Biz Buzz: SLO firm not worried about space cuts

A San Luis Obispo company signed on to work on NASA’s new Ares spacecraft is taking a “wait and see” approach to President Barack Obama’s intent to cancel the space program.

The president recently said he’d rather private enterprise take over such manned missions to the moon, Mars and beyond.

He called for NASA to focus instead on extending the life of the International Space Station and focusing more on earth science, such as the study of climate change. The space agency apparently agrees, according to its recently released 2011 budget projection.

Next Intent has been developing hardware and systems to control vibrations of the Ares rocket boosters so the astronauts can have a “comfortable ride,” Next Intent President Rodney Babcock said.

The company was honored this year as one of 100 companies using outstanding technological innovation for its work on the rocket. It was the second year in a row that Next Intent received the award for progressive manufacturing.

The president and NASA administrator say they want to cancel the Ares program, but it has to be approved by the Senate — and that may not be decided until the summer.

“Fortunately we have our hands in a lot of things,” said Babcock, whose company has been working on the project since late 2008.

Babcock had already completed building hardware for some engineering and testing of the vibration isolators, he said.

There’s enough time between now and when they were going to build more hardware for the program that the cancellation will probably have little impact on his bottom line.

“We’ll find something else to work on,” Babcock said.

Other Next Intent projects include: Helping to build the suspension system for the Mars Science Laboratory, to launch in 2011 (which received an award from the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May); and building components for an actuator that will control a laser beam for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash.

Next Intent is best known for making some of the nuts and bolts in the wheels of the Mars land rover. The company employs 32 people.

Babcock has recently added two new people, who work as machinists and quality assurance experts, he said.

He declined to say how much revenue the company makes a year.

— Melanie Cleveland

Splash Café plans larger catering

Splash Café in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach is expanding into gourmet catering, including custom-made wedding cakes, pastries, breads and brioche from its Splash Bakery.

“It is something the restaurant has been thinking about doing for a long time,” said Joanne Currie, co-owner of Splash Café. “We kept getting requests to prepare dishes and platters for parties, so we finally made it official.”

Splash Café Gourmet Catering is coordinated by Charles Gelb. Gelb grew up with parents, aunts and uncles in the restaurant business.

— Melanie Cleveland