True innovation
This Small Business is Helping Boeing Build America’s New Spaceship
Free Enterprise Staff | September 14, 2016

Welcome to #BizUnited, a new series highlighting innovative partnerships between large corporations and small businesses across America. Check back periodically for new installments.

Collaboration between two of America’s most innovative companies – one relatively small and largely unknown, the other a century-old, globally renowned corporation – is helping pave the way for the next generation of American space travel.

Through a partnership forged by NASA, Houston-based Bastion Technologies, a technology and engineering company, is working hand-in-hand with aerospace and defense giant Boeing to build the CST-100 Starliner, a next-generation crew capsule that will allow the space agency to send American astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. Currently, NASA relies on Russia’s space agency to help transport U.S. astronauts to the space station at a cost of $70 million per roundtrip.

While Bastion has been a Boeing supplier since the company was founded in 1998, this new partnership – inked under NASA’s Mentor-Protégé small business development program – will greatly expand the level of cooperation and collaboration between the two firms. One on hand, the engineers at Bastion will be providing Boeing with 3-D mock-ups of the components required to build the new capsules, and they’ll be sharing some of their proprietary digital engineering technology.

“Bastion is an excellent example of how Boeing and small businesses can collaborate and grow as teammates and as individual companies,” John Mulholland, vice president and program manager of Boeing’s commercial programs, said in a statement. “Through Mentor-Protégé, we’ll accelerate our common support of NASA’s critical work advancing human spaceflight capabilities.”

Related: NASA through the ages: Spin-off technologies invented by the space agency

It’s also a chance for Boeing to strengthen its relationship with a rapidly growing innovator in the aerospace and engineering sector – a relationship that could help the 100-year-old corporation stay at the technological forefront and maintain its competitive edge in an increasingly crowded industry, according to Rebecca Regan, a communications specialist at Chicago-based Boeing.

“A strong supplier in one area can be tapped to help with work across the country – or even the globe,” Regan said.

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The CST-100 Starliner.

In return, Boeing (which is one of NASA’s 26 prime contractors) has committed to helping Bastion learn how to navigate the commercial and government aerospace market and uncover new business opportunities. That includes helping Bastion in its quest to become a standalone NASA contractor.

“Boeing is a market leader in aerospace and Bastion is a small business with big growth ambitions,” said Jorge Hernandez, Bastion’s founder and president. “Training and mentoring from Boeing will really help us navigate the commercial and government aerospace market.”

In broad terms, Hernandez sees the Boeing partnership as a way to link Bastion’s future with one of the most successful and enduring space companies. This is especially important at a time when many other innovative ventures – such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin – have leapt into the modern-day space race. Meanwhile, other technology pioneers such as Lockheed Martin and Rockwell International are working on their own shuttles to carry crew and cargo to the ISS.

On a more granular level, Hernandez says his company is constantly looking for “ways to increase our bandwidth, our margins, and our capital to pursue bigger projects.” He noted that Bastion (a certified small, minority-owned engineering and scientific services company) holds an array of patents across three continents, and he hopes that the Boeing partnership will help his company more effectively commercialize all that intellectual property.

“We are all about extending technology to add value,” Hernandez said.

Joining forces with small companies isn’t uncharted territory for Boeing. Last year, the company committed more than $5 billion to contracts with small and diverse businesses across the country. In addition, Boeing is NASA’s prime contractor on the International Space Station, and on that project alone, the firm has awarded more than $200 million in contracts to nearly 700 small businesses.

It’s not merely Boeing and Bastion that come out ahead thanks to these sorts of partnerships. The Starliner project would give NASA new opportunities to expand its existing space missions, it would save American taxpayers money over the $70 million a seat we’re currently paying to Russia per seat, and it would give the economy a much-needed boost in the form of job creation, according to Glenn Delgado, the associate administrator for NASA’s small business programs.

“The technology transferred to these small companies will enhance the agency’s current and future missions, and at the same time, help strengthen the American economy,” Delgado explained.

Related: How NASA is helping small businesses blast off

The first manned CST-100 Starliner is currently scheduled to depart for the International Space Station in early 2018. While that would officially bring a close to this latest chapter in the alliance between Boeing and Bastion, the partnership between them is clearly just beginning to heat up – and the innovative results may very well be limitless.

“We look forward to many more years of cutting-edge work with Boeing and strengthening our aerospace ties through this mentorship program,” Hernandez said.