LONGMONT — A 30-person company in Longmont is looking to innovate the way we send things into space — and how we clean it up.
Roccor is working with NASA, the U.S. Air Force and other clients on solutions for sending compact satellites into space and bringing down old satellites now considered “space junk.”
The company was founded in 2015, is led by CEO Doug Campbell and is a leading company in the “New Space” movement — that is, the transition from giant $1 billion satellites built using older technology to cheaper, smaller $1 million satellites that come back to Earth after a few years in operation.
“In New Space, the risk profile has changed,” Campbell told BizWest while sitting in the company’s Longmont office, complete with R&D lab and production facility. “You can’t have a $1 billion satellite fail. But now, we can take chances.”
Roccor designs components for the satellites now typical of New Space: small — sometimes as small as 10 cubic centimeters — cheap and compact.
One of the key components Roccor has created is an extendable arm made of fiber-reinforced composite that can both fold in on itself and roll up. At the end of the arm can be an antenna or solar array. The arm folds up compact against the satellite, meaning it can easily be stored, saving on precious real estate. It extends in a way that is not too fast or without control, which means it won’t burst away from the satellite when operating in the Zero-G conditions of space. The extendable arms can further be controlled with a motor or can operate on their own.
Roccor has also been contracted for end-of-life solutions for satellites.
“Space is turning into a junkyard,” Campbell said. “The FCC is now the governing body for end-of-life and now to send something up you have to show you can bring a spacecraft down in 25 years.”
Rather than using fuel, a precious and expensive commodity for clients, Roccor is designing a drag sail, called ROC Fall, that helps a satellite slowly lose altitude and be brought back into Earth’s orbit, where it will come back down.
Roccor isn’t just working on designs to bring down new satellites: The company was awarded a contract with the Air Force for a product that will bring down old Russian rockets with no sign of coming down from space on their own.
For the growing company — Roccor grew its employee base 100 percent in 2015, 2016 and 2017 before deciding to intentionally slow down its growth this year — Boulder County is an ideal location to innovate in aerospace.
“Boulder County is a hotbed; there is no shortage of aerospace talent,” Campbell said. “Between Ball, Sierra Nevada — about 25 percent of the world competitors are in Boulder County. There is an ecosystem here. Boulder County is the place to be.”