The estimated 14,000 people who converged on the 34th Space Symposium this week reflected a buoyant attitude about the state of the U.S. space industry — and Colorado Springs’ role in it.

Multi-domain command and control and space situational awareness are drawing attention, along with the rise of smaller players in the industry. And the Springs’ strong military presence and enviable lifestyle are making it easy for firms with facilities here to attract the talent they need.

Reflecting on 29 consecutive years attending the Space Symposium, AGI co-founder and CEO Paul Graziani said the industry has seen a real resurgence after its hurdles. There were rough times in the early 2000s, he said, when military and industry funding for space plummeted, and the bad years of “rockets blowing up and satellites malfunctioning,” followed by sequestrations and government shutdowns — but the industry has hit its stride again.

And Colorado Springs’ place in it is “critical,” he said. “This is — I don’t know if we use this term — Space Central.”

Pennsylvania-based AGI has a location in the Springs, and develops software that accurately models, analyzes and visualizes objects in space and time. Graziani listed Air Force Space Command, Schriever Air Force Base, Peterson AFB, and Army Space and Missile Defense Command as vital to the space industry.

“There’s a high concentration of people that understand space and can get that job done here — and it’s a phenomenal place to live,” he said. “It’s easy to get people to want to move here; and many [military members] choose Colorado Springs as a place to settle down. There’s a real critical mass of people who understand space, they care about space and they can do stuff in space.”

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Marcus Featherston, executive vice president of Mission Solutions with Polaris Alpha, said those same factors helped drive the company’s rapid growth and its decision to keep headquarters in the Springs.

Lifestyle is now critical for attracting aerospace talent, he said.

“We’re advertising in the D.C. area right now telling people we’ll relocate them to Colorado: ‘Hey — we’re doing really cool stuff, it’s high-tech, fun work and you get the mountains and the outdoor stuff, if you’re tired of the rat race around the Beltway,’” he said.

Featherston described Colorado Springs as “one of — if not the — most important centers of space.”

The five military installations located in and around the Springs give the city an advantage when it comes to the flow of ideas and technologies between the Department of Defense and the commercial sector, Featherston said.

“We have a long tradition of hiring a lot of ex-military people,” he said. “Even if they’re not developers or technologists they can sit side by side with our engineers and say, ‘No, this is what it needs to do. Don’t worry about this document that says do XYZ; this is what that really means.’”

In less than two years — and fueled by a string of acquisitions — Polaris Alpha has grown from a handful of small component companies to a mid-tier firm with around 1,500 employees. Featherston said the company is “still planning to grow very fast in the next few years,” and anticipates that within three to five years it will reach “2,000-3,000 employees and well over half a billion dollars in revenue.”

This is Polaris Alpha’s first year exhibiting at the Space Symposium and, among other things, the company is showing off multi-domain command and control capabilities based on operational technologies.

“Some of our biggest pushes are really space and cyber, which are semi-related in many ways,” Featherston said. “Many of the domains that we work in, they’re traditionally treated very differently, but we try to show the government how they can make these work very well together. For example, one of my loves is command and control, and the Air Force always thought about command and control as kinetic: How do I go strike a target? But now they’re starting to think, ‘Well, I just want to disable their operations — I could strike it, I could do a cyber attack, I could do something in space. How do I look at all these in a holistic way?’ We’re trying to show we have technology that will help them do that — it’s not a 20-year think-about-it; we can show them today.”

Raytheon, which performs software sustainment for NORAD at Peterson AFB and Cheyenne Mountain, is also expanding its presence in the Springs.

“We chose three years ago to get more focused on Colorado Springs,” said Todd Probert, Raytheon’s VP of Mission Support and Modernization. “When we started [the NORAD Integrated Space Support Contract] we were under 100 [employees in Colorado Springs]; now Raytheon has 400-500 on NISSC alone. We’ve got other programs in the region that we’re growing on as well.”

Probert said he expects Raytheon will reach upwards of 1,000 employees in the region in the next 18 months, calling that “a testament to the talent and the mindset of Colorado Springs.”

Raytheon is also part of the drive for multi-domain command and control constructs, Probert said.

“Multi-domain is not just the space elements or the missile defense elements or the air or land or sea or cyber,” he said. “It’s making sure that we understand the myriad of threats that cut across, and all the options for our warfighters to create an effect.”

In Colorado Springs, Lockheed Martin has been working on space situational awareness since the 1960s, said Bill McShane, Lockheed Martin C4ISR program manager. It’s essential for tracking the tens of thousands of objects traveling at high speeds in space, so they don’t interfere with satellites orbiting the Earth.

Building on that long heritage, he said, Lockheed developed the iSpace system to provide sensor data processing, space domain awareness, command and control and battle management capabilities for space.

Lockheed launched the system a year ago and on April 17 announced the Commonwealth of Australia as its newest international iSpace customer.

The same team that developed iSpace — about 50-100 in Colorado Springs at any given time, McShane said — also works on the Space Fence mission processing system. Space Fence is the new, billion-dollar sensor that the U.S. government is building to track satellites and objects in space.

Unlike space itself, which is increasingly crowded and contested, McShane sees plenty of room for new players in the space industry.

“The industry is changing and it’s very exciting today,” he said. “Space at one time was limited to governments and large contractors like Lockheed, and now it’s diversifying with all of these smaller companies and commercial companies coming into the area.”

This diversification even helps giants like Lockheed, he said.

“The more and more people who want to launch into space, the price of the satellites and the price of the launches comes down,” McShane said, “and that will grow the market in general.”

David Rogers, partner and Federal Practice leader for Colorado with Deloitte & Touche LLP, also sees smaller players as critical to innovation.

While Deloitte’s 9-month-old presence in the Springs market is driven primarily by its defense and national security efforts — mostly a sizable contract to assist Air Force Space Command with defensive cyber activities — it’s also looking to help new entrants into the market.

“Innovation is really occurring in large part through smaller companies [that] historically have not really been government contractors,” Rogers said. “One of the things we’re interested in doing here with innovation that’s going on in the Springs, and through our location at the Catalyst Campus, is helping those small emerging companies to figure out how to work together with the government.”

More of the action from the 34th Space Symposium:

  • Orbital ATK's ESPAStar at 1:20 scale. The ESPAStar platform provides a modular infrastructure resource for hosting technology development and operational payloads.