Early Years (ISS):
The seeds of Parabilis Space Technologies were planted when Frank Macklin, Chris Grainger, and a small group of highly-skilled engineers left General Dynamics in 1994 to found a small company called Integrated Space Systems (ISS), based in San Diego, CA. ISS was primarily a provider of various engineering services such as feasibility analyses, trade studies, and materials and thermal structural design/analyses. Because of hard work and efficient processes, ISS developed a reputation for quality, reliability, and low cost. Before long ISS was designing and producing real space hardware.
In 1998, ISS combined with another aerospace startup and formed SpaceDev Inc., a public company. SpaceDev settled a few miles further up the I-15 freeway in Poway, CA. Much of the team that currently comprises Parabilis came together at SpaceDev. Richard Slansky, Dave Streich, Zach Thicksten, Anthony Gemmill, and Shannon Eilers all joined SpaceDev. Still led by Frank and Chris, the engineering team continued to develop their flight heritage with innovative but affordable space systems.
Some of the most intriguing solutions developed at SpaceDev were small satellites. Typically designed using off-the-shelf hardware and weighing under 200kg, small sats are substantially more affordable to build and launch. One of the first small satellites developed at SpaceDev was CHIPSat, a 64kg satellite designed to capture and analyze hot interstellar gas and transmit data to the University of California. This satellite was launched as a secondary payload aboard a Delta II rocket in early 2003, and successfully operated in space until it’s decommissioning in 2008. CHIPSat set numerous firsts related to development time, cost, and vehicle performance. Another small satellite program at SpaceDev was DSE, a cluster of micro satellites developed for the Missile Defense Agency to explore fast-response, low-power, passive target acquisition and tracking. SpaceDev also developed Trailblazer, a small spacecraft built using DSE hardware and delivered in only 4 months after receipt of order, then flown on SpaceX’s Falcon 1 in 2008.
Another compelling solution developed by the engineering team at SpaceDev was hybrid propulsion, named for the propellant combination of a solid fuel and a liquid oxidizer. Hybrid rockets are safe, non-toxic, green, storable, and can be throttled, shut down, and restarted. For these reasons, SpaceDev was awarded an exclusive contract to provide the hybrid rocket motor systems and components for the SpaceShipOne program, the first private enterprise to put a human in space. SpaceShipOne successfully flew in 2004, winning the Ansari X Prize and creating the world’s first private astronaut. Other hybrid propulsion vehicles and solutions were developed for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), and the Lunar Enterprise of CA.
SpaceDev enjoyed robust organic growth in Poway through 2008, and greatly expanded its manufacturing capability by acquiring Starsys Research Inc. in Boulder, CO.
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC):
In 2009, SpaceDev and its programs, products, and IP were acquired by SNC after which its resources were largely focused on Orbcomm and pursuing NASA’s Space Shuttle replacement efforts including the ISS Cargo Resupply Program, and the Commercial Crew Program. Rob Colatutto joined SNC during this time. SNC closed its Poway operations in late 2014.
Parabilis Space Technologies, Inc. (PST):
After the SNC closure, Frank Macklin and the aforementioned people started a completely new company called Parabilis Space Technologies, Inc., unaffiliated with SNC and located in San Marcos, just a few more miles up the I-15. Based on the well-publicized space ambitions of thriving technology companies, and the goals of government agencies searching for more value, Parabilis believes future demand for small satellites and simple propulsion solutions will be robust. It is Parabilis’ ambition to create a company to meet that demand, and Parabilis has grown in revenue, headcount, and profitability year-over-year since its founding.