Published November 16, 2018
For Bradley Cheetham (BS ’09), his time at UB was more than the classes he took, the club he started or the experiments he conducted. It was about the relationships.
Cheetham, CEO and co-founder of Advanced Space, a company focused on flight dynamics and operations software, reflected on these relationships during a recent visit to UB.
“The talks with your professors, chats with advisers or mentors, they seem trivial in the moment,” he shared with students. “But what you don’t realize [at the time] is that in the long run, everything you do depends on the people.”
Take it from Cheetham, a three-time entrepreneur and lifelong commercial space advocate who has built a career on showing people that he can solve their biggest problems. In his world, that means improving mission planning and operations for clients like NASA, the U.S. Air Force and commercial operators and startups across the space industry. It means involvement in six of the past eight U.S. spacecraft missions to the moon, and a hand in the sustainable exploration, development and settlement of space.
Cheetham returned to campus on Tuesday as the featured guest in the Blackstone LaunchPad’s “How I Built This” series, a forum in which successful entrepreneurs answer questions and share best practices for starting a business and getting it off the ground.
He also revisited his days as an honors student, stopping by the University Honors College for its International Café event, and toured the engineering labs he frequented as an undergraduate.
Cheetham earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering from UB and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. As an entrepreneur, he has founded companies focused on drone software and conference management technology, and Advanced Space, where he leads strategy to deliver flight dynamics and operation software to space industry clients.
It’s a natural journey for a person who loved space as a child and as an undergraduate at UB, where his path to industry took flight. “For me, space was always something I was really excited about,” Cheetham said. “What changed for me at UB is that before [I came here], I didn’t think I could actually do it. But the opportunities to meet and learn from other people made it more approachable, and then I realized I could be a part of it. I didn’t know exactly how … but I learned to just chase it and do the exciting thing,” he said.
While at UB, Cheetham excelled academically but seized every extra moment to conduct experiments between classes, co-found the UB chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), and cultivate relationships that mattered, with professors like Paul DesJardin from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Cheetham’s visit to UB included a stop at DesJardin’s Combustion and Energy Transport (CET) Laboratory, where the two reminisced on the experiments that gave Cheetham his start. An undergraduate research project, funded by the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA), allowed Cheetham to measure fuel propagation speed and compare it to theory.
The research team identified the corner in the lab where they had mixed gases and ignited them, crouching close to the ground to stay out of the way. While the experiment is long over, traces of it remain in the lab, like the Pyrex tubes Cheetham procured for the project, and the memory of DesJardin filming the results on his personal video camera.
With his enthusiasm guided in the right direction, Cheetham was able to found SEDS, something he knows now was a chance to give back to younger UB students. A visit to the SEDS lab allowed him to see not just the students’ rockets and handmade parachute, but also how the club has evolved since his days selling coffee in the Student Union to raise funds. Last year, 10 SEDS students traveled to New Mexico to launch rockets during the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition.
As the students and Cheetham talked shop about payloads and propellants, Cheetham noted how UB equips students with the novel and unique opportunities that really stand out. If you can talk about them, he observed, you can show how you can contribute – here, and to space.