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Plum Brook runway could create 2,000 jobs in Ohio aerospace industry

The NASA Glenn Research Center's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky already is a big deal when it comes to testing satellite components before launch. It could become an even bigger deal if the federal government agrees to provide $60 million in stimulus money to fund roads and a 9,000-foot runway there.

The new landing strip is proposed as a way to give satellite and aerospace companies better access to Plum Brook's space chamber, a 100-foot wide, 122-foot high facility that mimics the vacuum and cold temperatures of space. But proponents say the runway would have lasting economic benefits for the entire northeast Ohio region by enticing aerospace companies to set down roots there.

For every NASA job created by the runway, an estimated five non-NASA jobs would be created -- nearly 2,000 in all, according to an economic impact study conducted last year by Bowling Green State University's Center for Regional Development. And that doesn't count almost 800 temporary construction jobs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is now considering Ohio's application for $60 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery money. Submitted by the Ohio Department of Transportation at the request of the Erie County Board of Commissioners, that total represents $31 million for the runway and $29 million for road improvements, says David Stringer, Plum Brook's director.

The runway is needed, Stringer says, to allow soft, slow landings of sensitive instruments aboard large aircraft.

"If you don't 'gentle' satellites in and out, they can break," Stringer says.

Currently, instruments destined for Plum Brook have come via airports in Mansfield and Cleveland. But those instruments have been of a more rugged variety, Stringer says -- for example, the air bags that bounced across the Mars landscape before releasing rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

A new runway would allow fragile components like optics to be tested in Ohio prior to launch -- a vital concern for sensitive systems like the Hubble Space Telescope.

Source: David Stringer, NASA, and Bowling Green State University
Writer: Gene Monteith

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