Tucson tech: The industry had some hits, a few misses in 2012

2013-01-01T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:32:44Z Tucson tech: The industry had some hits, a few misses in 2012David Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

From missiles to microbes, here's a look back at some of the top stories and trends of 2012 - and what may lie ahead in 2013:

Raytheon hits, misses

Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson's biggest tech company and Southern Arizona's largest private employer, had its share of hits and misses in 2012.

Raytheon reached key milestones for several developmental programs, including the Small Diameter Bomb II, the Griffin mini-missile and the Pyros small, guided munition and a radar-jamming version of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy, which went into initial production in late summer.

One of Raytheon's potentially biggest future programs, the Joint-Air-to-Ground Missile, was put on an extended technology-development plan as Raytheon and Lockheed Martin competed for prime contractor - good news, in a way, after the program was nearly axed completely.

But Raytheon had some troubling problems with two of its biggest programs, the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and the Standard Missile-3 ballistic-missile interceptor.

The Pentagon last year suspended deliveries of the latest AMRAAM and is withholding payments because of failed rocket motors. Raytheon is testing a new motor from a Norwegian supplier, but hundreds of missiles remain motorless and undelivered.

The ship-based SM-3 - a key component of the emerging U.S. missile-defense system - seemed back on track after two successful 2012 flight tests of the SM-3 Block IB, which had failed in an intercept test in September 2011.

But in October, the program suffered a new setback when an SM-3 Block IA missile - a version already deployed - failed to intercept its target during a first-of-its-kind, simultaneous test of multiple missile defense. A review of that failure is still pending.

Meanwhile, Raytheon won healthy production contracts for established weapons programs, including recent, nine-figure awards for Paveway II laser bomb-guidance kits and Evolved SeaSparrow ship-defense missiles.

But the year ended with Raytheon and other defense contractors facing uncertainty over potentially deep cuts to the Pentagon budget, whether automatic "fiscal cliff" cuts take place or not.

Solar solace

It was a tough year for solar-energy companies, particularly those marketing advanced technologies.

Most recently, Tucson-based Global Solar Energy Inc. laid off 70 percent of its employees and suspended most of its proprietary thin-film photovoltaics manufacturing operations here, after failing to find a buyer or new investors.

Tucson-based Solon Corp. closed its local solar-panel manufacturing line in 2011 amid the insolvency of its German parent company. But it got a boost in March when Microsol, a United Arab Emirates solar company, acquired the German company and its assets, including the Tucson operation.

But local solar technology advanced this year as REhnu, a company founded by University of Arizona astronomer Roger Angel, attracted $1 million in venture-capital funding, and more recently a $1 million federal matching-funds grant to further its concentrating photovoltaic technology, which aims to make large-scale solar more efficient and competitive.

And the local renewable-energy buildout accelerated with the addition of several big, utility-scale solar energy farms to Tucson Electric Power Co.'s system, including a 34-megawatt system recently turned on in the Avra Valley area and a 25MW system nearby expected to go online this month.

Aerospace

The past few years have seen expansion at several local aerospace companies, including Sargent Aerospace & Defense in Marana, which makes parts for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and last year hosted Lockheed Martin's touring F-35 flight simulator.

Ahead are renewed efforts to boost aerospace, one of the state's most critical employment sectors.

In October, the Arizona Commerce Authority won $1.8 million in advanced manufacturing jobs grants from a consortium of five federal government agencies.

Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson said the money will be used according to each agency's requirements to support things like energy research, aerospace apprenticeships and internships, and supply-chain support.

New business

Last year saw Tucson land several new high-tech companies:

• Colorado-based Accelr8 Technology Corp., which is developing systems to rapidly identify bacterial infections and their resistance to antibiotics, announced in August that it will move its headquarters and operations to Tucson in the coming year.

The company, headed by former Ventana Medical Systems executive Lawrence Mehren, will initially use lab and office space provided by Pima County.

• Integrated Technologies Group, a California-based maker of magnetic components and related products for high-tech applications, announced in September that it would open a plant on the south side that is expected to employ up to 200 people within five years.

• Aris Integration announced in November plans to open a factory to make high-tech building panels in Tucson. The company is finalizing a location.

New faces

• In August, the University of Arizona named the University of Colorado's David Allen to head the UA's new Tech Launch Arizona initiative to boost technology out of the labs and into the marketplace.

Allen, who has been credited with turning Colorado's technology transfer program around, hit the ground running with a new proof-of-concept program and is working on a detailed plan for Tech Launch Arizona.

• Carolyn Compton, a senior National Cancer Institute scientist and administrator, was named president and CEO of the Tucson-based Critical Path Institute (C-Path) in February.

The well-respected and dynamic Compton is busy with fundraising for the nonprofit C-Path, which fosters several major drug-industry consortia with the aim of speeding development of safer drugs.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.

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