EconAlliance presents the Innovation Award to SpaceX.
Eric Krystkowiak, left, director of Vandenberg launch site operations for SpaceX and a retired colonel, accepts the Innovation Award from EconAlliance board president Sam Cohen during the annual Dinner and Future Forum on Thursday night in Buellton. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Accepting an award for innovation, the local leader of Space Exploration Technologies shared said he’s “super excited about the launch rate that we’re gearing up for” and declared “we’re here to stay” on the Central Coast.

SpaceX received the Innovation Award from the EconAlliance during the annual Dinner and Future Forum on Thursday night at the Santa Ynez Marriott in Buellton.

The dinner also included a keynote presentation on blockchain technology by Ryan Williams, chief executive officer of The Blockchain Academy.

Eric Krystkowiak, director of Vandenberg Space Force Base launch site operations for SpaceX and a retired colonel, accepted the Innovation Award from Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne and Sam Cohen, EconAlliance board president. 

Innovation remains at the heart of SpaceX operations, Krystkowiak said.

“One of the things that we hold dear at SpaceX is if you say something can’t be done you better explain why it can’t be done because of the laws of physics,” Krystkowiak said. “If it doesn’t violate the laws of physics, it just means you haven’t been smart enough to figure out how to do it yet.”

He worked on the Titan II program in the mid-1990s at Vandenberg at the same site where Falcon 9 rockets launch. 

“Quite frankly, there were a lot of paradigms that were spoken as, ‘Oh, you can’t reuse a rocket. You can’t do this. You can’t do that,’” Krystkowiak said. “Really, tribute to Elon Musk in standing up this company and all of the people that are part of it that really take the impossible and make it possible, things like landing rockets.

“I remember not too long ago there were a lot of folks that said, ‘If we could land a rocket and we could reuse it, wouldn’t we be doing it already?’”

He recalled being in Florida during a SpaceX rocket launch and landing and vowing to be part of the firm after he retired from the Air Force. He has led Vandenberg’s operations for more than six years, noting the inaugural first-stage booster’s return to land at the base. 

“We’re going to have a lot more of those coming up in the next couple months. And a lot more next year,” Krystkowiak said. “We have a very exciting future on the Central Coast. We’re here to stay.”

”The Holy Grail” of the company has been rocket reusability, he said, noting that a rocket set to launch next week will mark the 11th flight of the first-stage booster. 

“As we go forward, fully and rapidly, reusable launch vehicles is what’s the key to going much more affordably to space, to go to celestial bodies, to go to Mars and beyond. That’s really the clear vision we’ve had,” he said.

EconAlliance presents the Innovation Award to SpaceX.

EconAlliance board president Sam Cohen, left, with SpaceX Mission Director Katie Burke, SpaceX Vandenberg Launch Site Director Eric Krystkowiak and Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne. The EconAlliance presented the Innovation Award to SpaceX. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In introducing the award winner, Lompoc’s mayor noted that the firm has already launched more than 50 rockets this year. That’s between operations in Florida and Vandenberg.

Since 2013, SpaceX has launched 30 Falcon 9 rockets from Vandenberg, leading Osborne to note the importance and value of the firm to the Lompoc Valley and broader North County area.

“With locations across the U.S., SpaceX employees have filled out local hotels, eaten in our restaurants and consumed lots of our local wines,” Osborne said. “They’ve also attracted many SpaceX fans to do the same with every launch, and return, of their rockets.”

Employees have bought homes, volunteered throughout the community and supported nonprofit groups, she said. Some have opened local businesses.

Krystkowiak said the firm is excited to bring the next wave of aerospace engineers, technicians and other employees, noting that many of the current workers came from the Central Coast. 

“We really seek to find more folks to become part of that team and do the magic every day and to take the next steps on the very things that we today may think are impossible but tomorrow will be possible and it will be the next thing,” he said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.