By Laura Keeney, The Denver Post, 04/19/2015 12:01:00 AM MDT
COLORADO SPRINGS — Oakman Aerospace president Stan Kennedy likely didn’t expect his small company would get a personal audience with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in the same week, on his home turf.
But that’s exactly what happened when delegations from each agency, along with several aerospace companies from each country, took tours of Oakman’s Littleton headquarters last week.
The tours were a side benefit of the 31st International Space Symposium last week in Colorado Springs. The symposium is the aerospace industry’s premier trade show, bringing together dozens of countries and hundreds of companies with thousands of attendees from around the globe.
Oakman has been in business for almost three years. The company has 10 employees working toward the common goal of simplifying spacecraft to a “plug-and-play” situation — akin to when you plug in a mouse to a computer and it’s instantly recognized.
“Traditionally, spacecraft were hand-tailored, lots of heavy-duty design. But if you’re going to build 4,000 of them, you have to get into the Henry Ford mentality of interoperability standards,” Kennedy said.
The company already does a significant amount of work internationally — Oakman currently has federally mandated Technical Assistance Agreements in place (or in the works) to allow endeavors with companies in Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Italy, among others, Kennedy said.
He’s optimistic the visits by the Japanese and Germans will result in new business.
“I see tremendous opportunity working into the Pacific Rim for U.S. companies,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a couple of agreements out of the Japanese visit and a couple out of the Germans.”
The visits came about after Colorado Space Business Roundtable president Edgar Johansson was in Japan training in the Japanese martial art of aikido. He dropped in to visit JAXA and offered to give the Japanese delegation a Colorado aerospace tour during the Space Symposium.
“Sometimes when the state doesn’t have the resources to do stuff, we citizens can be great advocates for the industry,” Johansson said.
The JAXA tour group visited the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) on the University of Colorado Boulder’s campus on Monday, then dropped in at Ball Aerospace, Oakman and Braxton Technologies.
“They were super excited about Ball Aerospace, and they couldn’t believe what Braxton was working with ground systems,” Johansson said. “I think from that tour we’re going to see a quick turnaround of some great partnerships and some news about the Japanese and Colorado-based (businesses) very soon on the horizon.”
The German delegation, including DLR chief Jan Wörner, took a similar tour Friday. Wörner will take the helm of the European Space Agency on July 1, placing him in a position of direct influence over programs in the agency’s 20 member countries — a fact that could play out quite nicely for Colorado businesses, Kennedy said.
JAXA spokesman Naoyuki Higo said the Japanese delegation was very impressed with the depth of aerospace engineering and manufacturing taking place in Colorado. The five or six Japanese companies on the tour really liked what they saw — perhaps enough to enter into business agreements soon, he said.
“Oakman is a small company but I think that company has very good technology. It was very interesting,” Higo said. “Their software can shorten the (satellite testing) time frame.”
Higo was personally most impressed with LASP. He was surprised at how students directly contribute to ongoing space exploration through operation of spacecraft like NASA’s Kepler. He said there may be future opportunities for CU Boulder to partner with JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science.
“Japanese universities have laboratories for aerospace, but not as large. LASP is the best aerospace laboratory I’ve seen, I think,” he said. “Different countries and different laboratories would be good to experience for students.”
What a difference 15 years makes: In 2001, few in Colorado were paying much attention to the Space Symposium. This year, it was all about Colorado — from the plethora of Colorado-based companies in the exhibit hall to speakers on almost every industry panel throughout the week.
“We’re looking to figure out how we can do more international work and attract foreign companies to work as partners with our Colorado companies,” Johansson said. “We don’t have a specific goal, but we want to find a way to have more jobs and business come to Colorado.”
There will likely not be immediate results from the site visits. But making connections at this high level is important — think of it as networking on steroids. “Deals will be in the works,” Johannson said.
Johannson said he expects to see results in a couple of months.
“I would say ‘hold on to your hat,’ ” he said. “There are a lot of announcements coming.”
The deals will get some help from slightly loosened federal regulations as well, Kennedy said, explaining that the National Defense Authorization Act was modified in 2013 to simplify aerospace trade rules by moving some regulatory oversight from the State Department to the more business-friendly Commerce Department.
“It makes it easier for small business to get into that game,” Kennedy said. “The commercial opportunities in small spacecraft and constellation missions are enormous. It’s a very exciting time to be in aerospace.”
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