Paragon Space Development Corporation: A Trusted Provider of Space Life Support Technologies

By Grant Anderson
May 2023

In human space exploration, life support systems are the backbone of every mission. With the stakes so high, it is essential to have reliable and trusted providers of space life support technologies. These companies possess the necessary engineering, scientific, and technical expertise to design and manufacture systems that keep astronauts alive in extreme environments.

Among the most trusted space life support technology solution providers is Paragon Space Development Corporation, led by President & CEO Grant Anderson. With its multidisciplinary team of engineering, manufacturing and test experts, Paragon has a proven track record of developing high-quality spacecraft systems that meet rigorous standards. The company’s singular focus on life support and thermal control systems has earned it a reputation as a trusted and reliable provider in the industry.

Paragon Space Development Corporation was founded in 1993 with the sole focus on developing and marketing life support and thermal control systems in extreme environments. Environmental Control & Life Support Systems (ECLSS) and ECLSS components are vital for any crewed space mission. Active Thermal Control System (ATCS) solutions are equally critical to mission success. Humans, after assured of breathable atmosphere, want to be at the right temperature.

Aside from its primary objective, Paragon has a secondary goal: to offer its employees a good work environment as well as a meaningful and fulfilling career. The company recognized that many traditional large aerospace corporations had shifted their focus to a “by the numbers” corporate structure, disregarding the importance of valuing employees as humans. Paragon Space Development Corporation upholds a set of touchstones that exemplify its core values and demonstrates its commitment to placing people first, emphasizing mutual respect and collaboration.

Challenges: Then & Now
As a small and agile company, Paragon initially faced challenges in securing funding and developing processes to deliver innovative services and products that could contribute to the value chain of its customers. The company focused on systemized innovation and maintaining its vision rather than being driven solely by financial considerations.

Without the benefit of significant outside investment, Paragon Space Development Corporation had to rely on its founder’s resources to get started. Despite these obstacles, the company persevered and developed the necessary processes and services to meet its customers’ needs. It overcame resource constraints by remaining true to its vision and avoiding the temptation to pursue opportunities solely for financial gain and emerged as a successful enterprise.

Paragon Space Development Corporation faces significant challenges in developing life support systems for long-duration space missions. One of the biggest challenges is the testing of these systems, which initially are done on the ground, due to the majority of failure modes being attributed to the microgravity environment of space.

While on-orbit testing has become easier, it is still a multi-year effort involving testing, failing, and testing again. This process requires routine access to space, which currently comes at a high cost and infrequent schedule. However without thorough testing of the duration and fidelity needed, the success of missions that may last many months or even years cannot be guaranteed.

Triggering Point
Paragon’s growth has been driven by its ability to engineer innovative solutions to its clients’ development problems. The company’s success accelerated with a contract from Lockheed Martin, where they provided life support design for their next-generation human spaceflight offerings. This led to many follow-on contracts and proved Paragon’s ability to outperform its major competitors and add value that even large companies could not provide.

The company’s second growth phase centered on its ability to work in the emerging commercial space market. It won places on the Commercial Orbital Transportation (COTS) and the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) NASA programs, outcompeting much larger competitors.

Paragon Space Development Corporation has attracted multiple customers who want to do aerospace differently through exciting programs. The company’s notable achievements include being the prime contractor for the StratEx mission that broke space jump records and being chosen as the life support team for the HALO moon orbiting space station which is a key element of the NASA Artemis program. This was the largest fully funded program won by Paragon to date.

The company’s success has also been recognized through multiple awards and nominations, including the prestigious Collier Award nomination for its achievement on the StratEx mission. With the acquisition of Final Frontier Design, a leading supplier of spacesuit components and ancillary systemsfor NASA and other commercial customers in 2022, Paragon Space Development Corporation is well-positioned for continued growth in the future.

Significant Growth & Success
Paragon has experienced significant growth with time. The company, which initially had around 15 employees, now boasts a workforce of over 150 individuals. This expansion has been matched by a remarkable 1,600% increase in revenue over the same period. Paragon Space Development Corporation was founded in Tucson, Arizona, and has since opened additional offices in Houston, Texas and Denver, Colorado. This expansion has allowed it to broaden its reach and better serve its growing customer base.

Paragon’s success is attributed to its systemized process for innovation in tackling some of humanity’s most challenging engineering tasks. The unique nature of its projects also enables Paragon to attract highly skilled employees necessary to create value in a demanding industry. The company’s adherence to its innovation process allows it to consistently outperform its more conservative competitors, with positive feedback even from seasoned government and prime contractors.

Professional Experience & Key Entrepreneurial Achievements
Paragon Space Development Corporation’s President & CEO, Grant Anderson, has held multiple roles at Paragon, including Treasurer/Secretary, CFO, Sr. VP of Operations, COO, and Director of Manufacturing, utilizing his diverse technical, financial, and managerial background. He is an esteemed speaker in the field of life support in extreme environments and led spacecraft design for major clients such as Boeing, SpaceX, and NASA. He holds two degrees from Stanford University and is a registered Professional Engineer in California.

Anderson has had a successful entrepreneurial journey, holding minor and major positions in the start-up and early growth stages of multiple companies in various industries, including airlines, ballooning, and educational institutions. In 1983, he participated in the initial start-up studies for America West Airlines and provided load factor and route analysis for a start-up airline in the LA area in 1984.

In 1991, he proposed a new business model for spacecraft development and experimentation at Lockheed Missiles and Space (now Lockheed Martin). In 1993, he co-founded Paragon Space Development Corporation, and in 2012, he became a founding member of World View, which was incubated and spun off in 2014. In the same year, he was appointed Paragon’s President and CEO. These achievements showcase his diverse experience and expertise in starting and growing businesses.

The Business Model
Paragon collaborates with space agencies and other partners to ensure their life support and thermal control systems meet specific needs and requirements. It participates in government entities’ Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) programs, which fund innovative technologies and programs for hard-to-solve missions. Additionally, the company has received NASA Tipping Point technology grants and other funded R&D research to bring innovation to operational markets. Paragon Space Development Corporation has been a partner of the government in these programs since 2003 and won the Small Business Administration’s National Tibbetts Award for its innovation and effectiveness.

On the commercial side, Paragon uses systemized innovation to develop new technology on budget and schedule. It works with partners through joint ventures, teaming, and licensing to apply its technology and innovations to meet customer needs. Paragon’s ability to work with both government and commercial partners allows it to create life support systems that meet specific requirements and address the unique challenges of space exploration.

Paragon Space Development Corporation prioritizes safety and reliability in its life support systems for space missions, building AS-9100 quality systems and subjecting them to rigorous testing in its patented chambers and other industry-specific systems. This ensures that the systems can withstand the unique challenges of space exploration and support human life safely and reliably.

Leadership Beliefs
According to Anderson, an entrepreneur has several responsibilities. First, they must stay focused on the company’s vision and ensure that the vision and mission are permeated throughout the organization. Additionally, they must ensure that the company never runs out of cash and encourage employees to push the envelope and strive for excellence.

Entrepreneurs must also provide an environment that allows employees to be their best and fosters a culture of growth and development. They are integral to generating a return on equity for investors and shareholders. By fulfilling these responsibilities, entrepreneurs can build successful and sustainable businesses that positively impact the world.

Work-Life Balance
Outside Paragon, Anderson is passionate about supporting the next generation of engineers and leaders through educational work. He has served as a former member of the Industry Advisory Board for the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona and as the former Treasurer of the Tucson Waldorf School. He was formerly on the Board of the Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Additionally, Anderson mentors multiple CEOs of start-up companies and specializes in mentoring new female CEOs striving to start and run companies in the space sector. He enjoys cycling in his free time and is known to ride solo for hundreds of miles to clear his mind. He is married and has three adult children.

Important Advice
Anderson advises budding entrepreneurs to envision what they want to do, understand their capabilities, and identify profitable opportunities. He suggests evaluating the latter two factors regularly to stay on track. Anderson emphasizes the importance of understanding that a business is a process that should generate more value for customers than it costs to produce. He recommends focusing on improving processes continually to achieve this goal.

According to Anderson, taking breaks is crucial for entrepreneurs. He believes they must train their team better or change their controlling mindset if they cannot delegate their responsibilities for a few weeks without worrying about the outcome. Finally, Anderson advises entrepreneurs always to concentrate on smart cash management, as cash flow problems can quickly lead to the failure of a business.

“It is excellence, the spirit of invention, and the passion for achieving our vision that drives the team at Paragon.”

Article courtesy of The Enterprise World