Quiet, Agile and Ambitious

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Profile: Jason Andrews, President of Andrews Space

Andrews Space was founded six years ago when a young engineer took up consulting between leaving a job at Kistler Aerospace and giving up on getting into the business school of his choice.

Today, Jason Andrews is president of a 35-employee engineering-services firm that he runs with his wife Marian Joh, another Kistler alumnus who serves as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Andrews Space has landed about 20 government contracts since it opened its doors in 1999. Last year, the company had $4.5 million in revenue and expects to do double that this year.

Today, in an office building not far from where the Seattle Seahawks play football, Andrews and his team of engineers are hard at work helping NASA dream up innovative approaches for returning to the Moon.

Andrews Space is doing the work under a $5 million contract it won last year to advise NASA on possible paths back to the Moon, a project that includes refining concepts for the Crew Exploration Vehicle that will carry astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit.

Andrews’ biggest contract to date is an $18.7 million award it received from NASA this year to develop an in-space demonstration of a solar electric tug. The project is intended to help the U.S. space agency find a low-cost way to ferry cargo between Earth orbit and the Moon. The demonstration, if it proceeds as planned, would be Andrews’ first bona fide space hardware project.

Andrews Space also is keeping a close eye on NASA’s plan to buy commercial cargo delivery services for the international space station (ISS), although the company is not saying much about the proposal it is developing.

While NASA is by far Andrews’ single biggest customer, the company also is branching out into the defense world.

In 2003, Andrews Space won its first defense contract — a $2 million award to work on concepts for an experimental high altitude bomber called the Common Aero Vehicle and the rocket that would launch it through space. Andrews was one of only two companies that the Pentagon picked to work on both parts of the project. The other was Lockheed Martin. The Pentagon, however, did not pick up Andrews Space for the second phase of the project, which commenced in 2004.

Andrews, who said he sees Andrews Space as “a catalyst for change in the industry,” spoke with Space News staff writer Brian Berger about his company during a recent trip to Washington.

What role should small companies play in the Vision for Space Exploration?

The industry is over consolidated, and I don’t think people are happy with the BoMart status quo with Northrop Grumman and Raytheon thrown in here and there. Fundamentally, NASA appears to want to find a new way of doing things, but they are struggling because there are no low-cost integrators and service providers out there any more. We had Spectrum Astro on the satellite side, but they kind of got taken out of the marketplace when they were bought by General Dynamics.

Our model is going to be successful. When NASA figures out what it needs for exploration, I think we are very well positioned to compete against the Boeings and Lockheed Martins for the $50 million and $100 million procurements because we are small and agile and can put together great teams and do the systems integration work.

NASA’s Human and Robotic Technology program, which awarded dozens of small to medium technology-development contracts last year, is a great opportunity because it’s the size of program where we can compete very well. We’ll go after cargo and nontraditional crew. There are a lot of opportunities for us.

Where does Andrews Space fit into NASA’s lunar plans?

We need to know more about NASA’s overall approach than we do right now. Is it going to be built around a Saturn-class heavy-lift capability or not?

If it’s all heavy lift, that locks them into a certain overall approach and certain technologies. In the lunar exploration study we did for NASA, we argued that affordable and sustainable ultimately means building reusability into the architecture, so we called for establishing a node, or way station, at Lagrange Point 1 and described a market we see for shuttling cargo between low Earth orbit and the L1 staging point and back again. Under that concept, we think solar electric propulsion tugs are a good way to go. If NASA picks a shuttle-derived heavy-lift launcher and goes directly to the lunar surface, maybe we will focus on other things, like surface systems support.

What sets Andrews apart from the other entrepreneurial space firms?

A lot of these small companies are built around a single concept or one-off product. Our focus is bringing innovation to the aerospace sector. We’re coming up with innovative approaches for delivering cargo to ISS, nontraditional crew, solar electric tugs and working with the Air Force on new space transportation capabilities. We can compete head to head with Boeing and Lockheed Martin on some of these projects because we can put together great teams that have a vision and a new way of looking at the problem and the customer likes that.

Does Andrews have a signature concept?

PRIVATE tabstops:<*t(261.000,0,” “,)> We’re not a one idea shop. We have a range of concepts and a core capability, which includes a strong business team, a strong technical team and our ability to put together great contractor teams. For a long time Kistler wasn’t very public about its plans. That’s because George Mueller felt that once you’ve trotted out your show pony, you become committed and it’s harder to change direction. Pioneer Rocketplane had a show pony that kept changing, and after a while you lose credibility. We’re not high profile. When the time comes to go public with our ideas, we will go public.

NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has emphasized using proven technologies for lunar return. Is that bad news for Andrews, which stresses innovation?

No. Even within a project like the Crew Exploration Vehicle, there are a lot of smaller subsystems that will be $10 million to $20 million development activities that can incorporate a lot of innovation, and I think we can be effective there.

Another thing working in our favor is that we are a small, minority- and woman-owned disadvantaged business. We’ve never won a contract on the basis of being a small disadvantaged business, but typically on a program the size of Crew Exploration Vehicle , there will be a quota for small disadvantaged business, so we could help a prime increase its proposal score in that regard.

We also work fast and effectively and have a strong systems background, so we’re more compatible with a Lockheed, Northrop or Boeing prime than a lot of the other small companies out there. We speak their language a little more fluently.

Is Andrews a commercial space company or a government contractor?

Our long-term goal is to be a commercial service provider, delivering cargo to the ISS or other platforms, ferrying cargo from low Earth orbit to high orbits and providing crew transfer services. But the reality right now is there is not much of a commercial market. The government, however, can seed a lot of these markets if they dare to act in a new way.

What opportunity does NASA’s ISS cargo-delivery procurement hold for Andrews?

The same as for anyone else. We’re less public about our approaches, but we have our own ideas about providing logistics services to the ISS, meeting both NASA’s upmass and downmass needs. We got a lot of this work started under the Alternate Access to Station study we did for NASA a little while back.

We would like to develop a system we could use to provide a service both to NASA and to commercial customers like Bigelow Aerospace. In the past year, we’ve won two $3 million awards from NASA to study Crew Exploration Vehicle concepts and lunar exploration architectures. Our team includes Hamilton Sundstrand, Alenia Spazio, Irvin Aerospace, Draper Lab and Paragon Engineering.

Don’t you need at least one hardware success before you can build something to go to the ISS?

We received an $18 million award from NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate to develop the Small Tug and our plans call for flying that before we move on to offering these other services. While it would be a big jump from the Small Tug demo to cargo delivery, when you look at the other companies planning to bid on the ISS cargo business, what do they have that Andrews doesn’t? We may be quiet about what we are doing, but we probably have more people employed and more revenue than t/Space, Kistler and XCOR combined. Compared to our direct competition, we are just as credible.

Ultimately, companies are about the people. Sure, Boeing built the space shuttle, but most of the people who did the actually engineering have since retired. We’ve hired a lot of people who have hardware development backgrounds. People might say Andrews hasn’t built anything, but the people who work for us certainly have.

How has Andrews survived NASA’s many changes in direction?

We’re agile and we roll with the punches. Every time NASA changes directions they always start with a new design concept study, which is something we do very well. Also, Marian has done a very good job of handling our finances to make sure we are around to fight another day.