Space 2.0 Fueling Rapid Southwest Research Institute Growth

Aug 3, 2017

Southwest Research Institute engineers and technicians assemble and integrate an engineering model of the CYGNSS microsatellite.
Credit Southwest Research Institute

This week, Southwest Research Institute announced it had been awarded $1.25 million contract for a study of a potential mission investigating the Sun's corona. 

But that million dollars is nothing compared to the rapid growth in SwRI's Space Systems Directorate.

In the last six months, SwRI's Space Systems Directorate -- which builds spacecraft and components like avionics for space vehicles -- doubled its average annual revenue. The speed of the increase has surprised a lot of people says Director Michael McLelland.

"It's one of those good surprises," He says.  "Things have come together and the space community has specific items that they need to address, and we are in a good position to address them."

December's launch of the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) marked the first time the organization had built an entire space vehicle. The eight suitcase-sized satellites have been successful, and McLelland thinks is fueling some of their tailwind.

Space Systems has won 75 percent of the contracts they have bid on the past six months, which is eight. SwRI has to hire 15-20 new staff members in the San Antonio-based  department to keep up. 

Only two of those big contracts are with NASA. The other six are commercial outfits.

"The commercial sector is the single biggest growing sector in our business area," McLelland says. And its across the industry, explains.

Often called Space 2.0, the race to develop small sattelites and commercial spaceflight has driven record setting investments like in 2015.  According to the Tauri Group, venture capital sunk nearly 2 billion into space endeavors that year.  According to CBInsights, VC has invested $371 million into space startups so far this year.