NASA is working on the Artemis program, the first mission to take humans beyond low Earth orbit since 1972.
With a price tag of more than $21 billion, input from hundreds of companies and intent to land the first woman on the moon, the National Space Council and U.S. President Donald Trump consider Artemis the country's biggest and boldest undertaking in recent history. “I am asking Congress to fully fund the Artemis program to ensure that the next man and the first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts using this as a launching pad to ensure that America is the first nation to plant its flag on Mars,” Trump said in his recent State of the Union address.
Pretty heady stuff, no doubt involving large aerospace companies and government contractors, but one company key to the mission – and literally holding it together - is a family-owned small business in North Richland Hills.
On a recent January afternoon, program heads from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and NASA sat around a large table at aerospace company SeyTec's small conference room to listen and observe.
SeyTec is a mighty mite in the aerospace industry.
"Artemis in 2024 will see boots on the South Pole of the moon, where no human has ever been before," said Marcia Lindstrom, a strategic communications manager at NASA. "We'll see things we've never seen before and make scientific discoveries that will help us understand both our planet and our solar system."
Lindstrom added: "It takes a very different system and thanks to the guys at SeyTec ... we have just the thing for a mission like this."
Founded in 1988, SeyTec has called North Texas home ever since. But the company, by the virtue of the work it does, oftentimes goes unnoticed.
SeyTec is a stocking distributor of fasteners – hardware devices that mechanically joins or affixes two or more objects together. The company offers supply chain solutions to the aerospace, defense as well as commercial aviation industries.
"You're doing rocket science, computers and all these cool stuff and you forget about what's going to hold it together," SeyTec CEO Stephanie Seybert said. "We are kind-of under the radar in the industry, to be honest. Our customers, they are very appreciative and they know its important. But when you think of something that's going to Mars, you're initial thought isn't fasteners."
For almost a decade now, SeyTec has operated out of a modest-looking building, close by a library and a recreation center. The machinery and design work inside are high-tech though.
The company's legacy business is supporting defense missile projects. Aerospace giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing have maintained a continual partnership with SeyTec for more than 30 years.
"[SeyTec's works] has always been on the orbit, but to go to the moon is shocking and fun," Seybert said. "It's something we're so embedded in now that until in moments like these then only I sit back and realize how big of a deal it is. It's exciting."
When President Trump signed an executive order to re-establish the National Space Council in 2017 and Vice President Mike Pence announced plans to land American astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024, Seybert knew her company was coming along for the ride.
A huge quantity of screws, nuts, bolts and connectors ship out of the company's warehouse every week.
As an example, the company ships about 4 million pieces of fasteners under one year for just one particular program on its missiles and fire control segment. SeyTec is involved in numerous other segments.
SeyTec has about 50 employees, several of whom joined when the company first started.
"The real matter are the people, and that's what we have," Seybert said. "We care. It's been very successful. Being small actually helps us in our industry versus being big."
Seybert said the company generated the highest sales and revenues this year in its history and it anticipates breaking that record next year. The company sales are in the double-digit million dollars figure.
In the Artemis program, Seybert said her company is the largest supplier in terms of the sheer quantity of products.
The Boeing Company is the prime contractor for the design, development, test and production of the launch vehicle for the Artemis mission.
Standing taller than the Statue of Liberty, Boeing's Space Launch System, or SLS, is the world's most powerful rocket and has the capacity to launch more than 26 metric tons of payload and astronauts to orbits beyond the moon.
"There are small and diverse companies all across the United States, like SeyTec, that are building the parts and the systems that will ultimately carry us and power humankind deeper into space," said Eduardo Lopez, technical lead engineer at Boeing.
SeyTec has approximately 12,000 storage bins in and around various factory floors where the rocket parts are being made. SeyTec checks the bins and replenishes it with products as needed every day.
SeyTec also has a distributing facility in Decatur, Alabama to support the Boeing project. It is also opening a new facility in Florida.
SeyTec recently won a contract to be a supplier to Blue Origin. Blue Origin, the Jeff Bezos-owned aerospace manufacturer, is making a robotic space cargo carrier and lander for Artemis that will deliver cargo on the moon. Bezos also plans to offer commercial space flights to space in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is working on NASA's Orion spacecraft, which on top of the SLS will take up to four astronauts to the moon's orbit and back.
"All the engineers are figuring out how the rockets and spacecraft are working, and the scientists are learning about the moon and the astronauts get to go fly these things around," said Larry Price, Orion deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin. "It's a wonderful capability and humans want to explore. We want to know what's on the other side of the hill."