Small firms provide expertise on NASA deal

Hughes STX is tapping two small disadvantaged businesses for their expertise on its recently awarded $148 million NASA Ames Software Support contract.

Aerospace Computing and Recom Technologies Inc. are subcontractors to Hughes on the Ames deal. Both companies have previous business ties with NASA.

Aerospace Computing Los Altos Calif. specializes in the application of computer technology to aerospace engineering. In particular the company fills an important niche on the program with an expertise in wind tunnel testing.

NASA like private aerospace companies uses wind tunnels to experiment with the aerodynamic qualities of aircraft or other flight vehicles.

Aerospace Computing has developed techniques for collecting data generated by wind tunnel tests. The technique varies depending on the test.

For full-scale objects the company might use embedded hardware and software that collects data on aerodynamic parameters in flight and if required transmits the data back to a computer to be processed. For small-scale objects that cannot carry instruments Aerospace Computing has developed a special technique using image-processing technology. In this case the system will take high-speed photographs of an object as it passes through the wind tunnel. The software the company developed then extracts aerodynamic parameters from those photographs.

The software support contract is Aerospace Computing's first business as a subcontractor. Most of its business has been with NASA although the company has done work with the Air Force as well.

Herioyuki Kumagai one of the company's two founders started at NASA as a student where he eventually did his doctoral dissertation. His business partner Leslie Yates also did post-doctoral work at NASA.Rather than filling a particular technological niche Recom Technologies Roseville Calif. gives the Hughes STX team the benefit of more than 15 years' experience at the Ames Research Center.

Recom founded by a program manager from another NASA contractor started out as a high-technology software firm with expertise in artificial intelligence. But through the years the company has expanded its focus from systems development to network research and facilities maintenance. In the process the company grew from one employee to 430 people and graduated from the 8(a) program in 1994.Recom does work in places such as NASA's Lewis Research Center the Energy Department and some commercial markets. But NASA Ames "is an area we are very familiar with " said Jack Epperson an executive vice president at Recom. "We understand the programs and we are well-versed in the technology."

In fact Recom employees have turned down better paying positions with other firms so they can keep working at NASA Ames. "We really do employ rocket scientists " Epperson said.

During the last two years the company has focused on generating commercial products out of research it has done at NASA.

For example going back to its roots in artificial intelligence - now mostly called expert systems - Recom has taken an intelligent planning and scheduling software program and created an "intelligent assistant " based on a personal digital assistant for people with severe brain disorders Epperson said. The software makes it possible for therapists to work out "scripts" for daily activities that patients can follow throughout the day.

The company also has developed an expert system to help companies build a World Wide Web-based help desk as a first point of reference for end users to resolve their computing problems.

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