The University of Colorado at Boulder, a national leader in aerospace engineering, and SpaceDev Inc., a leading entrepreneurial space company located in Louisville, Colo., have partnered to create eSpace: The Center for Space Entrepreneurship. eSpace is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating new entrepreneurial space companies, commercializing aerospace technologies created within these companies and developing the aerospace workforce to support them.
“We believe entrepreneurial space companies are innovation engines that are transforming how we get to, utilize and explore space,” said Scott Tibbitts, executive director for eSpace. Tibbitts, an entrepreneur, founded Starsys Research and is currently the managing director for SpaceDev, a fully owned subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corp.
“By providing access to the academic resources of the university, grants to promising space entrepreneurs, and access to both the manufacturing infrastructure of SpaceDev and a network of experienced aerospace entrepreneurs, we expect to create a fertile environment for ensuring the best possible chance of success for startup space companies,” said Tibbitts.
Jeffrey M. Forbes, chair of the CU-Boulder department of aerospace engineering sciences, said of eSpace, “The availability of design project courses at the graduate level with opportunities to receive support for a new business venture may be unequaled by any other aerospace department in the nation. We intend to provide an unprecedented support structure for aerospace innovation and technology development at CU-Boulder.”
eSpace is unique in its approach to supporting the creation of these companies by lowering the barriers for entry to an absolute minimum, according to Tibbitts. More than $1 million has been provided to support the launch of the center. Its primary funding is provided by a grant from the Metro Denver WIRED initiative, or Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development, with additional funding provided by the Colorado Office of Economic Development, CU-Boulder, SpaceDev and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Located only 10 minutes from CU, SpaceDev will provide the physical space for the startup companies, allowing them to benefit from the process control systems, quality systems, clean rooms and test equipment already on its site. In addition, co-location with SpaceDev enables new entrepreneurs to “rub shoulders” with one of the nation’s premier entrepreneurial space companies. In its first year, eSpace will provide five $20,000 grants to promising entrepreneurs to help support new entrepreneurial space companies.
CU-Boulder and the Colorado space industry will be primary sources for new technologies and entrepreneurs to seed the eSpace incubator. To accelerate this process, eSpace will directly fund an eSpace Venture Design program through a $90,000 grant to the department of aerospace engineering sciences that will support three hands-on projects for graduate student teams to design aerospace technologies with commercial applications and the potential to transition into eSpace’s incubator.
The projects will be coordinated at CU by Joe Tanner, a highly accomplished former astronaut and member of the aerospace engineering sciences faculty. The initial round of eSpace-funded technologies includes:
o The “Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment” to develop nanosatellites that can improve the prediction of solar storms and their effects on Earth.
o A “Mini Jet Engine” for unmanned aerial vehicles.
o “SmartSondes for Atmospheric Sensing” to provide a remote control unmanned aerial system that can measure micro-weather effects near storms and wildfires.
The workforce development mission of eSpace also will be accomplished through the innovative eSpace Straight to Space, or S2S program, by providing on-the-job training grants of $1,000 to $4,000 to high school graduates and community college students and placing them in existing entrepreneurial space companies in the Front Range.
Diane Dimeff, previously the associate dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley campus, will be responsible for its leadership and day-to-day operations. Dimeff, director of eSpace, brings a history of working with both academia and industry to conceive of and build entrepreneurial programs. Addressing the mission of eSpace, Dimeff said, “eSpace is an exceptional opportunity for collaboration among industry, government and education to create jobs, commercialize research and incubate new businesses.”
Oversight and stewardship will be provided by a board of directors and board of advisers comprised of nationally recognized leaders in aerospace entrepreneurship, aerospace education and high-technology businesses.
“Entrepreneurial space companies are a national resource to be nurtured and developed,” said Tibbitts. “The innovations they provide are making space exploration more affordable and accessible to humankind. In upcoming years, we expect that the methods we use to get to, utilize and explore space will be transformed from government-supported endeavors to private, entrepreneurial ventures. eSpace intends to be an important part of that transformation.”
For more information visit the eSpace Web site at www.espacecenter.org, SpaceDev Inc. at www.SpaceDev.com, the CU-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences department at www.colorado.edu/aerospace, Sierra Nevada Corp. at www.sncorp.com and the Metro Center WIRED initiative at www.metrodenver.org/wired.