More hinges on the space shuttle Discovery's mission than just getting NASA's space program off the ground again. Neptec, a privately held 105-employee Ottawa technology company, holds the $20-million multi-year contract for a new high-precision, three-dimensional laser scanner that inspects the thermal tiles on the shuttle's nose, wings and tail while in space. Founded in 1990, Neptec has been a prime contractor to NASA for 10 years; this includes supplying sensor technologies that help astronauts construct the space station.
Returning the shuttle program to orbit is key for Neptec's business in other ways, too: it is using NASA contracts, which make up the majority of the $20 million in revenue it expects this year, as a launch pad for new growth. Some projects are for the Department of National Defence: automated 3-D target-recognition, for instance. But it also hopes to take its 3-D shuttle inspection scanner into industrial quality-control markets.
The portion of its business experiencing 100% annual growth rates, though, is telehealth. Neptec makes automated systems that prompt patients to self-check their vitals, such as glucose levels and pulse, and then notifies remote caregivers with results. “The shuttle program provides a very good, stable cash flow,” says Iain Christie, director of R&D. “Rather than being mortgaged to our eyeballs, we've made money the last 15 years.” Within three years, company president Paul Nephin expects NASA contracts to be less than 50% of its business. For Neptec, space is not the final frontier.