Navatek LLC, a contractor focused on technology research for U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Defense and NASA, is opening an office on the Wichita State University campus in fall 2020.
This collaborative partnership between Navatek and WSU will grow combined applied research capabilities for the military, provide critical hands-on learning opportunities for students and help diversify the local economy.
Among its work, the Navatek-WSU partnership will explore using inflatable wing materials and structures to extend the range that airborne personnel can travel in squirrel wingsuits. The effort promises to open up a whole new set of mission possibilities using the lightweight flight suits, spotlighted in popular culture by daredevils jumping out of planes and off cliffs.
Inflatable technology will be used further to build wings and structures for lighter, smaller unmanned aerial vehicles, or “drones,” and is being used in the design of new space habitats for NASA. The Navatek-WSU team will perform research into new materials, structures, fabrication and deployment techniques, and the aerodynamic performance of prototypes to push this technology to the next level.
Navatek and Wichita State have signed an 8-year memorandum of understanding outlining their research and recruitment partnership. Navatek has signed a lease for office space in the John Bardo Center (JBC) and is hiring full-time engineers and scientists, including a director, as well as a half-dozen WSU students, as part of an annual and recurring applied learning program. Navatek plans to expand staffing to 20 engineers and scientists within the next 24 months.
Navatek will invest more than $1 million in wages and facilities for the new WSU campus office in the first phase of the partnership, with the initial project focused on aerospace and materials research in support of a novel air vehicle concept for special operations.
In addition, Navatek, WSU and WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) have multiple outstanding joint research proposals to government agencies for additional funding. This includes a joint $2.6 million proposal that Navatek and NIAR submitted in May for the design and fabrication of a prototype robotic advanced manufacturing system for the Marine Corps that would operate in an austere, forward-deployed environment.
“As part of our growth and diversification strategy, Navatek is thrilled to collaborate with one of the pre-eminent aerospace, innovation, aviation and research universities in the country, which also happens to have exceptional capabilities in the areas of robotics, materials and manufacturing,” said Martin Kao, CEO of Navatek. “Beyond these technical capabilities, the team at WSU and NIAR have been fantastic partners to work with, demonstrating an entrepreneurial vision and business-friendly practices that are rare for a university. It’s a win-win to be co-located with them at the JBC from a joint research perspective, but also to recruit and retain their graduates right here in Wichita, who will be the drivers of the growth of our company in a matter of a few short years.”
Diversifying the local economy
The partnership between Wichita State and Navatek is a catalyst toward diversifying Wichita’s economy while solidifying an already-strong relationship the university has with the Department of Defense, said Dr. Jay Golden, president of Wichita State.
“The investment Navatek is making in Wichita State is one of many steps toward our priorities of not only recruiting, but retaining top talent in Wichita, while offering our students tremendous applied learning opportunities. This partnership underpins the advances that WSU has made in robotics and smart manufacturing, which ultimately will improve our country’s defense systems,” Golden said.
“Navatek’s foundation in technology and defense applications are a perfect complement
to the university’s burgeoning reputation as one of the top research and innovation
institutions in the nation.”
“Partnering with Navatek on new research for the defense department is a unique opportunity to build our combined applied research capabilities for the military, especially with its long history of working with the Navy. Navatek’s presence in Wichita will be a huge boost to our defense-industry diversification,” said John Tomblin, WSU senior vice president for industry and defense programs and NIAR executive director.
“Collaborative research and development projects with Navatek will provide a rigorous, relevant and engaging educational experience for our students and faculty,” said Dennis Livesay, Dean of the College of Engineering, “enabling deep and dynamic connections between academic curriculum and applied learning opportunities that will uniquely prepare graduates for engineering careers.”
“Navatek’s decision to perform advanced research in Wichita is a testament to our state’s extremely talented scientists and engineers, and the leadership at Wichita State University,” said U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). “These investments are expected to create dozens of good-paying jobs in Wichita and will undoubtedly contribute to our military’s technological advantage,” said U.S. Senator Jerry Moran.
“Kansas has a long, proud history of serving the defense sector, and we’re excited to expand that relationship by welcoming Navatek to the Wichita community,” said David Toland, Kansas Secretary of Commerce. “The partnership among Navatek, Wichita State and NIAR builds upon our already strong innovation and applied R&D expertise and reaffirms Kansas’ position as a preeminent partner to the defense industrial base.”
Building on this, Representative Ron Estes added: “Our region’s exceptional workforce and the dedicated professionals at Wichita State are a perfect match for the needs of Navatek and the Department of Defense. The multi-year partnership will allow expanded diversification for Kansas and another opportunity for WSU students seeking internships and jobs in the future. We are proud this work to strengthen our national security will be conducted right here in the state of Kansas.”