Sean Mahoney

Masten Space Systems CEO Sean Mahoney presents at the Explorers Club in New York. Photo: Michael Belfiore.

Most of us know the acronym KISS, for Keep It Simple, Stupid. This is the idea is that the simplest solution to a given problem is usually the best.

Going along with that, I would add Keep It Small, Stupid, meaning that the smallest team required to solve a given problem is often the best.

Case in point is Masten Space Systems, whose CEO, Sean Mahoney, I caught up with at the Explorers Club in New York City earlier this month. He was there for Blast Off!, a space start up event that offered an amazing series of presentations by most of the top NewSpace companies—all in one place.

(Watch for my MIT Technology Review report on the event later this week.)

“When it comes to finding ways to innovate in aerospace, there are a lot of costs,” Mahoney told me before his formal presentation. “A lot of people focus on the cost of the technology, the cost of the rocket. There are a lot of other costs as well. People are one of the biggest costs. It’s still one of our largest costs, even with the technology we have now.”

Masten’s mission, Mahoney told me, is twofold: to develop reusable rocket technology, and to do it with a small team. Both ideas are in the service of lowering the cost of space launch.

“By keeping a small team, you can really help drive down the cost of launch as you strip away some of the extra process and extra paperwork,” said Mahoney. “I love the question, ‘Hey, are you guys a small business—are you over or under 500 people?’ We’re 15 people. That’s the team that dream, design, build, test, fly, end to end, completely vertically integrated.”

Can you really run a world-class rocket business with only 15 people? Masten Space Systems demonstrates time and again that the answer is ‘Yes,’ that keeping it small is a major advantage. Masten has one of the highest flight rates in the business and includes among its clientele such heavy hitters as NASA and Draper Labs.