Canopy Aerospace was founded in 2021 by Matt Shieh (right), a former U.S. Air Force officer with a master’s in business administration, and John Howard, an entrepreneur with a PhD in materials science. Credit: Canopy Aerospace

SAN FRANCISCO – Canopy Aerospace, a startup participating in the TechStars Aerospace and Defense Accelerator, plans to set up a pilot factory in Denver to produce thermal protection systems (TPS) for rockets, spacecraft, reentry capsules and hypersonic vehicles.

The company, founded in 2021 by Matt Shieh, a former U.S. Air Force officer with a master’s in business administration, and John Howard, an entrepreneur with a PhD in materials science, is developing a manufacturing process that relies on software, automation and 3D printing to supply heat shields for the commercial space and hypersonic industries.

Through FedTech, a Washington-based technology transfer accelerator, the Catalyst co-founders learned about TPS technology developed at the NASA Ames Research Center and discovered problems with the commercial TPS supply chain.

Companies often spend years designing and manufacturing heat shields for space and hypersonic vehicles. Canopy plans to compress the design and manufacturing process into months, Shieh told SpaceNews.

Through a Space Act Agreement with NASA, signed in March, Canopy gained access to NASA TPS material processing, vehicle modeling and simulation, design, entry systems analysis and testing facilities.

“We are transitioning legacy materials out of NASA that have been flight proven,” Shieh said. “We’re going to be to build out this capability over the next decade to support many different vehicles and systems.”

Currently, Canopy is expanding its staff, selecting a manufacturing site and forging agreements with potential partners and customers.

“Our solutions provide end-to-end turnkey solutions from design to maintenance, repair and overhaul,” Shieh said.

A company developing a space capsule, for example, could hire Canopy to assist in thermal modeling: determining how much TPS material is needed, how thick it should be and the cost. Canopy then manufacturers the TPS.

Canopy also intends to take over TPS installation for companies that have performed their own aerothermal design and want help manufacturing and  installing thermal protection systems.

“Think of it like Rolls Royce selling and maintaining engines for Boeing and other companies,” Shieh said. “It makes sense for the space industry to follow more of a path that the aerospace industry has followed it.”

Over the long term, Canopy plans to apply the manufacturing processes the company is developing to “other dated manufacturing models in ceramics components,” Shieh said. “Industries such as automobiles, medical components and industrial manufacturing use manufacturing processes that are costly and have long lead times. We are evaluating using additive manufacturing and better design processes for applications in these areas.”

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...