The VALT Enterprizes team gathers outside their Presque Isle headquarters at the General Aviation Terminal. From left are: Jeffery Laughton, CNC machinist; Benjamin Malone, engineering intern; Elio Angile, senior mechanical engineer; Colin Patterson, engineer; Kelly Gorham, facility operations safety director; Karl Hoose, founder and chief technical officer; Kameron McGill, director of human resources; Theo Strid and Alex Ezzy, engineering interns; and Ryder Soucy, lead engineer. Credit: Courtesy of VALT Enterprizes

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Engineers are hatching big ideas for the tiniest satellites in an office at Presque Isle’s General Aviation Terminal.

Vertical Air-Breathing Launch Technology, better known as VALT Enterprizes Inc., moved its headquarters to Presque Isle last June from Sanford, where Karl Hoose and Elise McGill founded the business.

The move was a win for the company, which aims to advance space engineering in Maine, and for the Star City’s goal of attracting more businesses and local jobs. It’s also good news in the face of a March report that said Maine lags behind other states when it comes to developing students for jobs in science and engineering.

For Scott Wardwell, Presque Isle International Airport director, it’s all about opening the city up to technology-based businesses — and creating jobs in The County for local young people or those who have moved away.

“I’m always amazed at the talent that Presque Isle students have, especially in math and science, but I’m also saddened by the fact that they leave. That’s a community resource we lose,” he said Friday.

VALT has 14 full-time employees and three college interns preparing for their future careers. Most of them, including the founders, are from Maine, and several graduated from University of Maine, according to VALT officials.

The company specializes in space and defense technology with a focus on nanosatellites — satellites that Geospatial World says are the size of a shoebox and weigh up to around 20 pounds — that can put technology into orbit safer and at a much lower cost.

Company co-founder Elise McGill said Presque Isle was an easy choice, particularly due to keen support from the city, its Department of Economic and Community Development and Presque Isle International Airport.

“Their collective display of enthusiasm for facilitating the growth of the industries we represent — aerospace, defense and NewSpace — coupled with their desire to help drive [our] sustained success made our decision to headquarter our company and bring the lucrative high-tech job opportunities we create to Aroostook County a very easy one,” McGill said.

The business, which operates a second, smaller office in Old Orchard Beach, also benefited from tax incentives given to companies that locate in federal empowerment and opportunity zone areas in The County, she said.

VALT Enterprizes Inc. is actually a spin-off of Applied Thermal Sciences, an engineering firm operated by its other co-founder, Karl Hoose, from 1989 to 2015 in Sanford.

Hoose, VALT’s CEO and chief technical officer, has worked on high-speed, air-breathing systems since earning his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Maine, McGill said.

He worked on President Reagan’s National Aero Space Plane program and at the General Applied Science Laboratory in New York, where the program’s main goal was to develop a space plane that could take off and land on a runway like conventional aircraft.

Hoose and McGill founded VALT to bring to market their unique mechanism of rocket launch technology.

“VE’s primary focus is on developing the world’s smallest, safest, most sustainable launch systems for placing nanosatellites into low-earth orbit,” McGill said.  

Simply put, an air-breathing engine sucks in surrounding air to help it move. A rocket powered this way can weigh far less because it doesn’t have the fuel load, and it’s also much cheaper and safer, McGill said.

VALT’s technology lowers the costs of hypersonic flight testing in the nanosatellite launch industry. The company wants its technology to benefit academic, commercial and government applications, including Maine’s legacy industries: forestry, agriculture, fishing and marine sciences.

The NewSpace, or commercial space flight, realm is a growing market, McGill said. Advances in electronics and other technologies have made the nanosatellite industry soar.

Helping drive that market is the low cost of these small satellites compared with the larger and much more expensive ones.

Besides, having many smaller units instead of a single satellite can allow simultaneous operations around the earth, McGill said.  

Before Applied Thermal Sciences became VALT, it conducted 22 launches from blueberry fields in Down East Maine.

Now the company is exploring areas around The County for its next test launches, McGill said. They’ve been working with airport and economic development officials to find the perfect areas with low population and optimal airspace, which are necessary for them to earn Federal Aviation Administration approval for upcoming flight tests.

Wardwell emphasized that many city representatives, along with the Presque Isle City Council and the Airport Advisory Board, were involved in helping VALT decide that the Star City was the perfect place for them to locate their headquarters.

Wardwell, who received a master’s in mechanical engineering from UMaine, hopes the city can replicate this effort and bring more technology companies to the area.

“When I graduated, if I had had this opportunity in Aroostook County, I would have been elated,” he said.