AeroAstro Professor, and former department head, Edward Crawley, sympathizes. When he arrived as a student in 1972, eager “to be a space guy,” he figured he would have to be involved either with NASA, or a large aerospace company. “But eight years later, when I considered my career options, I didn’t find these alternatives inspiring.” Instead, he devoted himself to research, the fruits of which included a number of significant spinoff companies. Barriers for entry into the aerospace business have been high for a reason, Crawley says. “No startup could land on the moon,” he notes. But while the capital costs of an aerospace startup are high, he says, the markets are bigger. Companies such as Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK), Aurora Flight Sciences, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Horizons, have all emerged relatively recently, often with MIT alumni in major roles. “You either have to have $100 million of your own money, or a clever way to get a launch customer — it’s like starting a railroad,” Crawley says. The majority of Crawley’s own spinoffs, and those of many others, have involved technologies or expertise developed for such clients as NASA — but then applied to these emerging markets. It’s far easier “to solve problems of society on the surface,” Crawley says. One AeroAstro entrepreneur is following a similar tactic. Alex Mozdzanowska (AeroAstro ’02, SM ’04), manages research at the Cambridge start-up, Hopper, a mobile app that helps travelers find the best prices for their airline flights using novel data analysis. I love being in a startup,” she says. “We innovate quickly, and throw out things that don’t work.” In short, she’s employing everything she learned in AeroAstro, from policy and data manipulation to interdisciplinary collaboration, to a decidedly more earth-bound problem, but still flying high. LEDA ZIMMERMAN is a Boston-based writer/editor who specializes in interpreting engineering and science research for a broad audience. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Space: The Here and Now Frontier
Published on Nov 18, 2016
Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.