York Space Systems, Metro State University collaborate on Air Force research contract

A satellite manufacturer and operator and Metropolitan State University of Denver have received a federal contract to work on ways to more efficiently process and analyze data collected from space.

York Space Systems, which designs and operates small spacecraft, and MSU said Wednesday that they have won a Small Business Technology Transfer contract for research and development. Dirk Wallinger, York CEO and board director, said the Air Force is interested in automating the process of assessing the images and data collected from satellites.

“Taking pictures is good, but the pictures themselves don’t tell you the action that needs to be taken,” Wallinger said. “That’s the part the MSU-Denver lab will be working on, training students how to take the data and turn it into actual information that helps people here on Earth.”

York, which has other contracts with the Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, manufactures and operates spacecraft.

“We’re in the business of acquiring data, but we don’t actually analyze that data,” Wallinger said. “That’s work that our customers do. In this case, MSU-Denver is our customer and we will provide data to them. They will provide training to the students on how to analyze data.”

York and MSU have an ongoing partnership. The company, started in 2016, located its office and manufacturing facility in the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building on the MSU campus in lower downtown Denver. The department hosts other private companies in the building.

In May, York moved into a new production facility nearby, tripling its space, but still has its office in the MSU building.

The new Air Force contract is another way for the industry to work with academia to ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in aerospace and that people are prepared to enter the workforce, Wallinger said.

“While we are providing faculty and talented students to support this important research, York is helping us mentor the next generation of aerospace entrepreneurs, so they understand what it takes to succeed in every aspect of space commercialization,” said Jeff Forrest, MSU Denver professor and chairman of the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department, said in a statement.

Forrest is a principal researcher on the study.

York, which also has commercial customers, is among the Colorado aerospace companies specializing in what is considered an evolution in space technology — small satellites. The dimensions vary from the size of a wine box to a hotel mini fridge to a desk, about the size of York’s platform.

Technological advances have allowed smaller satellites to offer many of the capabilities of larger craft for a fraction of the cost.

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