Boulder firm finding work in commercial space flight
Special Aerospace Services, founded in 2006, offers a variety of services to private companies, government agencies and departments in the aerospace industry.
“The company offers very senior, experienced individuals in human space flight system engineering and program engineering development,” said Tim Bulk, co-founder and executive director for Special Aerospace Services.
The company uses employees and subcontractors to help clients solve problems that arise while working on aerospace projects, including meeting safety requirements, system engineering services and hardware development.
“Our passion is really to support space providers for NASA, the Department of Defense and commercial flight providers,” said Heather Bulk, chief executive officer and co-founder of Special Aerospace Services.
Space flight runs on three different models right now, said David Klaus, a University of Colorado associate professor of aerospace engineering sciences and the associate director of BioServe Space Technologies. The traditional NASA model, where the government-funded agency pays for and owns all equipment. The second is a hybrid or commercialized model where companies contract with NASA for specific services.
“NASA is providing some of the funding but the company is also putting in their own funds, and they will essentially own the space craft and sell the flights to NASA,” Klaus said. NASA recently announced a new round of funding for this type of commercialized endeavor with Louisville-based Sierra Nevada Corp. being awarded a 21-month contract worth $212.5 million.
While Special Aerospace Services doesn’t name specific clients, they do work with companies locally, across the country and around the globe to help bring the best practices and the best services to the U.S., said Heather Bulk.
The third and emerging space flight model is purely commercial and would provide space flight opportunities to private individuals. Possibilities range from short trips into lower orbit for several minutes of weightlessness to the possibility of trips around the moon, Klaus said.
Bulk, with a background in law and finance, co-founded the company with her husband, Tim. Tim worked for Lockheed Martin and NASA and has decades of experience in the aerospace industry.
“When Tim resigned from NASA we decided to divide and conquer,” Heather Bulk said, who heads legal and financial affairs while Tim leads the technical aspect of the company.
“It has worked out extremely well,” Bulk said. The privately owned company currently employs just shy of 30 people, including contractors, she said. The company strategically locates contractors near clients, with hot spots in Cape Canaveral, Houston and Washington D.C. They strive to employ the best, brightest and most-seasoned industry experts for their projects, Tim Bulk said, including industry experts such as Wayne Hale, who came to the company after three decades of service in NASA’s shuttle program.
It was a desire to merge big dreams with the brightest minds that inspired Heather and Tim Bulk to begin Special Aerospace Services.
“I wanted to create that sort of culture in the company with people who were the best at what they did and willing to take risks through their creativity and knowledge, to come up with unique solutions,” Bulk said. The company’s tagline, “Who Dreams Wins,” embodies the nothing-is-impossible ethos of the company.
Boulder’s blend of science, technology and business expertise makes it an ideal place for the company. The Front Range is one of the top aerospace regions in the country, Bulk said. Industry leaders such as Ball Aerospace & Technologies Inc., Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corp. all make the Centennial State home, Klaus said.
“The way people think in Boulder is significantly different than in other areas,” Heather Bulk said. “It’s almost as if anything is possible here. The craziest idea in the world can turn around and be a success.”
Heather’s gender makes her different, too, as the rare woman in a male-dominated industry, let alone the owner of an aerospace company. It’s a position that takes the ability to navigate the industry and understand how to play the field to succeed, she said.
All this out-of-the-box thinking has made the company a success and earned it a positive reputation. Despite the recent retirement of NASA’s shuttle program, it’s an exciting time to be in aerospace wwwith new doors opening in areas of commercialized space flight and recent space success such as the landing of the Mars science lab, Curiosity, Tim Bulk said, many with ties to Colorado aerospace industry.
“The future in space is extremely exciting,” he said. “There is just an incredible opportunity in science missions, space missions and it’s a great time for these younger engineers.”
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