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Thunderbird at ASU student champions commercial space programs

Plus, Gov. Katie Hobbs signs legislation to advance Arizona space initiatives

Man speaking to audience in front of a screen that reads "Arizona's Space Economy."

Brett Mecum speaking at "The New Arizona Space Commission" session at Thunderbird Global Headquarters. Courtesy photo

May 17, 2024

Brett Mecum, a graduate student in the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has played a key role in launching Arizona into a new era of commercial space opportunities.

Thanks in part to his lobbying and advocacy efforts, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs has recently signed legislation establishing a Space Commission in Arizona, securing the 48th state as the next key player in advancing the commercial space economy.

Mecum, who completed Thunderbird's executive certificate in space leadership, business, and policy in November 2022 and then pursued an Executive Master of Global Management with a concentration in space leadership, business, and policy (EMGM-Space) — and will graduate this summer — has directly tied his experiences at Thunderbird to his work in advancing the space industry. 

Portrait of Brett Mecum.
Brett Mecum

Mecum's journey began with a trade mission to Luxembourg in June 2023. During his visit, he engaged in discussions with Lindy Elkins-Tanton, notable academic and researcher serving as the vice president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative and principal investigator of NASA’s Psyche mission; Paul Binsfeld, who serves as Honorary Consul of Luxembourg to Arizona and New Mexico and is also an ASU alumnus and founder of Company Nurse, based in Scottsdale; and Oliver Schwab, founder of Lykke Global Advisors. These conversations sparked the idea of forming a space commission and space fund in Arizona, drawing inspiration from Luxembourg's successful space program. 

Mecum also took cues from states like Texas and Florida, which had already established their own space commissions.

"Arizona is primed to be a ‘New Space State,’ and the creation of a space commission and a commercial space fund will help further the narrative that Arizona can compete with California, Colorado, Florida and Texas for the ever-growing new space companies. I believe it is time for Arizona to have a space commission that would function as a key organization in the state and could foster collaboration to bring additional commercial companies and start-ups to Arizona," he said.   

Mecum envisions the Arizona Space Commission as a pivotal step toward positioning Arizona as a competitive hub for the commercial space industry on a national and global scale. A testament to this are the companies that have or are establishing significant footprints in Arizona, including Phantom Space BlackStar Orbital, Electric Sky Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and Lunasonde.

The commission will be tasked with strengthening and enhancing the state’s position in civil, commercial and military aeronautics research and development and space flight infrastructure, as well as assisting with workforce training to advance emerging technologies related to space exploration, among other tasks.

"Brett has been tireless in his efforts to advance Arizona's space economy and an incredible representation of the power of our Thunderbird ‘Space Birds’ to move the needle in a meaningful way on policy," said Greg Autry, clinical professor and director of the Thunderbird Initiative for Space Leadership, Policy, and Business

Autry, a notable advocate for space exploration and development, has extensive expertise in space policy, including serving on the 2016 NASA agency review team to establish the moon program's current return.

Mecum's experience from Thunderbird proved instrumental in shaping his approach to advocating for this bill. "My program focused on global empowerment and how to use your abilities and assets to make a difference. Through the master's program, I saw an opportunity that was needed in Arizona and put my skills as a government relations professional into action by drafting legislation, finding a member to sponsor the legislation, building a robust stakeholder process and the coalition of support, and negotiating changes on the bill with the legislature, governor's office and stakeholders. The key waypoints in the process from idea to law utilized many skills and techniques taught in my Thunderbird classes," he said.

Designed and taught by industry-leading faculty and experts, the EMGM-Space program is a 12-month graduate degree tailored for individuals pursuing careers in commercial spaceflight, defense, civil aerospace, AI and big data, and next-generation manufacturing, among others. 

"Faculty members Greg Autry and Zaheer Ali were early stakeholders in what became a very robust process in bringing together industry, government and academia to work on the bill. They were always available for strategy discussions, and I could not have asked for better mentors throughout this process," Mecum said. 

With the passage of HB2254, the Arizona Space Commission will go into effect 90 days after the regular legislative session ends. Mecum's advocacy for the Arizona Space Commission aligns with Hobbs' vision, reinforcing the state's role as a hub for innovation and collaboration; she recently praised Arizona's collaborative approach, bringing together government, industry, academia and community partners to drive the space industry forward, stating that "Arizona is open for business."

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