out of this world education

Houston university system cuts the ribbon on its spaceport training center

San Jacinto College celebrated the grand opening of its EDGE Center in the Houston Spaceport. Photo courtesy of San Jacinto

A new facility focused on training the professionals who will build the future of aerospace has officially opened at the Houston Spaceport.

The San Jacinto College EDGE Center, which broke ground in July of 2019, finally celebrated its grand opening of the EDGE Center Friday, Oct. 1, with elected officials, community members, faculty, and staff. The center's opening celebration was previously delayed due to COVID-19.

"With this facility, we will inspire, innovate, and train the talent needed at the Houston Spaceport," says Chancellor Brenda Hellyer in a press release. "Our industry partners developed the program and defined the skills needed for these evolving careers. You can feel the passion and excitement as you walk through the training area."

EDGE is just one part of the 154 acres of development currently in the works at Ellington Airport. The full property includes 450 acres that will all eventually be developed. Students have been working out of the center for about a year now, and San Jacinto College is the official education training partner for the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport.

"This facility is at the epicenter of the Houston Spaceport," said Mario Diaz, director of aviation at Houston Airport System in the release. "This is where the next chapter of the rivalry to space will be written by the minds and hands of Houstonians for generations to come. The talent who will learn how to build towards the future of space exploration starts right here at the EDGE Center."

The facility offers five training programs, including aerospace structure technician, aerospace electrical technician, composite technician, industrial automation technician, and aerospace quality technician. The center also offers a drone program preparing individuals for FAA certifications as well as a drone flight class and a drone build class.

Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based space tech company, is based in the Houston Spaceport nearby EDGE and, according to the release, has had several of the program's first graduates work for his company as they develop the next lunar lander. One student, Cyrus Shy, took an internship and has already accepted a full-time technician position with the company.

"The impact this program and Intuitive Machines has had on my life has been overwhelmingly incredible," says Shy in the release. "It has changed the trajectory of my life. I work for a company that care about each other and work toward a common goal."

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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