Profile | Michael D. Griffin, Chairman and Chief Executive, Schafer Corp.

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin had been tucked away in academia for some three years when he was known as on to assist reverse the fortunes of Schafer Corp., the Huntsville, Alabama, engineering and technical evaluation agency whose gross sales had been declining following the lack of key contracts with NASA and the U.S. Missile Protection Company.

Griffin, who departed NASA in 2009 with the change in presidential administrations, was prepared for a change. Whereas serving as an eminent scholar and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering on the College of Alabama in Huntsville, he was tapped ceaselessly by U.S. authorities businesses for consulting work together with the lately accomplished examine for the Air Pressure on mitigating a lack of entry to the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.

“So I spotted after about three years that I actually wasn’t occupied with college stuff — I used to be simply sitting in a college nonetheless on this area,” Griffin stated. “It was arduous to search out time to show class. I didn’t need to do it that means so I made a decision that it wasn’t the suitable spot for me.”

The transfer appears to be understanding, notably for Schafer, the place Griffin took over in August 2012. The corporate is predicted to extend its income by about 12 p.c, to $120 million, this 12 months, and Griffin says there’s no cause it can’t keep that progress price for the subsequent 5 years.

The privately held firm has some 600 staff, which is up a bit from a 12 months in the past, Griffin says.

Schafer’s most promising progress areas seemingly are exterior the aerospace sector — in info know-how (IT), for instance — however Griffin additionally sees potential new income streams in house and missile protection. Presently aerospace, a lot of it labeled, represents about 30 p.c of the corporate’s whole enterprise.

Being again within the non-public sector hasn’t stopped Griffin from voicing opinions about NASA’s human spaceflight program. A vocal critic of the choice to scrap the Constellation lunar exploration program for which he was architect in chief, Griffin lately co-wrote an op-ed within the Houston Chronicle endorsing an outdoor proposal to ship astronauts on a Mars flyby mission in 2020.

That mission, the brainchild of pioneering house vacationer Dennis Tito, would leverage {hardware} NASA is already engaged on, particularly the heavy-lift Area Launch System and Orion deep-space capsule. The catch is that the mission must launch in 2021 to attenuate the transit time to Mars.

Griffin spoke lately with table4 Editor Warren Ferster.

 

What are Schafer’s aerospace packages to the extent that you could talk about them?

Basically phrases I can say we do directed vitality work for the Air Pressure, house situational consciousness for the Air Pressure, atmospheric corrections for optical methods.

 

Are Schafer’s contracts sometimes program particular?

Precisely. Directed vitality is an instance. If you wish to propagate laser beams within the ambiance, we’re your folks. We’re a part of the contractor crew that runs the Maui optical web site in Hawaii, which the Air Pressure makes use of to take footage of issues. If you wish to take an image clearly then it’s a must to have atmospheric correction. It’s a reasonably small group of people that understand how to try this sort of factor. We’re in that neighborhood.

 

Is your house situational consciousness enterprise rising?

No. It’s steady; I definitely wouldn’t say it’s rising. Our progress has been in IT, methods engineering and technical evaluation work is doing effectively, DARPA and Homeland Safety.

 

Is any of your work for the Protection Superior Analysis Tasks Company work space-related?

A few of it’s however I can’t go into what we do for DARPA.

 

Are you seeking to get again into doing work for NASA and the Missile Protection Company?

Sure, completely. In actual fact the Missile Protection Company Engineering and Assist providers contract comes up subsequent 12 months. We’ll be going after that for positive. After which we did win a spot on the KLXS-2 crew — the Kennedy Launch Companies help contract. Millennium Engineering is the prime. So we’re making an attempt to regrow the corporate again into the aerospace sector, each nationwide safety and civil.

 

Is NASA’s Area Launch System a chance?

Completely. Boeing has the prime contract on that however there are locations for skilled providers contractors similar to us. Boeing hires lots of these folks. Teledyne has bought the engineering providers and prototyping contract—we’re a Teledyne crew member on that. That’s an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract.

 

What has been Schafer’s income curve because it was acquired in 2008 by Metalmark, the private-equity firm?

It’s been down till this 12 months. So it’s a little bit of a turnaround. We’re seeking to develop not less than 12 p.c a 12 months for the subsequent 5 years — that’s our goal.

 

Do you assume that’s life like on this setting?

I do. We’re on the lookout for greater than that within the IT sector — I feel that’s fully affordable — and within the authorities providers sector that sort of progress may not be achievable however while you common all of it out I feel 12 p.c could be very affordable.

 

Is Schafer interested by company acquisitions?

If it’s an excellent deal, yeah. Two years in the past we acquired a small outfit that does extremely labeled stuff. We added them to the Schafer portfolio.

 

Are you able to identify the corporate?

No. They do work for the Nationwide Safety Company. We’re at all times looking out for an excellent monetary deal. Should you’re within the private-equity enterprise this can be a good time to be a purchaser. We’ve got a proposal in proper now for a small acquisition that I can’t identify. I’ve been right here about 18 months we’ve put in affords on three or 4 issues in that point.

 

You lately helped write a report that laid out some fairly severe penalties for shedding entry to the RD-180, which serves as the principle engine on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. What message had been you making an attempt to ship? 

I’d quite not touch upon the RD-180 — I’d actually quite have the Air Pressure do the commenting on that.

 

OK, other than the examine, has the US uncared for growth work in propulsion?

It’s very clearly true that it has been a very long time since the US has developed a liquid rocket engine within the 500,000-pound thrust class or bigger. The final one was the RS-68 for the Delta 4 and the final time earlier than that was the Area Shuttle Primary Engine.

 

Do you assume liquid-oxygen (LOX)-hydrocarbon is the way in which to go, as Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Pressure Area Command, has steered?

I don’t need to get into what our committee beneficial. As Gen. Shelton stated, definitely we had been urging that individuals take a look at LOX-hydrocarbon. Whether or not the hydrocarbon is kerosene or methane stays to be decided. However there’s a clear lack at this time of unbiased U.S. functionality in that area, and we’ve been shopping for it from Russia for 20 years. Policymakers are going to must resolve whether or not that state of affairs ought to proceed.

 

You’ve voiced help for the 2021 Mars flyby mission proposed by Dennis Tito’s Inspiration Mars group. What about that mission do you discover so enticing?

It definitely is inside the realm of risk. It’s an excellent alternative from an astrodynamics standpoint — it’s in the suitable place and we are able to get there with not lots of vitality. We’ve got talked for 3 a long time about how Mars is the long-term aim. Right here’s a chance to do quite a few stuff you’re going to must study to do while you’re going to place folks on Mars. You’re going to must study to fly in house for a protracted time period — a whole bunch of days. It is advisable know in regards to the radiation setting — we don’t know sufficient about that now. There’s the problem of the life-support tools — it has to work for a whole bunch of days. There’s the problem of bringing collectively a re-entry automobile that has to return in at the next velocity than we’ve ever executed earlier than. These are issues like after we did Apollo 8, which went across the Moon. Apollo 8 wasn’t a lunar touchdown nevertheless it helped folks reply lots of questions on going to the Moon. If the US had been to step up and do [a Mars landing mission], a Mars flyby at an early alternative would reply lots of questions for us. Issues that everytime you go you’re going to must reply them someday.

 

Wouldn’t it’s tough to make the 2021 launch window, even when NASA began working in earnest on such a mission at the beginning the 2015 fiscal 12 months?

Sure, after all it could be difficult. That is likely one of the causes it could be value doing. If we’re ever to land on Mars, the challenges imposed by the proposed flyby must be confronted. The earlier we achieve this, the higher.

 

Would that require a reordering of NASA’s priorities?

In all probability so, however that isn’t for me to say.

 

Suppose the White Home elects to do that however NASA is unable to tug the mission collectively by 2021. Are there worthwhile near-term backup mission choices accessible — to any vacation spot — or would NASA be compelled to face down till the subsequent alternative for the Mars flyby, which as I perceive it comes within the 2030s?

I don’t know. That seems like an incredible examine query for the astrodynamicists.

 

If given the chance, would you contemplate going again to NASA?

I’m at all times accessible for presidency service on the proper degree if any person needs me to contemplate coming again. Most individuals, if requested, will comply with serve. It’s an obligation.

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