Friday, April 04, 2008

Is Surrey for sale?

The giant European aerospace conglomerate, EADS, is in negotiations to buy Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL), which has pioneered microspacecraft technology and applications in many areas, notably remote sensing. For those of us with a special interest in seeing what small spacecraft can do, this is very, very depressing. Anyone remember the American smallsat pioneer, Spectrum Astro? It was absorbed into the mass of General Dynamics without a trace. When is the last time anyone saw a breakthrough microspacecraft out of General Dynamics? The last and only one was the Missile Defense Agency's NFIRE (still performing very well), but that was a program acquired from Spectrum Astro. Anyone read In Search of Excellence? The authors explained how large companies buy small ones saying they will keep their identity while the parent company learns from the innovative qualities of the smaller one. That's what happened with Spectrum Astro. The authors went on to explain that this never, repeat never, actually works. The large company gradually imposes more and more of its rules on the smaller firm, until the latter either ceases to exist or becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the corporate mass.
SSTL may carry on in name. But it will not, I fear, be the hotbed of innovation, the company that took the one-time NASA mantra "faster, better, cheaper" and actually made it happen.
Just my personal opinion.
And I fervently hope it's wrong.

No comments: