When Justin McKennon, Principal Scientist of Electro Magnetic Applications (EMA), first came to Pittsfield, he was amazed at Pittsfield’s ecosystem of companies focused on science, technology, engineering, math and the STEM sector. Access to this network of companies and the Berkshire lifestyle are key reasons why the Denver-based EMA located its facility at the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) in the William Stanley Business Park.
“The BIC network is a big part of what will make us successful,” said Justin. He identified several Pittsfield companies that are part of the network, including General Dynamics, LTI Smart Glass, Intertek, LENCO and Unistress. “Good things are already happening. We meet. We work together. And boom! We fill a need that they have, and it grows our business too.”
EMA built its industry-leading space radiation and weather effects testing facility in the BIC. The company worked closely with Michael Coakley, Pittsfield’s Economic Development Manager, and the City’s Red Carpet Team to put together a unique set of incentives and location assistance to help establish EMA’s new space-age facility.
“The City was a big supporter of ours from the very beginning. They made it easy for us to set up shop and get going,” Justin said.
The Red Carpet Team incorporates economic development officials from the City and State organizations, workforce development experts and educational leaders. It develops economic incentive packages using local, regional and state resources. Funding for EMA included monies from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund, a unique fund not found in any other Massachusetts location, as well as tax incentives.
“The commercial space sector is the most rapidly growing market in the entire world right now,” Justin said. “We plan to make Pittsfield the space testing capital of the world,” Justin said.
The EMA facility will help its clients predict whether their components will survive and work reliably in the harsh, unforgiving space environment.
“If you are going to Mars, your components need to work for three to five years. They can’t be replaced in midflight. You get one shot. Some other space projects can last ten years or more. So, you really need to have a good understanding of how every component is going to behave in the environment,” he said.
EMA is the first company in the world to provide a realistic commercial alternative to testing components on the International Space Station (ISS), which remains the only place to test components outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
“We call it the space problem. It’s super expensive, and it takes a long time to get anything into space physically.” Justin said. “There’s a line around the block to try to get onto a launch vehicle to ISS right now. Once it is in space, you may need to wait six months before your component returns. Only then will you see what happened with your component. Unfortunately, you’ve already lost a year or more, and you may have missed your window in NASA’s design selection phase.”
EMA solves the space problem with its unique vacuum chamber that can replicate the temperature and radiation effects found in space. The 3-foot-by-5-foot stainless steel domed cylinder bristles with circular ports of different sizes and a handful of windows on the sides. Radiation sources are added to the ports as needed, and radiation beams can be focused to replicate space environments. The big port on the side is custom-designed for a betatron, an electron particle accelerator. While other testing chambers exist, none of them test the complete energy ranges and spectrums found in space. They also aren’t accessible industrywide.
“We already have a line of companies calling us to get on our schedule,” Justin said.
He listed potential clients that are interested in working with EMA in Pittsfield. These include the top aerospace companies in the world, including Northrop Grumman Basic Research, NASA. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Missile Defense Agency, MDE in Canada, and SpaceX.
“They’ll be coming to Pittsfield for more than a few hours of testing. Their teams will be here for a week or two, staying at our hotels and dining at our restaurants. I hope that when they see how great Pittsfield is for business and lifestyle, that they will want to locate here, too,” Justin adds.
The BIC network also provides opportunities for companies to collaborate and create new opportunities.
“Take General Dynamics as an example,” Justin said. “They are an active member in the BIC network, and they are located just down the road from here. Some of the software that we develop and sell commercially has significant uses by GD for the sensors and things they build for submarines, spaceships and more.”
“If GD has a component that goes into a submarine, they need to know if it will work once installed. Our software can help. We can simulate that environment very accurately,” Justin adds.
He also discussed Pittsfield company Lenco, which makes tactical vehicles for police and military use.
“Lenco vehicles are designed to operate in environments where electronic warfare is a big problem. The vehicles need to be able to be safe and operate well. But what happens when that vehicle hits a complex electromagnetic environment? We’re very good at solving that type of a problem,” Justin said.
“Because of the big ecosystem, EMA and Lenco know each other now, we can help make their systems more electronically hard, and they get new opportunities,” he added.
Justin specifically selected the Berkshire Innovation Center in the William Stanley Business Park because it has become a natural meeting place for the STEM companies in the area. He said it also is ideal for hosting meetings with potential customers.
“When I have a meeting here, our potential clients see this great looking facility. The whole thing is just impressive,” Justin said.
Once the company grows and needs to build more and bigger testing facilities, Justin hopes to expand at the William Stanley Business Park.
“I do not know anywhere else I would rather be,” Justin concludes.
– by Roger Matus
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