Small Businesses Playing a Role in Space Exploration

Can small business compete in the space industry?

Absolutely. All one has to do is find their role and make the most of an opportunity.

Vacuum Technology Incorporated (VTI) is a family owned industrial vacuum company employing over 60 people. And it’s a small business that’s part of America’s future in outer space.

The Tennessee company has produced more than 20 products for NASA and the International Space Station (ISS).

Small Business Trends contacted VTI to find out what role they believe small business can have in future space exploration.

Small Business and the Space Industry

VTI is one of many companies integral to keeping people in space. It produces devices that NASA needs to keep our astronauts safe.

“Over the years, we’ve provided NASA with several calibrated leaks. These small devices help make sure a part or device doesn’t have a leak. As you can imagine, that’s pretty important when it comes to spaceflight,” Jason Alfrey, VTI’s Sales and Technical Director, says.

That success led to more contracts for the Tennessee small business that was formed in 1985. Success breeds success, both here on Earth and in outer space.

Alfrey explains, “NASA was happy with the quality of our work. They selected us to build an Internal Thermal Control System (ITCS) Maintenance Canister. It prevents ammonia, which is critical for keeping the ISS at a constant temperature, from contaminating the air inside.”

Niche Specialties

The experience convinced him other small family businesses could get involved in space flight, too.

“Tackling this project showed us that small businesses can use their niche specialties to make meaningful contributions to global missions,” he says. “In our case, that meant leveraging our decades of experience developing vacuum systems to create a product for space flight.”

Alfrey suggests small businesses need to keep an eye on the changing needs of their customers. He says that’s a key to having a chance in space exploration since innovation and production are rapid.

Small Engineering Firms

“There are a million different ways small businesses can contribute to space exploration,” he says. “Small engineering firms are important for prototyping different systems. And fabricating unique hardware for space applications.”

Still, Alfrey points to a wide swath of possibilities.

“Getting human beings into outer space and back again requires contributions from every industry. We need special textiles, HVAC systems, food containers, you name it. Any small business that’s exceptional at their craft has the opportunity to contribute to this massive endeavor.”

He says there are many companies wanting to explore outer space and no small business vertical that can’t get involved. Alfrey provides a simple formula for success.

“Focus on mastering your trade, and then look for opportunities to bring that expertise to the space industry.”

Written by Rob Starr:
Rob Starr is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. He is a graduate of Ryerson University in Toronto. He graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Journalism degree. His print credentials include employment with various Toronto area newspapers and three works of fiction–The Apple Lady (2004), Creekwater (2006) and Sophistry By Degrees (2008) published by Stonegarden Press In California. His online work includes thousands of web pages, blogs and articles and he’s edited several works of fiction for writers including Gareth Powell in the UK. He also works as a content strategist/manager in New York City and a freelance journalist with Small Business Trends.