Engineering for Space: Opterus

Opterus’ founder and CEO, Tom Murphey
Opterus’ founder and CEO, Tom Murphey

Tom Murphey is the owner of Opterus, an aerospace company that chose to launch into its second stage of development here in Loveland. He moved his family and business to Northern Colorado in 2017 and expects Opterus to more than double in size over the next two years – from nine employees to around 20. 

We sat down with Tom at his engineering offices at The Warehouse Business Acceleratorhere in Loveland to learn more about the growing business of manufacturing for outer space.  

Opterus designs and manufactures deployable spacecraft structures. What does that mean?

It encompasses anything that unfolds from a satellite and has to get bigger. Satellites have gotten much smaller and more efficient thanks to developing technologies, but their components still need to be really big. For example, you need large solar arrays to generate power, you need big antennas or parabolic dishes to send and receive data. What drives a lot of what we do is sensors and power generation – we make very big devices that can be folded up very small during launch. 

How do you develop a solar array, for example, that can deploy to be 100 times larger than its size at launch?  

One of Opterus’ deployable booms
One of Opterus’ deployable booms

I worked at the Air Force Research Laboratory for 10 years, where I started a deployable spacecraft structures research group. We developed thin, flexible high-performance composites like carbon fiber or glass fiber laminates – materials that you can bend two to three times more than steel. Imagine an incredibly high-end Stanley tape measure or a snap bracelet. We can then use those materials to replace legacy mechanisms that had 100’s of parts with a simple composite structure with only 1 part. 

What is the market like for small satellites? 

Satellites are used a lot for communication for both commercial and military applications– think Direct TV, GPS, or imagery development. The Nano/Microsatellite Market Forecast, 9th Edition by SpaceWorks shows that annual nano/microsatellite launches have grown by over 150% in the last 5 years, and growth is expected to continue. 

Opterus on the day they moved into the Rocky Mountain Center for Innovation and Technology (Left to right: Todd Whitaker, Kyle Johnson, Sebastian Mettes, Jeremy Kellogg)
Opterus on the day they moved into the Rocky Mountain Center for Innovation and Technology (Left to right: Todd Whitaker, Kyle Johnson, Sebastian Mettes, Jeremy Kellogg)

Why did you choose to locate your high-tech business in Loveland?

Loveland is a place where people want to move, and it is economically friendly to new graduates, much more so than Denver or Boulder. And for many folks who already work in this field and have homes in the Boulder/Longmont area, they can have a balanced commute. Loveland has a nice downtown. And, we know that a lot of employees want to stay in Loveland long-term. Loveland offers everything that Colorado offers at an economical price point.

What do you think will be a game changer for the future of Loveland?

Efforts like Live Loveland are huge in getting the word out on how great Loveland is. There is such a focus [in the tech industry] on everything down south [Boulder]. When people realize how good Loveland is, it is really going to pop.  

Ed note: The Warehouse Business Accelerator provides second stage assistance and mentorship for technology and manufacturing companies. Second stage firms occupy a particular economic niche: they make up 13% of our economy, but create 37% of our jobs!

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By Jessica Moskwa Hawkins
May 10, 2019 

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