By Eric Peterson | Apr 06, 2017
Satellite recording and processing systems
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Satellite recording and processing systems
Founded in a Southern California garage, SEAKR's business is built on making better data recorders for satellites.
The technology has come a log way. From the Sputnik era into the 1970s, satellites would physically eject film or tapes for spy planes to catch on their descent to Earth. Recorders with radiation-hardened components that could survive beyond the atmosphere became the status quo once radio transmission became technologically feasible by the early 1980s.
The problem? Radiation-hardened processors were exorbitantly expensive. That's when Ray Anderson wondered if it might be easier to build a radiation-resistant case, rather than building recorders with individual radiation-hardened parts.
His perspective was one of experience. "I was in the U.S. Air Force for 28 years and at least half of that time I spent in the space program and the ballistic missile program," says CEO Ray, who worked in the Corona program, the U.S.'s first spy satellite initiative, and later ran its successor, the KH-9 Hexagon program. "I knew the industry -- had been involved with it for 15 or 20 years -- and I saw there was a place where we could fit in."
Ray subsequently co-founded the company with his son, Scott, who is now SEAKR's president. Two more sons later joined the company: Eric now serves as president with Scott as well as COO, and Kurt is a program director. The name, SEAKR, is an acronym of the Andersons' collective initials.
Soon after launching the company with the help of a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant, the Andersons created a new market for solid-state data recorders for satellites and have dominated the category ever since. The company's technology continually improves, with better performance and lower power consumption, but the overarching concept remains the same.
SEAKR's recorders are often mission-critical components in unforgiving environments, and they've demonstrated they're up to the task: The products have a 100 percent on-orbit success rate.
In the 1990s, the company moved into processing systems to complement its recorder business. SEAKR's sales are now about evenly split between recording and processing systems, and the company also offers contract manufacturing services.
The company is also a supplier for the Iridium NEXT constellation that underpins cell phones on Earth, the military reconnaissance satellite TacSat-3, and the International Space Station. SEAKR is also working with Lockheed Martin on Orion, NASA's next-generation vehicle for the exploration of deep space. The company designed and built Orion's Vision Processing Unit (VPU) to process all on-board video, and it also provides a backup flight computer and solid state memory system in a single small package.
The Andersons relocated the company from California to Colorado in 1995. "The space industry has an annual symposium down in Colorado Springs and I had gone for several years," says Ray of the move. "So I thought, 'Why don't we move down to Colorado?' and here we are. Colorado is absolutely a good place for SEAKR -- we are glad we're here."
SEAKR has grown 67 percent in the last five years. The company has jumped from about 300 employees in 2012 to more than 450 employees in 2017, and about half of staffers are engineers.
The company's Centennial campus now consists of more than 100,000 square feet in four facilities that support fully integrated engineering, manufacturing, and testing. The centralized approach aims to maximize efficiencies while reducing development time and cost. SEAKR also has 6,500 square feet of additional office space at its ASIC design center in Superior.
After evolving and growing with the satellite industry for more than 30 years, innovation remains critical to SEAKR's success. "It is the mother of milk to us," says Scott. "We live or die on innovating better and faster than anyone else."
Challenges: "Our number-one challenge is hiring people as good as those that came before them, and we have been very successful," says Scott. "Number two -- finding customers who understand what it takes to really build state-of-the-art space electronics. Number three is patience, waiting for our customers and industry to embrace the innovative ideas we have."
Opportunities: "SEAKR's market is growing as we expand into more on-orbit processing for imaging and communication applications," says Eric. "This market has the potential for a high growth given the convergence of new enabling technology of digital imaging sensors and higher-capacity satellite communication systems."
Needs: Talent. SEAKR currently has hiring needs in a variety of areas, including QA, software, and manufacturing engineers, and a PCB designer.