Category: Aerospace

DigitalGlobe completes headquarters shift from Longmont to Westminster

LONGMONT — Officials for Longmont-based DigitalGlobe Inc. (NYSE: DGI) confirmed on Wednesday that the company this week completed the move of personnel into its new corporate headquarters in Westminster.

The milestone makes official a move that the satellite-imagery provider first announced in 2013, though the company plans to maintain a “significant presence in Longmont for the foreseeable future.”

The company is now based at 1300 W. 120th Ave., the former home of telecommunications company Avaya Inc., though DigitalGlobe is still working on renovations to the 480,000-square-foot building where it could someday house well more than 1,000 employees.

DigitalGlobe senior director of corporate communications Nancy Coleman said in an emailed statement that the company is building out amenities that include a café, additional meeting rooms, an auditorium and a fitness center, work that is expected to be complete within a month or so.

“This transition to Westminster has been a very positive experience for our team members and we are happy to be part of this community,” Coleman said. “And we’d like to thank the local community and city, county and state officials who have been supportive and welcoming throughout this process.”

The Westminster facility now houses about 650 employees. The process of moving them all started in early June. In addition to its former headquarters at 1601 Dry Creek Drive in Longmont, DigitalGlobe had another site in Longmont that has been completely vacated, as well as offices in Boulder and Thornton.

When the company announced its plan to move to Westminster in the fall of 2013, the company had roughly 750 employees in Longmont and about 950 total in Colorado.

Company officials declined to say exactly how many employees remain in Longmont. But in October 2014, the company extended its lease on the 169,000 square feet it leases at 1601 Dry Creek Drive for five more years to Aug. 31, 2020, according to a regulatory filing. That lease deal includes a pair of two-year tenant options to extend the lease, as well as an early-termination option that would allow the company to get out of the deal as early as Aug. 31, 2019.

Agribotix names Lou Faust CEO

BOULDER — Agribotix LLC, a provider of agricultural data collected by using drones, has hired Lou Faust as the Boulder-based company’s chief executive.

Faust is taking over for Paul Hoff, who will serve as the startup’s chief operating officer.

Lou Faust

Lou Faust

Faust has more than 30 years of management experience and 10 years on Wall Street as managing director with Salomon Brothers (Citigroup). His expertise is in creating growth strategies, raising capital and leading startups to successful exits.

Agribotix, founded in 2013 by Tom McKinnon, designs and manufactures drones that carry a camera and the company’s software system, which collects data for the agriculture industry.

“I’m delighted to welcome Lou to the Agribotix team,” Hoff said in a prepared statement. “His vast experience funding emerging growth companies and engineering exits will help take us to the next level.”

The ag tech and drone sectors have seen an influx of investors. The proliferation of players offering software and hardware has made for competition among venture capitalists seeking attractive opportunities.

“We believe we have a differentiated growth strategy relative to the competition,” Faust said in a prepared statement. “We’re ‘all ag, all the time.’ Our solution provides critical intelligence growers need to make key business decisions concerning precise fertilizer application, irrigation and more to produce bigger yields and higher profits.”

Agribotix’s products include Field Lens, a cloud-based data analysis and reporting system. Outputs include prescription maps for in-season fertilization, weed reports for geolocating resistant patches, and estimating coverage, plus specialized reporting. The Field Lens is bundled with the Enduro turnkey ag drone system, which includes a long range agricultural quad drone.

Woodward profit, sales decrease despite strength in aerospace segment

FORT COLLINS — Sales growth in its aerospace segment wasn’t enough for local manufacturer Woodward Inc. (Nasdaq: WWD) to offset declines in its energy segment in the company’s third fiscal quarter ending June 30.

Fort Collins-based Woodward, which announced its earnings Monday, saw both profit and revenue decline slightly compared with the same period a year ago.

Woodward makes components and control-system solutions geared toward energy efficiency for the aerospace and energy industries.

Net income for the company slid to $43.8 million, or 66 cents per share, in the third quarter, down from $46 million, or 69 cents per share a year earlier. Revenue, meanwhile, dropped from $524.3 million last year to $494.8 million this year.

Aerospace sales climbed 5 percent to $288.5 million during the quarter. The company also during the period announced a $250 million deal with General Electric Aviation to make and service the fuel systems for GE’s large commercial aircraft engine lines.

But low sales volumes in Asia helped lead to a 17 percent decrease in sales in Woodward’s energy segment to $206.3 million.

Woodward chairman and CEO Thomas Gendron said that, given the weak sales in Asia and impacts of foreign currency rates, the company expects full-year sales to be roughly flat with last year’s $2 billion mark. He said the company anticipates net income for the year to be in the “mid-to-lower end” of the previously announced range of $2.70 to $2.90 per share.

Woodward announced its earnings after markets closed Monday. After the company’s share price closed at $53.37, shares rose in after-hours trading 32 cents to $53.69.

Public event at CU to mark Pluto fly-by

BOULDER — The University of Colorado Boulder will host a free public event at Fiske Planetarium Tuesday evening to mark the New Horizon spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto.

The three-hour event, beginning at 5 p.m., will include the showing of a new documentary, “The Year of Pluto,” followed by live feeds from NASA headquarters and a live panel discussion. The planetarium is located at 2414 Regent Drive on the CU-Boulder campus.

A team of CU-Boulder students designed, built and tested the Student Dust Counter for the mission to measure dust particles along the way that are remnants of collisions between solar-system bodies. The device is the first student-built, student-operated instrument ever to fly on a NASA planetary mission, and the only one of the seven instruments aboard New Horizon that has been collecting data since its launch.

The closest point of New Horizon’s fly-by will occur at 5:49 a.m. Tuesday, and the craft is expected to “phone home” between 7 and 8 p.m. with the first up-close images of the tiny world at the edge of our solar system, said CU spokesman Jim Scott.

Scott was at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Baltimore today along with other CU-Boulder scientists and students involved in New Horizons for the Pluto encounter. APL designed, built and operates the mission and manages it for NASA.

The fly-by will culminate a nine-year, 3 billion-mile journey for New Horizon, a piano-sized, power-packed spacecraft.

“We have waited a long time for this,” said CU-Boulder physics professor Mihaly Horanyi of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and a New Horizons co-investigator. From 2002 to 2005, Horanyi shepherded a revolving group of about 20 students as they developed the dust counter, which is helping researchers learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and the formation of planets from dusty disks around other stars.

The dust counter is a thin plastic film resting on a honeycombed aluminum structure the size of a cake pan mounted on the spacecraft’s exterior. A small electronic box inside the spacecraft functions as the instrument’s “brain” to assess each individual dust particle that strikes the detector. The tiny dust grains hitting the dust counter create unique electrical signals, allowing the students to infer the mass of each particle.

“This mission will complete the first reconnaissance of our solar system and will reshape our understanding of the region where Pluto resides,” said CU-Boulder doctoral student Marcus Piquette, a member of the SDC science team, in a media statement issued by CU.

CU-Boulder professor Fran Bagenal, a mission co-investigator who leads the New Horizons Particles and Plasma Team, was a member of the original “Pluto Underground” — a small, dogged band of planetary scientists who began lobbying NASA in 1989 for a Pluto mission. The Pluto Underground also included then-CU-Boulder doctoral student Alan Stern, who now leads the New Horizons mission from the Southwest Research Institute’s Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder.

Bagenal, a faculty member in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and LASP affiliate, said the interactions of the solar wind with Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere, which is leaking into space, is of high interest.

“It’s clear that when Pluto’s orbit takes it closer to the sun, like it is today, the atmosphere is escaping like crazy,” she said.

Scientists don’t yet know what happens to Pluto’s atmosphere when the dwarf planet moves further from the sun, since a single solar orbit takes 248 years.

Bagenal and her colleagues also want to learn more about why Pluto and some other objects in the Kuiper Belt — a region spanning more than a billion miles past Neptune’s orbit and believed to harbor thousands of moon-sized objects and billions of comets — seem to have a reddish hue.

“It could be that energetic solar particles and cosmic rays are causing chemical reactions on the planet’s surface, turning the methane ice on Pluto’s surface to a reddish-brown gunk,” she said.

In addition to the dust counter, New Horizons is carrying two cameras, two imaging spectrometers and two particle spectrometers to gather data on the surfaces, atmospheres and temperatures of Pluto, its five moons and several Kuiper Belt objects.

“We really have little sense of what Pluto looks like,” Bagenal said. “But with New Horizons we will get our first detailed glimpse of the surface. We will see whether there are craters, or volcanoes, or frost, or tectonic cracks — or something totally unexpected. I think we are in for a good ride, and it’s going to be lots of fun.”

“The fly-by also is an emotional capstone for all the students who worked on SDC,” Horanyi said. “They have moved on to have families and kids and busy lives, but I know that all of them will closely follow the encounter, and remember their contributions with tremendous pride. The encounter is a landmark event along the way to explore the outskirts of the solar system, even beyond Pluto, for possibly decades to come.”

Colorado taking applications for bioscience grants

DENVER — The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade announced this week that it is accepting applications for the Commercial Infrastructure Bioscience Grants as part of the Advanced Industries Accelerator grant programs.

The grants are for fiscal year 2016, and the deadline to apply online is Aug. 14.

The advanced industries program was launched by the state in 2013 to help promote growth and sustainability in the industries of aerospace, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, infrastructure engineering, technology and information, and electronics, energy and natural resources.

The Commercial Infrastructure grants are available for Colorado’s research universities, federal labs located in the state, other labs with technology-transfer offices and companies that are trying to commercialize innovative technologies. Individual grants up to $500,000 can be awarded to large-scale projects that have a broad, industrywide impact.

Boulder’s Blue Canyon Technologies tapped to build weather-satellite constellation

BOULDER – Bethesda, Md., startup PlanetiQ has contracted with Boulder-based Blue Canyon Technologies LLC to build a commercial constellation of 12 weather satellites that it hopes will improve weather modeling capabilities for a variety of users.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. But BCT president and CEO George Stafford said Wednesday that the deal is a big one for his company, and that ultimately the constellation could grow to as many as 40 to 48 satellites.

“Weather is emerging as a major growth sector for aerospace, and our partnership with PlanetiQ positions BCT and the state of Colorado to play a leading role,” Stafford said.

PlanetiQ aims to sell the data gathered from its satellites – each about the size of two loaves of bread – to customers worldwide in the meteorology, aviation, shipping, defense, intelligence, and agriculture industries. The Maryland company will build the sensors and imaging equipment, which use a technique called GPS Radio Occultation to gather data. BCT, meanwhile, will build the spacecraft and integrate all the systems at its east Boulder headquarters.

Founded in 2008 by engineers Matthew Beckner, Steve Steg and Stafford, BCT has supplied components for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a mission to Mars, as well as satellites for various other defense, commercial and academic customers.

BCT has about 20 employees at its 2425 55th St. headquarters, and had more than $3 million in revenue in 2014. Stafford said he expects revenue to grow to more than $5 million this year.

“Together, PlanetiQ and BCT bring the innovation, technical expertise and experience to cost-effectively produce the high-quality data needed to transform the weather-satellite industry and deliver unprecedented economic value,” PlanetiQ president and CEO Anne Hale Miglarese said in a press release.

Fort Collins drone-maker Scion UAS raising new funding, prepping for new product

FORT COLLINS – The owners of drone-maker Scion UAS are looking to raise up to $6 million in equity funding as they get set to unveil a new helicopter at the Experimental Aircraft Association Airventure Oshkosh airshow in Wisconsin next month.

The fundraising was disclosed recently in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission under a new entity called Scion Helicopters LLC. Jim Sampson, one of Scion’s co-founders, declined to comment on the funding. According to the filing, no money has been raised as of yet.

Scion makes an optionally piloted helicopter drone that is capable of autonomous takeoff and landing from a moving platform. It also makes a smaller unmanned version. Last summer, the company delivered a pair of the larger Jackal systems to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory as part of a $3 million contract with the government agency.

The company is touting its drones as useful to a variety of customers, including the Coast Guard, because of their ability to land and take off from a ship.

Other than teasing next month’s unveiling, Sampson said he couldn’t comment on the new aircraft the company is developing. But he said Scion is receiving good interest on its first two, with a pair of orders coming in this week for the smaller Weasel aircraft, which sells for about $350,000 and is aimed at agriculture and utility customers among others.

FAA clears CU team’s drones for weather study

BOULDER — A consortium led by the University of Colorado Boulder will begin flying drones over 54,000 square miles of Texas and Oklahoma this spring to do weather research in the heart of “Tornado Alley,” after receiving permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The consortium, which includes CU-Boulder’s Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles and researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Texas Tech University, received a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA to operate a Tempest drone over parts of the Panhandle region known for its extreme weather, including “supercell” storms that can spawn damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes.

The new “southern COA” complements the 48,000-square-mile “northern COA” previously granted by the FAA to the consortium that covers portions of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, said RECUV director and CU-Boulder aerospace engineering science professor Eric Frew.

The unmanned Tempest has a wingspan of more than 10 feet. Developed at CU-Boulder, the drone can help researchers better understand the origin and development of severe storms by flying to their edges and measuring air pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind velocities, Frew said.

The first project under the new authorization will be the deployment of a Tempest near Lubbock, Texas, during the last two weeks of June. The project will include the team from CU-Boulder and Nebraska and a mobile Doppler radar team from Texas Tech, all of which participated in the massive Vortex-2 Project in spring 2010. That project involved more than 100 researchers and 40 support vehicles that chased severe storms from South Dakota to Texas in a project spearheaded by the National Science Foundation and the Boulder-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While the Lubbock activities this summer are designed to test new technologies, the team probably also would fly the drone into developing storms if the opportunities present themselves, said CU-Boulder aerospace engineering sciences professor Brian Argrow, a co-investigator on the project.

“The next step is to integrate the technology from this project into an unmanned aircraft system known as TTwistor, which is the successor to the Tempest,” said Argrow. TTwistor is being developed by RECUV with financial support from the Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator Program and NOAA.

CU-Boulder is partnering with local companies UASUSA and Black Swift Technologies to develop the TTwistor. UASUSA is a company spun off from Skip Miller Models of Longmont, a company that began manufacturing and marketing the Tempest after the prototypes were developed and flown by RECUV in 2010. BST was founded in 2012 by several CU-Boulder graduates who helped to develop and deploy the Tempest while at the university.

“We are looking forward to future deployments of the TTwistor when we resume our severe-storm research with our partners from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,” said Argrow. Last fall, the universities co-founded the Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Severe Storms Research Group, a consortium of public and private-sector collaborators from universities, the private sector and others that are using drones to study severe storms.

In addition to intercepting storm cells associated with tornadoes in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, CU-Boulder faculty and students also have experience using drones to monitor seal populations in the Arctic, chart sea-ice changes near Greenland and measure features in Antarctic sea ice associated with offshore winds.

DigitalGlobe, Saab AB partner to form 3-D imagery company Vricon

LONGMONT — DigitalGlobe Inc. and Saab AB have partnered to form a company that will produce detailed 3-D images of the earth showing buildings, infrastructure and terrain.

Each company will own 50 percent of Vricon Inc., which will be based in Reston, Va.

Longmont-based DigitalGlobe will provide its archives of earth images taken by high-resolution cameras from its constellation of satellites. Saab, a defense and security company based in Sweden, will provide the 3-D technology.

“By combining DigitalGlobe’s unrivaled imagery archive with Saab’s leading edge technology, we will deliver the globe in 3-D at a scale never before possible,” Jeffrey R. Tarr, DigitalGlobe’s president and chief executive, said in a prepared statement. “By delivering this breakthrough product to our customers, this collaboration will drive growth and shareowner value creation.”

The new company is targeting commercial and government customers in the professional geospatial market with an initial focus on defense, security and infrastructure. Cost of the image service was not disclosed.

“Our customers will benefit from global access to geospatial data of unprecedented quality,” Magnus Brege, CEO at Vricon, said in the statement. He said the joint venture will give Saab and DigitalGlobe a market position ahead of the competition.

Woodward repurchasing $250M in stock in wake of deal with GE

FORT COLLINS — Local manufacturer Woodward Inc. on Wednesday announced that it has inked a “50/50 joint venture” with General Electric Aviation to design, develop, source, supply and service the fuel systems for GE’s large commercial aircraft engine lines.

Woodward, in a press release, stated that the company will receive $250 million in cash from GE and that the two companies will participate jointly in operating results of the program. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close by the end of this year.

In the wake of the deal, Woodward (Nasdaq: WWD) announced plans to repurchase $250 million in outstanding shares over the next 12 months.

“We are pleased to announce this return of capital to our shareholders,” Woodward chairman and CEO Thomas Gendron said in a press release. “This represents a significant monetization of future cash flows related to several long-term programs.”

Fort Collins-based Woodward makes components and control system solutions geared toward energy efficiency for the aerospace and energy industries.