St. George • One of NASA astronaut Megan McArthur’s favorite diversions during her six months aboard the International Space Station was looking down and finding Utah’s national parks during the craft’s passes over the American Southwest.
Nearly a year after her return to Earth, McArthur touched down in St. George last month, not far from the national parks she adores, to meet with the workers of two aerospace companies that helped make her stay in space possible.
“One of my favorite things to do is to meet the people that build the hardware, and thank them for what they do to make our mission safe and successful,” she said.
McArthur’s visit was hosted by St. George-based RAM Aviation, Space & Defense and Intergalactic, two fast-rising stars in Utah’s aerospace firmament. For officials with the two companies, which are business partners, hosting an astronaut was a big deal.
“NASA receives thousands of requests every year to have astronauts come, and they only grant a few of them,” said Intergalactic CEO Brian McCann. “For NASA to grant our request was a very rare thing. It speaks to the work that we have done with SpaceX.”
Last April, McArthur shuttled to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon spacecraft called Endeavor, which was outfitted with 32 propulsion valves from St. George-based RAM.
“Until SpaceX developed the current spacecraft, previous shuttles would have to be manually docked, ‘’ said Gregg Robison, CEO of RAM since 2020. “Somebody on the space station would use a mechanical boom to grab the shuttle, pull it in and try to align it.”
Now, he explained, every Space X craft has laser alignment. The laser determines how far off the alignment with the space station is and then RAM’s valves fire based on the adjustments that need to be made to make “auto-docking” with the ISS a seamless experience.
RAM was founded in 1975 by Melzie and Ray Ganowsky, who relocated to St. George from New York and started the company in their garage with a single lathe. The couple soon began designing, manufacturing, and assembling precision parts for Kohler, Mack Truck, and United Technologies, among many others.
Today, the Ganowskys no longer take as much of an active role in RAM, but the business they created is bigger than ever.
“We now have a 150,000-square-foot facility with 240 employees, and over 98% of what we make is for military and commercial aircraft and spacecraft,” Robison said.
Currently, about 15% of RAM products are focused on space. The remainder is for military or commercial aircraft such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.
Currently, Robison said, RAM’s annual sales total about $40 million but are expected to reach $100 million or more by 2030. One reason for that is RAM is ramping up its space operations.
In addition to its contract with SpaceX, the company Elon Musk founded in 2002, RAM has done work on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing launch vehicle named after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard. Blue Origin is owned and overseen by Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos. Robison said RAM is also designing products for Blue Origin’s New Glenn, a heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle named after NASA astronaut John Glenn, as well as for several other commercial aerospace companies.
In 2019, the company bought Airborne ECS, a small aerospace company in Port Angeles, Washington, relocated it to St. George, and renamed it Intergalactic, in part, to pay homage to the song “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys.
McCann, who landed the contracts with SpaceX while vice president of sales for RAM, heads Intergalactic, which is focused on thermal management systems that are essentially advanced, miniaturized air conditioners that can be placed in spacecraft, aircraft and next-generation jet fighters to offset the heat produced by modern digital equipment.
Much of the work awarded to Intergalactic is kept confidential, but McCann said the company has a contract to work on the F-18 fighters featured prominently in the 2022 hit movie “Top Gun: Maverick.” Intergalactic is also working to secure contracts with electric vertical take-off and landing companies, or eVTOL, which essentially function like aerial urban taxis to ferry people above congested cities like New York or Los Angeles.
Intergalactic is working with a variety of commercial aerospace companies, and its advanced thermal systems could also be featured on a lunar rover that is part of NASA’s Artemis mission to return to the moon and explore even more of its surface.
Intergalactic started with six employees in 2019 and now numbers 55. Company earnings this year are estimated to be about $14 million and are projected to grow to $100 million in the latter half of the decade. In 2025, the company is planning to relocate to a 90,000-square-foot building at Tech Ridge, a mixed-use technology park on 180 acres on the site of the old airport.
RAM and Intergalactic are becoming prominent players in Utah’s burgeoning aerospace industry, which accounts for over 1,500 companies and organizations, more than 43,000 jobs and is projected to grow by more than 15% over the next decade, according to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.
Besides being on the cutting edge of space exploration and commercialization, RAM and Intergalactic both have reputations as good places to work. Brad Plothow, chief growth officer for Intergalactic, said salaries at both companies are between 47% and 62% higher than $67,747, which is Washington County’s median household income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As good as the wages are, the workplace is even more satisfying for some employees. RAM design engineer Jansyn Johnston says her work is exciting and fulfilling.
“It has kind of a small-town vibe like we’re kind of all in it together,” she said “And everybody’s willing to help troubleshoot and work together to create the best kind of product. So it’s a very fun place to work.”
Systems engineer TK Bush said culture is what sets Intergalactic apart.
“The best part about Intergalactic is the culture that we’ve built,” he said. “There’s almost a school spirit here. Everyone’s really proud of what we do, proud of where we’re going, and can share in the vision for the company.”
Shawn Christensen, president of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, touts RAM and Intergalactic for investing in the community to make it a better place for everyone, not just their employees. He believes both businesses have international footprints and established customer bases that bode well for their and the community’s future.
McCann concurs, characterizing space as the next big financial frontier.
“We are in the early innings of the next space race, and it could very well be more meaningful and larger than the first. We have this major trillion-dollar market, the largest emerging market since the Internet and RAM and Intergalactic are helping push this new golden age of aerospace forward.”
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