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Catalyst needed for job-ready site near NASA Plum Brook

Andy Ouriel • Dec 27, 2012 at 2:28 PM

For now, the invested parties need to find a commercial catalyst to help launch the project.

Nearly five years ago, Erie County commissioners began heavily pursuing the creation of a 1,200-acre job-ready site in an area next to the NASA Plum Brook Station in Perkins Township.

State workers pegged the site one of the best areas in Ohio for technological development.

"We believe that Erie County and Ohio have a wonderful opportunity to partner with NASA to leverage the existing activities to support a certified (job-ready site) complex serving the needs of NASA and related high-tech and aerospace customers," commissioners stated in a letter to NASA officials in 2008.

As a direct result of the letter, former Gov. Ted Strickland's administration awarded $5 million to the NASA Plum Brook Station for various upgrades, including bolstering the world's largest vacuum chamber, which simulates space-like conditions.

The funding also helped complete the world's largest vibratory and acoustical chambers, making Plum Brook the largest facility of its kind for one-stop testing of global spacecraft.

It's unknown today exactly how much money is needed to create the job-ready site.

In the past few years, officials have achieved little to satisfy this dream of cultivating good-paying jobs that would entice young people to find careers in Erie County and lure other professionals into the area.

Two weeks ago, the Register sought an update on the project from Jim Free, the imminent director at Cleveland's Glenn Research Center, which oversees operations and funding for Plum Brook.

Free and other NASA officials in the exclusive roundtable discussion could not provide an immediate update on the job-ready site.

In the days following, NASA spokeswoman Lori Rachul said the federal agency remains committed to developing the area into something viable and productive.

"NASA has worked with both Erie County and the state of Ohio to designate 1,200 acres of Plum Brook Station as a job-ready site," Rachul said. "No proposal has yet to reach the stage of formal negotiation with the interested parties. NASA remains ready and willing to work with its partners to foster appropriate development for the benefit of all."

NASA Plum Brook's major accomplishments in 2012

• October: Federal officials permitted administrators to shred Plum Brook's license to produce radioactive toxins. In 1999, administrators launched a $253 million mission aimed at disassembling a former on-site reactor facility operating from 1961 to 1973, along with performing an extensive environmental analysis.

• August: SpaceX, the world's fastest-growing launch service provider specializing in designing advanced rockets and spacecraft, agreed to conduct tests at Plum Brook in early 2013.

• May: The movie "The Avengers" debuts in screens across America. The movie's first scene featured Plum Brook's Space Power Facility, capable of simulating space-like conditions.¬†

• January: NASA administrators announced plans to move and upgrade the main entrance gate leading into Plum Brook. The estimated $10 million project begins sometime in 2013.¬†

• January: The European Space Agency proposed testing a sophisticated rocket engine at Plum Brook. Administrators are close to finalizing the arrangement.

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