HOUSTON — Oceaneering Space Systems, the aerospace arm of the global oilfield engineering services provider Oceaneering International, Inc., drew positive reviews from chief technologist Mason Peck this week for the company’s success at delivering and leveraging technologies beneficial to deepwater and space applications.
The association, which dates back to 1978, has brought an estimated $1 billion in revenues to the company from the space agency in exchange for its role in developing a range of new technologies. The advances include tools with a deep-sea heritage used by astronauts to overhaul the Hubble Space Telescope and assemble the International Space Station; portable instrumentation for the characterization of protein crystals cultured in weightlessness for new medications; and the fabrication of advanced thermal protection materials that may help humans land on Mars.
“We’ve come here to understand better this kind of connection between the technology developed for the space program and the products that end up spinning off into the larger economy,” Peck during an Aug. 1 visit to Oceaneering’s 250-person space systems engineering lab. He was accompanied by Michael Gazarik,’s space technology program director.
“We like to think of ourselves as building hardware that can be used in harsh environments,” said Mike Bloomfield, a former NASA shuttle astronaut who serves as vice president and general manager of Oceaneering’s space systems division.
Increasingly, global energy exploration and production companies have turned to Oceaneering with an interest in the application of aerospace safety and quality assurance practices to prevent oil spills, injury and environmental damage.
“It’s not a product as much as a process,” Bloomfield says. “They are very interested in taking what NASA has learned over the years as a result of the Challenger and Columbia [accidents], for instance, and applying that to oil and gas.”
Peck and Gazarik also focused on Oceaneering’s collaboration with GM and NASA on Robonaut 2, the two-armed humanoid robot placed aboard the International Space Station in 2011 to pioneer safe, effective teamwork between astronauts and machines outside as well as inside the orbiting science lab. Those lessons learned in space are destined for the factory floor on Earth as well.
They were also drawn to the ACTOR Robotic Crystal Placement System, a proprietary collaboration with Rigaku/Molecular Structures Corp., for a small protein crystal X-ray diffraction device. ACTOR was developed for the orbital analysis of fragile protein crystals cultured on the space station, an alternative to risking damage to the molecular structures by returning them to Earth for study. ACTOR is now finding a market among pharmaceutical companies for use in their labs.
“This is the classic formula we are trying to follow in the space technology program,” Gazarik says. “We provide workers with challenging problems. If you can solve that challenging problem, then innovation really comes to the forefront.”