Global Science & Technology of Greenbelt continues using its satellite and meteorological expertise to grab major federal deals, while building its commercial branch of weather stations.
Privately held Global, which was co-founded by meteorologist Chieh-san Cheng and two others, recently announced its position as prime contractor for a five-year National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contract vehicle worth up to $550 million. With Global and two other prime contractors chosen to compete for shares of this deal, it could be Global's largest award ever.
"We're really expanding in the science arena, as we continue developing partners to help solve scientific problems," said Celeste Jarvis, vice president.
Global is looking to add about 13 employees in response to its recent contracts, according to company information.
Having performed most of its early work at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt before seeking out NOAA contracts, Global specializes in converting satellite data into information used in weather and climate predictions and warnings. The data are downloaded in real time to receiving stations, which Global then coverts to images and information on factors such as wind velocity, wind speed, cloud shadows and percentage of cloud cover.
"NASA puts up new satellites all the time. We develop the systems to make that satellite data immediately available," Jarvis said. The converted data help farmers monitoring their crops, environmental teams and others concerned with weather predictions.
Jarvis credited the company's employees and their expertise in the satellite arena for helping Global forge a reputation that draws the interest of government agencies and commercial clients. The company works to retain these employees through awards for those who publish scientific articles, develop technologies or speak at industry conferences, and funding employee ideas to the next step of innovation, she said.
"We provide an environment where they can be successful and thrive," Jarvis said.
"They've always provided me with high-quality people," said William Campbell, former branch head for Goddard. "I've never seen cost-overrun from them. They're creative and go above and beyond on their tasks."
Campbell, who gave Global some of its first study work, said he continually tried to encourage the cautious Cheng to branch out to other agencies or develop its own product line before it finally did.
Michael Darzi, manager for the Beltsville science and support division for Science Applications International Corp. of McLean, Va., described Global as an "aggressive small company" and one that seems to be "on a good streak right now." SAIC, which employs 45,000 and has facilities worldwide, is working with Global on the $550 million NOAA contract vehicle to enhance Global's efforts to reach across the nation and internationally.
Other companies working with Global on the contract vehicle are Oceaneering International of Houston, Ocean Associates of Arlington, Va., and ReefSense of Australia. Until actual awards are made, company officials don't know how much the deal will be worth.
The company, which has generated more than $60 million in revenues in 2010, is preparing to open a new office in Suitland next year in response to the recent contract awards, according to Global information. Global began in 1991 and has grown from three founders to 200 employees. Global also runs Innovation Lab in West Virginia, a type of incubator for science and technology initiatives.
Although most of the company's contracts are with NOAA or NASA, Global received a $79,000 contract this month with the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration to develop a system for collecting information on road conditions during various types of weather. In the pilot project for this application, passenger buses in Fairmont, W.Va., will be equipped with sensors to send real-time information to environmental sensor stations so it can be translated into route maps, weather icons and text.
Most weather reports focus on information coming from key weather stations and miss the weather occurring between them, Jarvis said, and the new project is designed to fill in those gaps. Mail services also are interested in this application, so they can know whether their delivery vehicles face icy roads, she said.
Playing off its federal work, Global's commercial division provides low-cost weather stations for small island nations.
"It's a matter of how can you take government technology and use it to benefit the world," Jarvis said.
The challenge for companies working in the satellite industry is finding better low-cost options for data coverage, as satellites cost so much to launch and can be expected to be operational only five years, Jarvis said.
Information from these satellites cannot be made available on the terrestrial 4G phone networks until it is downloaded and converted from its electronic signal or binary numbers into a comprehensible image, she said. In crisis situations, people cannot afford to wait for this 4G compatibility.
The U.S. remote sensing satellite industry, including Global, has increased to $1 billion in 2009 sales from $700 million in 2008, according to the Satellite Industry Association. Overall, the satellite industry generated $93 billion in the U.S. in 2009.