By Eric Peterson | Jan 10, 2022
St. George, Utah
Thermal management technology
Launched as Airborne ECS, Intergalactic has gained traction in aerospace and defense after changing its name, ownership, and location in the span of two years. In 2019, its new parent, RAM Company, moved the business from Port Angeles, Washington, to St. George, Utah, the longtime home of the manufacturer of solenoids and other electronic components for the aerospace industry.
The company was an attractive acquisition target because of its portfolio of intellectual property around thermal management for aircraft and spacecraft. McCann says thermal management technology has been pretty static for the last 50 years. Faster aircraft and spacecraft require better thermal management systems, and that's what Intergalactic is bringing to market.
"Thermal management hasn't had much innovation at all since the '60s or '70s," says McCann. "The thing they didn't foresee was the huge use of computers on aircraft and electronic equipment."
That goes doubly for military fighter jets, he adds, especially if you want to use onboard laser weaponry. "They can't put that on an aircraft -- it's too big," says McCann. "The idea behind the company was to come up with innovative thermal-management solutions that allow us to take advantage of some of these new technologies on aircraft. We found nobody else was doing that.
"We came up with some new heat exchanger ideas, smart system technology, pump design, compressor design, stuff like that. We went out and marketed it, and found it was the most efficient cooling system ever put in an aircraft by quite a lot -- 300 or 400 percent."
The heart of Intergalactic's technology includes 6,000 to 8,000 syringe-sized needles expertly welded into position with lasers by an undisclosed partner. "The wall thickness of these steel tubes is a third the thickness of a human hair," says McCann. "What you're trying to do is increase the surface area you can transfer heat off of, so a ton of tiny tubes really helps you out there."
The company has developed five systems named for characters from 1980s movies, including McFly (Back to the Future), Gozer (Ghostbusters), and Falkor (Neverending Story). It's largely tied to building a culture that has buy-in from current and potential employees.
"We're really trying to have fun with this, speak to our generation, and make it relevant," says McCann, noting the Intergalactic moniker was chosen not just for its extraterrestrial connotations, but also as a nod to a favorite band. "The Airborne ECS name was so generic we ended up changing it. Most of our leadership is from the era of the Beastie Boys, and we liked their 'Intergalactic' song. We also liked it because that's the point of our company: We're pushing boundaries to things that have never been done, like intergalactic travel."
The company's systems currently cost about $500,000 to $2.5 million, but the company forecasts costs will come down as it scales production and expands its catalog. Customers have deployed about 10 systems since the acquisition by RAM; the company's first sales largely went into military aircraft. "Our primary foothold so far has been military, just because the military's more willing to pay for performance," says McCann.
Target markets beyond the military include spacecraft launch platforms and supersonic, hypersonic, and electric aircraft. After that, interplanetary travel is in the long-range crosshairs: Getting people to Mars in a workable interval of time means faster spacecraft, and faster spacecraft generate more heat. "The heat barrier is the major issue," says McCann.
After NASA plans for an 18-month trip to Mars were scuttled, SpaceX is now looking at a six-month journey on a speedier spacecraft. "When you go faster, you create a bunch of heat, and mitigating the heat is one of the main concerns -- if not the main concern -- of going that fast," says McCann. "The reason that's important is we haven't figured out how to keep human beings really vital in space yet. There's a lot of atrophy that occurs. In fact, astronauts couldn't even walk until recently after six months in space, so 18 months is out of the question."
Intergalactic's manufacturing model is to "really own the IP and then contract-manufacture it out with trusted partners we vet out," says McCann. "RAM is a natural fit there, because RAM's already set up to do full-scale, totally integrated component manufacturing. If there's something that we're buying from someone else that RAM's interested in taking on, we can look at that and see if it makes sense -- and most of the time, it does."
Intergalactic currently leases about 15,000 square feet at RAM Company's facility, but the company is currently in the architectural phase of a standalone headquarters at the TechRidge development in St. George that will be between 60,000 and 70,000 square feet. McCann says he expects it to be finished by 2024.
It's part of setting the stage for dynamic growth. "From the nine or 10 systems we've already won, I think we'll get up to 200 systems a year by 2026, 2027, and it's just up from there," says McCann. "In terms of sales, you get up to $50 million pretty quick, $100 million by the end of the decade."
Challenges: "It's really just managing the growth," says McCann. "That's the main thing: making sure we're taking on the right kind of growth and not overtaxing ourselves. It's a constant battle."
Opportunities: "Especially with the commercial space market emerging, there's so much need for advanced thermal management and not a lot of companies that are stepping up to take care of it," says McCann.
He says there is also plenty of potential to make systems for a variety of markets that don't require as much efficiency: "We're really working on good/better/best options, and the scalability of it."
Needs: More room -- which is coming in the form of the new HQ -- and more talent, as McCann projects more than 30 new hires in 2022.
And more capital: Intergalactic will likely pursue a Series A fundraising round in 2022 or 2023. "In aerospace, these jobs take three or four years to mature, so the more you can get in the hopper now, the better it's going to be for you three or four years from now," says McCann.