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Flying High

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Frontier’s future will grow as it continues to partner with NASA, Lockheed-Martin and United Technology to help pursue the mission to Mars.

OSU alumni-owned company is contributing to space and military missions

By Will Carr

Today’s Cowboy ingenuity is helping sustain the International Space Station’s mission.

The space station is one of many customers of Frontier Electronic Systems Corp., a Stillwater-based company that was founded in 1973 by Peggy and Ed Shreve. Today, the couple’s daughter, Brenda Rolls, serves as president and CEO, a position she’s held since 2008.

Rolls describes the company as an engineering and manufacturing company that designs, develops, produces and tests electronic equipment primarily used for space and military applications.

This equipment can be found around the world and beyond, including on the International Space Station. Frontier built a docking adapter for the space station to help with visiting vehicles.

“We built the apparatus through a contract with Boeing so that when the vehicle docks, it latches on to hold it in place,” Rolls said.

The docking adapter is not the company’s only contribution to the International Space Station. Frontier also built a control box that adjusts the space station’s solar panels as it rotates around Earth.

Frontier also works closely with the U.S. military. Through partnerships with companies such as Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, Frontier also helps support the Navy, which is one of its largest customers.

All of these contributions take place because of a strong relationship with OSU, according to Rolls. The university has always played a crucial role in the success and growth of Frontier over its nearly 40 years of full-time operations. Ed Shreve was an electrical engineering professor at OSU, and Peggy Shreve worked in the biochemistry department.

“One of the things my dad really focused on was taking technology or theory and seeing it applied in reality that could turn into economic development,” Rolls said. “Oklahoma State is an excellent demonstration on how that occurs because I think they have made significant strides on how to do that technology transfer.”

In addition to OSU, the Stillwater community has played a pivotal role in the company’s success over the past few decades. Rolls believes that the community contributes to the overall happiness of Frontier employees.

“The Stillwater community is low stress,” Rolls said. “The quality of life here is really good. It is a nice community. People are open and friendly and caring.”

At its core, Frontier is a family business, and those values continue to drive the company. The familial aspect goes beyond the fact it was started by the Shreves and is currently run by their daughter.

“We have a lot of people who have worked here for 20 or 25 years,” Rolls said. “It’s important to us to take care of folks here and help take care of their families. We see the whole picture.”

One of Rolls’ favorite memories at Frontier took place in 2011 during its 30th anniversary celebration.

“We had an astronaut come to Frontier to talk about our products and how they worked on the International Space Station,” Rolls said. “It was the fruition of a dream that started 30 years earlier.”

Frontier’s future will grow as it continues to partner with NASA, Lockheed-Martin and United Technology to help pursue the mission to Mars. Representatives of each partner visited Stillwater in the summer of 2017.

“They presented us with a banner that says, ‘The road to Mars goes through Stillwater, Oklahoma,’” Rolls said. “We are building hardware that’s going to go on the space launch system and the Orion spacecraft for the deep space mission.”

Frontier continues to adjust its manufacturing to increase efficiency and hopes to add jobs in the coming years. Rolls believes the company will keep focusing on making highly reliable equipment for both military and space exploration purposes.

“Those kinds of things send chills up your spine,” Rolls said. “It is inspiring and humbling to know that we are part of something so grand.”

 

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