Space Rush: Jacksonville native a pioneer in commercial space technology

Andrew Rush, 37, among speakers at Saturday’s TEDxJacksonville ‘Friction’ conference

TEDxJacksonville speaker Andrew Rush (Provided by TEDxJacksonville)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Like any true pioneer, Andrew Rush has a vision that seems to be 10 steps ahead of the rest of us.

While we were just catching on to the possibilities of space again, Rush and his company, Made In Space, were already helping to change the game by engineering — among other technology — 3D printers that could be used in microgravity.

Rush, 37, took over Made In Space in 2015 after working as the company’s patent lawyer. He quickly grew the Silicon Valley company, which consisted of a dozen employees at the time, and relocated it to his hometown of Jacksonville in 2020.

“Jacksonville is a town that has some really amazing technical talent. Obviously, the standard of living I think is really, really amazing. The cost of living is very affordable. And as we grew the business, we just said, ‘Hey, Silicon Valley is great, but why are we trying to build satellites in the most expensive ZIP code in the United States?’” Rush said of making the cross-country move. “For me, being from Jacksonville, my family being from Jacksonville for multiple generations, there’s a little bit of personal fulfillment that like we can show that Jacksonville does awesome stuff like, builds payloads the astronauts use and talks to those astronauts from our place in Jacksonville.”

Not long after Made In Space relocated, it was acquired by Redwire, and Rush is now the president and chief operating officer of Redwire.

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Redwire goes public at the New York Stock Exchange in 2021. (Photo Credit: NYSE)

He and his wife, Stephanie, also co-own The Spice & Tea Exchange of San Marco, which she runs.

They have three boys — Irik, 12, Oscar, 7, and Neil, 5 — and two retired racing greyhounds named Grimm & MacBeth.

“They have two speeds. They lay around and act like big lap dogs or they go outside and run 40 miles an hour,” Rush said of the dogs.

The family lives in the Orangedale area not from where Andrew and Stephanie grew up and met at Bartram Trail High School — although Andrew was quick to clarify they were not high school sweethearts.

“We’ve been friends since high school,” he said.

Love came later. This March will be their 10th wedding anniversary.

“Sometimes things just work out,” he said happily.

Journey to space

Rush, who is one of 12 speakers at the Oct. 22 TEDxJacksonville conference “Friction,” said he doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t love space and have it as part of his life.

“My parents are both chemical engineers that graduated from Georgia Tech so I was raised on this kind of steady diet of like science fact and science fiction,” Rush said. “I grew up in Jacksonville. We got to see shuttle launches. I grew up watching ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ and learning about those things and reading about space — both with what we’ve done, you know, with Neil and Buzz walking on the moon and you know, what we could be doing in the form of science fiction.”

Rush got a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of North Florida before completing law school at Stetson University.

He admits law school was an unusual path to take to space, but he had a retail company while attending UNF and enjoyed business.

He wanted to find a way to combine his passions of business and space, and a professor suggested he pursue becoming a patent lawyer.

It was good advice.

Andrew Rush and Redwire CEO Pete Cannito celebrate at the New York Stock Exchange in 2021. (Photo Credit: NYSE)

Rush was able to work with companies on the cutting edge of space technology, like Made In Space, and because the founders knew his background and trusted his vision, they asked him to take over the company in 2015.

It was Rush’s vision that saw the potential of moving the company to Jacksonville.

He described Jacksonville as a “choose-your-own-adventure” kind of city with various options for living on the river or the beaches or in the suburbs and elements of city life, like a symphony and an NFL team.

“I’m turning this into giving you the Jacksonville pitch,” he said with a laugh, “but that’s what I think when people ask that question of like, can Jacksonville be a sort of space technology hub. Well, I mean, we’re proof that, yeah, you can have an amazing, space-focused, publicly traded company in Jacksonville. And it serves us quite well. We’re really proud to be in the city.”

Recipe for success

When asked to explain in simple terms how the 3D printing in space concept works, Rush obliged with ease, saying the biggest difference, naturally, is gravity.

“The biggest difference with 3D printing in space versus 3D printing on Earth is you don’t have gravity there to help you put the material where you want it to go,” Rush said. “So one of the key innovations that we’ve made and that enables us to do 3D printing in space is building the machine so that it can deposit, it can put down the material where we want it to go, even without that kind of gravity assist. That’s really the key difference.”

Andrew Rush visits Redwire's office in Littleton, Colorado. (Provided by Redwire)

Colleague Mike Gold, Executive Vice President of Civil Space and External Affairs for Redwire, said Rush not only grew a company focused on 3D printing in space, but he did it when it wasn’t easy or popular.

“That’s what makes a pioneer that because of that passion, you know, Andrew was willing to push forward at a time where it might not have been obvious,” Gold said. “Space, it’s not just our job. It’s a passion for so many of us. And Andrew, I think, is emblematic of that, that it’s in his blood. That he feels enthusiasm and a love for this activity that you can’t teach or be replicated.”

Gold said Rush also maintains the business sense that led him to pursue an early career as a patent attorney.

“When you combine that business acumen with passion, really good things can happen,” Gold said. “That’s a recipe for success.”

What’s next?

Rush said from the first woman stepping foot on the moon to people sustainably exploring space, over the next decade we will see revolutionary leaps forward.

“Within the next 10 years, we’re going to see people doing manufacturing and research, taking adventure and vacation trips to space,” Rush said.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson visits Redwire in Jacksonville. (Provided by Redwire)

He said it’s clear we’ve entered a Second Golden Age of Space, and he’s excited to see the public waking up to that.

“This Second Golden Age is driven not only by that desire to explore, but it’s driven by a motivation to and a recognition that we can use space for the benefit of humankind and we can use space to open up new commercial markets, new business models,” Rush said. “I think we’re just wading into this magnificent ocean of possibility in this Second Golden Age of Space where it’s commercial and exploration at the same time.”

And Gold said we might not be here if it weren’t for forward-thinkers just like Rush.

“We’ve had a lot of focus in how we get there. And in my opinion, not nearly enough in terms of what you do once we’re there. And Andrew has been a pioneer, a leader, in developing those capabilities, which is so critical because that’s why we need transportation to space in the first place,” Gold said. “We’re all excited about commercial space now, but Andrew and other pioneers like him were pushing this field forward at a time where there wasn’t necessarily the robust support for commercial space that we’re seeing now.”

To hear Rush’s presentation at the TEDxJacksonville “Friction” conference, you can purchase tickets online through 5 p.m. Oct. 20: click here. Tickets will also be available at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena box office on Thursday and Friday.

The conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 22 in the Terry Theater of the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts. There will also be on-site ticketing at the Terry Theater box office that morning — if there are tickets left.

For more on the conference and a complete list of speakers, click here.

Rush visited Kent Justice on This Week in Jacksonville recently. Press play below to watch their interview (begins at 22:30):

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About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.