Posted: April 01, 2012

Made in Colorado: Aerospace/space/satellites

Eric Peterson

DigitalGlobe satellites and imagery
Longmont
www.digitalglobe.com

“This is still an industry that’s in its infancy,” says DigitalGlobe CEO Jeff Tarr. “A few years back, satellite imagery was a new concept. Now it’s seen every day by millions of people.”
And most of those images come via Longmont’s DigitalGlobe, founded in 1993 and launching three satellites (built in conjunction with Ball Aerospace and other contractors) in the time since. With almost 700 employees in Colorado, the company’s images have been indelibly etched on the public’s collective mind in the form of photographs of carnage in Syria and fallout in Fukushima, Japan, Tarr says, delivered everywhere from Google Earth to the nightly news.
The U.S. government remains DigitalGlobe’s top customer, representing about 60 percent of the company’s sales, but that number is steadily dropping as customers emerge all over the planet.
“Our imagery is making a huge difference,” Tarr says. “It’s used by first responders, men and women in uniform, and by intelligence agencies. It helps keep the world safe.”
DigitalGlobe is currently in the midst of building another satellite, WorldView-3, slated for launch in 2014.

Sticky Boom
Made by Altius Space Machines
Louisville
www.altius-space.com.

How can we get more things into space? Large rockets fill up quickly and are prohibitively expensive, but NASA and other powers that be are not too keen on having small rockets buzz the $150 billion International Space Station.
Jonathan Goff founded Altius Space Machines in 2010 to solve the problem. The answer is the Sticky Boom, dubbed a “mechanical tractor beam” by Bill Bolton, Altius’ director of business development and marketing. The Sticky Boom uses electrostatic adhesion to grip its targets. Bolton likens the technology to a gecko running up a wall.
“On the bottom of their feet, they have hairs. And those hairs have hairs. And those hairs have hairs.” Applying this concept, the Sticky Boom could grab everything from satellites to asteroids at a far greater range (300 feet vs. six feet) than legacy docking technology. Bolton says it might make its debut in space as soon as next year.
Bolton says the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to use the Sticky Boom “to literally fly up to a dead communications satellite and cut off its antennas and repurpose them on a new satellite, and kind of a Franken-satellite.”

ZAP Lunar Simulant
Made by Zybek Advanced Products Inc.
Boulder
www.zybekap.com

Mike Weinstein, founder, president, and jack-of-all-trades at Zybek Advanced Products, didn’t set out to replicate moon dust — he just wanted to help Denver’s Johns Manville make better fiberglass. Then NASA came knocking on Weinstein’s door about five years ago looking for a way to make “lunar simulant” to test on anything the agency might send to the Moon.
“The Moon is actually one-third glass,” Weinstein says. “Micrometeorites constantly pelt the surface, mixing it up and melting it.”
To mimic this chaotic process, Zybek’s industrial plasma system focuses a megawatt of electricity to melt sand and other minerals at temperatures above 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is lunar simulant Zybek sells for $7,000 to $80,000 a ton to NASA as well as other space-oriented entities like the University of Colorado, Lockheed Martin and Ball Aerospace.
Weinstein has an interesting culinary metaphor for making faux moon dust: “It’s like baking a cake,” he says. Business plans are a bit less predictable, Weinstein adds, noting he has entered the sports testing and measurement as an odd complement to his primary business. “There is no way I could have planned this.”

10 More
Deep Impact spacecraft
Ball Aerospace, Boulder
www.ballaerospace.com

Airborne Radomes
AdamWorks, Centennial
www.adamworksinc.com

GPS III satellites
Lockheed Martin, Waterton Canyon and other locations
www.lockheedmartin.com

Atlas and Delta
rocket launches
ULA, Denver
www.ulalaunch.com

EchoStar satellite fleet
EchoStar Corp., Littleton
www.echostar.com

Moon hopper
Next Giant Leap, Boulder
www.nextgiantleap.com

Next generation refrigerants
ACTA Technology, Boulder
www.acta-technology.com

Hybrid propulsion systems
TIGON EnerTec, Boulder
www.tigonenertec.com

Space Situational Awareness systems
SpaceNav,
www.space-nav.com,

Machined components for space and aerospace
Primus Metals, Lakewood
www.primusmetals.com
 

Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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