New Tenant Moves into KSC’s Space Station Processing Facility
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With just five full-time employees and a handful of contractors, Melbourne, Fla.-based Micro Aerospace Solutions is not going to do much to alleviate the economic whiplash that continues to reverberate around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) following the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011.
But the company’s lease of office space and lab facilities at Kennedy’s largely empty Space Station Processing Facility may be a harbinger of things to come.
“It’s very hard for private companies to recreate what NASA has,” said Donald Platt, Micro Aerospace Solutions founder and president. “Some of the labs and facilities allow small businesses to be pretty competitive.”
The company, which provides software and electronics systems for small satellites and experiments, was particularly drawn to Kennedy’s electromagnetic interference testing facilities and its vacuum chambers.
“All computer systems and electronic systems have to be tested to make sure they do not interfere with electronics and also that they are not susceptible to outside interference that could cause unwanted activity. We also can do vibration testing where we subject the electronics to forces that they’ll experience from launch all the way until they reach orbit.
“Having the ability to test in a lab that can then provide a certification that the electronics systems have passed testing is important.”
Micro Aerospace Solutions also is interested in propulsion systems for small satellites and plans to take advantage of KSC facilities for testing small hydrazine systems, for example.
The company’s lease includes lab space and an office area for about $25,000 a year, Platt said. Use of test facilities is extra.
Platt says what he is paying is in line with what the commercial sector would charge.
“I think Kennedy has done a pretty good job of understanding what the market prices are. It’s not necessarily that it’s a bargain. It’s more that it offers unique capabilities that are hard to come by elsewhere,” Platt said.
Being behind the gate at KSC also is expected to help the company better navigate business hurdles imposed by the U.S. Department of State’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which currently consider all satellite components the same as munitions.
“With all the concerns about ITAR, we’ve certainly seen a lot of questions about foreign citizens having access to information. For a small company like us, the easiest way is to be behind a government secure facility. By using facilities inside of the gate at Kennedy Space Center, you’re basically saying that NASA already has screened the people who are there so that provides you an extra layer of ITAR protection,” Platt said, adding that the company will maintain its downtown Melbourne office as well.
Micro Aerospace Solutions currently is working on four major projects, including a NASA-backed solar sail experiment called Sunjammer that is slated to fly next year. Another project for a commercial client spins off inertial sensor technology developed for small satellites into an X-ray machine for babies.
“NASA has a lot of good knowledge, a lot of capabilities and a lot of facilities around the country that could certainly be used, and maybe used for things beyond space. I’d hate to see NASA start losing some of that,” Platt said. “People talk about center closures. Obviously with sequestration and budget problems something has to happen, but I certainly hope that NASA doesn’t lose some of its capabilities that are very unique. Almost every facility has something to offer to the commercial world.”
Micro Aerospace Solutions, which moved into the space center April 1, is among 25 companies that have agreements for using KSC facilities, though it is one of the few full-time residents.
“The agreement they have set up with us takes a NASA facility that would have otherwise been empty and basically makes it available to a commercial company to build a commercial business on,” said Tom Engler, deputy director of the center’s Planning and Development Office.
KSC’s newest partner is Minnesota-based PaR Systems Inc., which signed a 15-year lease agreement to use NASA’s Hangar N facility and its nondestructive test equipment.
PaR Systems intends to offer nondestructive evaluation testing and other related services for aerospace, marine and other industrial customers. The hangar is located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to KSC.
Another 15 potential partnership agreements are pending.