and supports NASA moon and Mars missions.
This rich ecosystem is fueling the future of air mobility, from high-power sensing equipment and lightweight components to electric air taxis and next-gen drones.
- Two space launch companies — Relativity and Astra — were awarded large state tax credits for plans to invest a combined $400 million and create a total of 1,700 jobs at Vandenberg and other locations
- Cal Poly, along with its sister campus in Pomona, received $10 million to establish new laboratories to test subsonic vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technologies in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory
- Goleta-based Deployable Space Systems, whose rollout solar arrays were used by NASA to upgrade the International Space Station, was acquired by the emerging space infrastructure portfolio company Redwire
- The Paso Robles airport, already used by Cal Poly for experimental launches, is pursuing FAA designation as a horizontal launch spaceport to meet growing demand to get small satellites in low-Earth orbit
- Santa Barbara-based Umbra secured a $950 million federal contract to further develop the ultra high-resolution radar imagery capabilities of its microsatellites. It also drew $32 million in equity investment
- Homegrown space companies hold an impressive number of NASA contracts, including Next Intent‘s work on every Mars Rover for the last two decades, Stellar Exploration thrusters powering a moon mission, Maverick Space Systems‘ satellite launch systems and ES Aero‘s development of the X-57 Maxwell electric plane
in defense contracts to regional companies since 2010
average annual wages
“We’ve got great partners in the area … that includes UCSB and Cal Poly SLO, and we believe that there’s a strong talent pool in Southern California.”
“This is a wonderful place to live, and easy to recruit top talent to move to this area. There’s already a really good workforce for remote sensing instrument development here in the area, plus a pretty good funding and VC environment to enable startups.”
“Space is the final frontier for the Central Coast economy, and Vandenberg is playing a key role.”
“None of our companies would exist in the way that we do but for the talent pool. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve committed so significantly to growing in California, that immense amount of talent.”
“There’s a lot of deep expertise there [at Vandenberg] in how to have robust government and commercial operations.”
“Vandenberg Space Force Base and the Central Coast can play a critical role in America’s commercial space ventures.”
ASSETS + RESOURCES
Continuing Cal Poly’s legacy in developing the CubeSat standard, the independent CubeSat Lab has supported 175+ missions, developed and launched 12 CubeSats in house, and conducted $25+ million in sponsored projects.
With top-ranked programs in engineering, aerospace and computer science, robust industry partnerships, the Prototype Vehicles Lab and other specialized equipment labs, the state university offers a pipeline of sought-after talent, resources and innovation to fuel the industry.
UCSB’s leading engineering and science programs hold $17 million in active NASA-sponsored research projects. With specialties in astronomy, planetary science and astrophysics, it’s also home to the Experimental Cosmology Group, which researches topics such as interstellar travel.
Aviation technical training program
Cuesta College, in partnership with ACI Jet (recently awarded Airport Business Project of the Year), is developing an aviation maintenance technical training program to meet the rapidly rising aviation workforce demand.
NPS field lab
Camp Roberts, on the northern edge of San Luis Obispo County, hosts the Naval Postgraduate School’s Joint Interagency Field Experimentation program (JIFX), where industry, academia and military collaborate on testing and demonstrating new technologies including autonomous drones, geospatial intelligence and cybersecurity.
Aerospace + Defense Companies
Explore the map to learn about the Defense, Aerospace and Transportation Manufacturing companies in the region.