Makenzie Lystrup, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who visited Relative Dynamics' Laurel, Maryland, office in January 2024 is shown with Kush Patel, Relative Dynamics founder and CEO. Credit: Relative Dynamics

SAN FRANCISCO – Relative Dynamics, a Maryland startup focused on engineering services and optical communications technology development, is growing rapidly thanks to recent government contracts.

“Since 2021 we have doubled in size annually in terms of people employed, projects and revenue, Kush Patel, Relative Dynamics founder and CEO, told SpaceNews.

When Laurel, Maryland-based Relative Dynamics was founded in 2011, the firm focused on engineering services. In 2016, the company expanded its research and development staff and began developing optical communications space and ground terminal technology independently.

Small Business Innovation Research awards followed. Recently, Relative Dynamics began developing an optical ground terminal under a $1.7 million Phase II Small Business Innovation Research contract from the U.S. Space Force Space Development Agency.

Relative Dynamics’ Ground Optical Communications Array Terminal, or GOCArT, is designed to send and receive transmissions from optical terminals on SDA Tranche 2 satellites as well as commercial satellites. SDA’s Transport Layer Tranche 2 is a tactical network to move data around the world.

Under a 2022 NASA SBIR, Relative Dynamics is exploring ways to improve the stabilization of images captured by large telescopes and other optical instrument platforms.

And the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory awarded Relative Dynamics and the Rochester Institute of Technology a Small Business Technology Transfer award in 2022 to create a telescope mirror that requires little if any adjustment for observing space objects.

Optical Comm Costs

One of Relative Dynamics’ goals is reducing the cost of optical communications. Engineers scrutinize individual components and redesign expensive parts and subsystems.

While optical components continue to cost more than radio frequency communications components, “our hope is that eventually” the costs will be similar, Patel said.

Engineering Services

Engineering services still comprise the bulk of Relative Dynamics’ workload. Eleven engineering service contracts are underway. Customers include the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“What we see nowadays, is companies are either doing engineering services contracts or are startups,” said Antriksh Patel, Relative Dynamics chief operations officer. “The hybrid of the two is not necessarily as common, but it is part of the reason for our success.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...