MOREHEAD When most people hear the word aerospace it brings to mind enormous rockets firing upward from launch pads in places such as Florida or California.
Aerospace brings to mind astronauts and space shuttles, moon landings, and amazing photographs that could never be captured within the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere.
It is that, but it is also much more.
Stewart Ditto, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Aerospace Industry Consortium, spoke Wednesday at the IF Aerospace Event at Morehead State University and stressed the need for educating the public on the many ways that the Aerospace Industry has impacted the country and the state.
“Even when I talk to people in Kentucky, there is this look of wonderment and surprise that we have this (aerospace industry) going on in the state.”
Ditto added over the last five years aerospace exports have increased over 145 percent. And Kentucky is now the No. 2 aerospace state in the nation.
The impact of aerospace and related industries has been enormous. This led to House Joint Resolution 100, put together by State Rep. Rocky Adkins, which mandated the study of the Aerospace, Aviation, and Defense Industry, of which Ditto was the project manager.
The challenge now, Ditto says, is to “map out” the “who, where, when, and why” of the current industry and determine the best direction to proceed. The goal is to determine those businesses involved in aerospace and create a website that will allow for integration — and availability — of information.
“It’s about promoting awareness and understanding,” Ditto said. “If we don’t understand what we have in our own state, then how can we expect to promote that externally and help it grow?”
Ditto said the result should bring all of the different pieces together and make a seamless pipeline of education, private business, and government. An integral part is the Space Science Center on campus at Morehead.
Morehead’s Space Science Program has been both a pioneering force and instrumental in the growth of the aerospace industry in Kentucky. What began with Dr. Benjamin Malphrus’s astrophysics class gathered steam (and qualified personnel) and grew into what it is today — and what it will become tomorrow. One of the qualified personnel is Staff Electrical Engineer Jeffrey A. Kruth. His wealth of experience and insight both literally and figuratively helped bring Dr. Malphrus’s vision into reality.
Malphrus and Kruth partnered to bring Morehead State University’s radio antenna up to an effective level, facing the challenges of securing financing for the needed hardware, and in some cases building their own.
But from the beginning Kruth was impressed with Morehead, especially the students. “I started coming here to Kentucky, and I met some of the brightest kids,” Kruth said. “In most programs you have graduate students doing all of the cool stuff. But when Ben started this program he didn’t have any graduate students.”
It was the undergraduates, Kruth said, that were doing all of the heavy lifting. These students were writing papers for journals and doing ‘real things’ with an antiquated Hercules antenna. From this core of bright, hard-working students the program grew and achieved national and international attention. And their successes yielded an honor that no other independent entity has achieved to date: Morehead State University’s Space Science Program has joined the Deep Space Network.
The Space Science Center has become something of a microcosm of the aerospace and aviation field, and an excellent place to begin learning about the industry.
Adkins has long been a supporter of aerospace/aviation, and said he firmly believes the opportunities for education, business, and statewide improvement are limitless. Adkins said what the students at Morehead’s Space Science Center are involved in is nothing short of history-making.
Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton also had nothing but praise for the program when she spoke at the IF Aerospace 2017.
“I mention Morehead everywhere I go,” Hampton said. She told the story about how, while on the campaign trail in 2015, she visited the Space Science Center at Morehead and was both impressed and excited.
“On my way back to the car I texted Matt Bevin and told him I was dropping out of the race because I needed to get this degree!”
Hampton did not in fact drop out of the race, but the visit catalyzed her passion for Space Science in Kentucky and eventually led to her putting together the Kentucky Aerospace Industry Consortium.
Hampton also said that she keeps a CubeSat from Morehead’s Space Science Center on her desk for the express purpose of its presence sparking questions, and giving her another opportunity to discuss the field of Aerospace and Aviation.