Aerospace company Loveland produces compact, feather-light equipment for space – Loveland Reporter-Herald
It’s a bit obscure and has almost nothing to do with Loveland Opterus Research and Development Inc., but at one point the founder of the aerospace company leasing space at the Forge thought he would use his invention. to make even better bass fishing rods.
The black bass is known in scientific circles as the micropterus salmoides. Thomas Murphey, the founder of Opterus, was hoping to develop high-tech composite fishing rods – you know, the kind that seems to almost bend in half without breaking when a fisherman tries to land that trophy fish.
Instead, space called, and Murphey turned his invention into a raw material for products that could support aerospace and allow large structures to be transported through space in tiny boxes.
Opterus Research and Development Inc. has developed a material called High Strain Composites that is as light as a feather and strong enough to support the weight of a 200 pound solar panel on the moon, or heavier if needed. And it’s packed in small containers suitable for launch into space without taking up too much valuable cargo space.
Opterus, like a rocket on a launch pad, is about to take off thanks in part to a grant from the City of Loveland that allows the company to grow.
Opterus signed an agreement with the city this summer to receive a $ 30,000 grant and in return add 33 tech jobs to the operation over the next five years. She actively recruits engineers, when she can find them, and the average salary for Opterus staff is $ 100,000 per year.
While the company is confident to add this number of jobs, four developing product lines operating in parallel could produce even faster growth.
Opterus is an aerospace company that started in 2015. It is located on the Forge Campus – the former facility of Hewlett-Packard Co. – in South Loveland.
The grant enabled Opterus to grow from a 4,000 square foot facility to over 9,000 square feet in what used to be HP’s C Building. In this space, 17 engineers and technicians work to produce a lightweight and high-strength flexible carbon fiber composite material. The material is extracted from freezers, shaped into poles and antennas, baked in ovens, rolled in tiny wrappers and ready to explode in space where it will be deployed on a spacecraft or space stations when unrolled. and positioned.
Customers such as the US Department of Defense, NASA and private aerospace companies turn to Opterus to produce rigid structural supports, for example, which can be stored in a shoebox-sized package and deployed. from five to 30 meters in space.
To the untrained eye, an Opterus pole in its compressed state may look like a metal tape measure that can be removed from a compact package to measure something along its extension. But it is lighter than metal and much more stable than the tape measure. The expanded material may be in the form of a round tube or a diamond-shaped hollow tube.
Developed by company founder Murphey, the material originated from his work with the US Air Force Research Lab, where he launched and led the Space Development Group.
“We are putting this work into new technology,” he said. The booms and other inventions of the company have patents pending, he said. “We are the only closed section ramp supplier,” he said. “We’re finding out what we can do with it. “
Erik Pranckh, Business Development Director and Engineering Program Manager for Opterus, and Murphey described four product lines that have potential for the company. If one of them takes off, the target number of employees easily occurs. More staffing would occur if multiple product lines took off.
- The material can be made into poles to support technologies used in space.
- It can be used to support solar panels that can be stored in small containers that unfold out in space.
- It is used on parabolic reflectors – communication dishes, for example. Again, it would be folded or rolled up and then deployed in space to its maximum size.
- And it has applications for manufacturing in space.
“If someone goes big, we’re there,” Pranckh said.
The process used to make and shape booms and other devices is well developed and fast. A high-performance communications dish, for example, can be completed in one day with a single technician, while older technologies may have taken several technicians several weeks to do the same.
While some of the company’s products are already deployed in space, some are still being tested. NASA will send samples of the product to the International Space Station to test its reflection reliability in space, for example.
Murphey said the material has applications throughout the aerospace industry, but small satellites particularly benefit because it gives them greater capacity. And a contract with a company providing for a constellation of small satellites would be particularly beneficial for Opterus, while reducing the unit cost to the satellite company.
Within the Opterus factory, several freezers store the raw material before it is removed and shaped into its final product. The material will harden and become difficult to shape if left at room temperature for a long time. Then the shaped material is placed in an oven to harden. A wall of ovens lines one side of the facility, all of which are built in-house by technicians. Opterus is working on the construction of 30 foot ramps, which require the furnace setup.
The company is convinced that it has products that are useful for government or commercial space operations. She is still looking for funding for qualifying tests. A solar panel built in the Loveland lab has just been shipped to NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, where it will be on display to garner support for the further development of compact, high-power solar panels for architectures. next-generation spacecraft, said Pranckh.
A combination of private industry funding coupled with government matching is likely the source of the flight demonstrations to take place.
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