Even the established space players are facing challenges getting contracts these days. The United States government is looking at ways of trimming its spending. NASA is reconfiguring its human space flight focus. Commercial clients are trying to make their way in a bull market.
Startup thinking is the way out of this, according to Harris Corp. About 18 months ago, the company created a missions solutions group, staffed with a handful of people whose pure focus is to search out problems that have not been addressed yet.
"We went out and we looked at where are the gaps," said Bill Gattle, Harris' vice-president of programs in space systems, in an exclusive interview with SpaceRef Tuesday at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
"What are the things that people are saying - government, industry - that we need to solve that problem. We started looking at those and said those are opportunities."
Nimbleness is the new game in company thinking these days. Following the thousands of jobs eliminated in the wake of the last recession, companies are finding a need to not only do more with fewer people, but also to stay competitive in a tough space market.
The solution, for business in general and also in space, is to create new markets that have an established customer need. For Harris, that has worked quite well, as the company has posted 30 per cent year-over-year growth in the past three years simply seeking out these opportunities.
On the Harris side, the company is working to be more agile by reducing launch preparation time, through automating certain manufacturing processes. This can reduce the time by months or even years, depending on the complexity of the payload.
In a briefing Wednesday morning, Mr. Gattle also pointed to hosted payloads and satellites that can change missions on the fly as areas in general that are exciting industry players.
It's impossible to peg Harris into a single business, and that goes for both space and the company in general. They develop and manufacture television systems and services. They provide secure communications for the military.
On the space side, Harris is known for developing Ka-band unfurlable mesh detectors. These are less costly to launch due to their lower mass, and provide less stress and strain on the satellite in orbit.
Just 20 minutes away from their corporate headquarters in Melbourne, Fla. is a customer briefing centre featuring the latest in Harris technology. Customers can manipulate the hardware and get a sense of how it works (defense components are sometimes downgraded or altered for security reasons.)
It's admirable for a company such as Harris to realign its business strategy at the same time that cost-cutting occurs. It provides a stable base on which to build revenues, and positions the business better for any challenges that may lay ahead.