COLORADO SPRINGS — The National Space Symposium, long dominated by the large government prime contractors, is seeing a groundswell of attendance by space startups that hope to fill the gaps left by a battered federal budget.
"I want to do something that spends the money better and that appeals to a lot of people, especially in a budget-constrained environment," said Christian Lenz, chief operating officer of PLANETiQ.
PLANETiQ began in September and consists of three people including Lenz in Boulder. New York-based Moog recently partnered with the startup, which is giving the weather satellite data company some momentum.
"We can significantly help weather agencies improve their forecast," said Anne Hale Miglarese, president and CEO of PLANETiQ. "Society wants better weather data. It's important to know, not to know whether or not you need a heavy coat, but it's about economic productivity."
A prime example happened Tuesday as a conference full of top satellite companies and their government customers braced for a snowstorm that never materialized at the event's location in Colorado Springs.
According to Miglarese and Lenz, multiple factors are contributing to this "weather information gap," including cost overrun and inefficiencies by the government agencies controlling the weather data.
Not only does PLANETiQ promise to build and deliver improved weather data for a fraction of the price, Miglarese argues that the company's weather technology could save government money once the satellites are flying.
When Washington braces for a storm that never amounts, it is often too late as the federal government has already shut down in preparation.
"You know how much it costs to shut down the federal government in advance?" Miglarese asked. "It's north of $200 million a day."
The commercialization of space-related activities may not be a new topic, but the federal government's recent budget cuts, known as sequestration, have accelerated the situation.
General William L. Shelton, Commander of the U.S. Air Force, said sequestration has put him and other military and agency leaders in a difficult position for determining budget cuts.
"If you choose to do the highest level of readiness with our current (structure) then you squeeze out a lot of these other modernization projects that we would like to undertake," Shelton said.
PLANETiQ said that it can do the modernizing so the government agencies don't have to pay for it until it is ready.
"The weather data been going downhill and has created a data gap," Lenz said. "All we want is a letter of intent from the government saying they'd be our customer if we build it. We don't get paid until the data is delivered. It's a lot better deal for the taxpayers."
According to Lenz, the company is seeking to raise private capital to get the company off the ground and aims to open a Boulder office in the fall.
If all goes well, Lenz said he could see a Colorado office of 25-30 people in the next few years.
Kristen Leigh Painter: 303-954-1638, email@example.com or twitter.com/kristenpainter