Officina Stellare is an Italian firm that provides a range of telescopes and accessories that are used worldwide for scientific research, earth observation, aerospace, laser communication, Space Situational Awareness and in the defence sector. A turning point came in 2013 when the company received a request from Airbus for a space telescope.
In this article, Antonio Raspa, EPIC’s Senior Photonics Technology Manager, talks with Gino Bucciol, co-founder and VP of Business Development at Officina Stellare, to learn about how he got his start and what shaped the success of the Italian space factory.
In 1989, after receiving a high-school Diploma in Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering, Gino began working for Telecom Italia, the leading Italian telecommunication company.
Having a passion for astronomy and with an interest in electronics, he spent most of his free time star-gazing and developing home-made time-controlled automatic systems for pointing and tracking stellar objects. But at that time, a major problem for amateur astronomers in Italy was the unavailability of astronomy equipment and as a result, Gino came up with the idea of creating his own company to sell astronomical and optical devices to fellow enthusiasts.
Accordingly, in 2000 he discussed his idea with Giovanni Dal Lago, an acquaintance and fellow amateur astronomer, and two months later the two of them set up Astrotech. Operating from a garage, they began to import astronomy equipment for resale via the internet to expert amateurs in Italy.
Over the next few years, the company grew steadily, and they began to design and manufacture their own telescopes. By 2009, they had expanded to such an extent that they were ready to expand into markets outside Italy. To this end, they changed the company’s name to Officina Stellare “Star Workshop” under a new logo inspired by two of the Pleiades stars sketched by Galileo Galilei - representative of Officina Stellare’s mission to provide advanced scientific instruments in order to increase awareness and expand knowledge of space and the universe.
With Giovanni as CEO and Gino as COO, Officina Stellare continued to focus on astronomy equipment for expert amateurs and professionals; that is until 2013, when they received a request from Airbus for a space telescope.
As Gino recalls, at that time they were totally unprepared for such an order as they were not aware of all the technical challenges connected to the manufacturing of a space telescope, even if they had solid knowledge of similar capabilities applied on different projects. But after spending several days reading the specs and documentation, they felt confident enough to build the instrument. Since then,
Using a global network of distributors, the company now sells both custom and standard products to customers mainly in Europe, North and South America, Japan and Asia, although Egypt, South Africa and Australia have also recently begun to show signs of growth. Products include a series of telescopes including the ProRC, providing a working bandwidth of 350-5000 nm intervals; the RiFast series, telescopes at f/3.8 for astrophotography; the RiDK series, a universal telescope with a balanced f/7 focal ratio and a 2-lens field; and the RH Veloce, a versatile astrograph that uses a Meniscus front lens and a Mangin primary mirror. Also available is the OS Mount, for telescopes up to 80cm, available both in equatorial and alt/az version, together with a range of accessories like digital motors, fine focusers, telescope controllers, mirrors and lenses.
Factors underlying Officina Stellare’s success
Transmitting the vision: while Gino has always had a clear picture of what he wants the company to achieve, a major challenge has been how to ensure his employees share that vision and are ready as him to make the leap when required. To this end, Gino and Giovanni have invested a lot of time transmitting their enthusiasm and vision to ensure that their employees have grown with them and have remained committed to achieving stable, long-lasting and successful results.
In-house production: one of Officina Stellare’s main goals has been to bring as much as possible in-house in order to avoid quality issues and risks associated with external suppliers. In this way, the production chain has been kept short with reduced costs and faster production. Although this has meant investing in new machines and recruiting new personnel, they are now near to having all the technologies needed to transform raw materials into qualified space telescopes.
Training and recruitment: as a telescope manufacturer, Officina Stellare needs to recruit optical engineers, which has proved difficult due to the general scarcity of STEM graduates. However, Officina Stellare’s success as an innovative aerospace company based in northern Italy has meant that they’ve been able to attract several young Italian engineers wanting to move back home. A second recruitment issue has been the absence of any post-school training in optical engineering. To meet this challenge, in cooperation with the university of Padua, Officina Stellare has created its own academy to prepare graduates to enter to the world of modern aerospace.
Over the next five years, Officina Stellare’s goal is to continue deepening their positioning in the market and to consolidate their position as a leading player in the development of opto-mechanical systems for applications related to the New Space Economy, which rests on three main pillars:
1) Earth Observation, i.e., the capture of high-resolution multi or hyper-spectral images of the Earth surface to gather a wide range of information and data, under the auspices of “Space Democratisation” which will give increased accessibility of the space domain to smaller players.
2) Space Situational Awareness (SSA) & Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST), i.e., real-time monitoring of the position of orbiting objects, optimizing positioning manoeuvres, managing the lifetime and consequently avoiding the risk of collision with other objects. This is particularly important as the large amount of equipment that will be put it into space in the next few years will create huge safety problems.
3) Laser Communication, i.e., ultra-fast communications, global Internet coverage, information security, and the new frontier of IoT and quantum communication.
Officina Stellare aim is to focus on competitive applications for these three areas aided by a more streamlined and faster production process. For Gino, Officina Stellare has a bright future because as he says:
“We stand out from our competitors because of our entirely in-house production and our 20 years of know-how in the design, manufacture and commissioning of quality products. This, together with a pool of highly trained and experienced professionals from a variety of engineering domains, our reliability, flexibility and fast time-to-market means that we will be well-placed to provide the opto-mechanical systems required to meet the future needs of the New Space Economy.”
What’s your advice to the next generation of entrepreneurs?
“First, do what you love most and have a passion for your product or service.
Second, know as much as you can about your products and services and always keep yourself updated on what the best players in your sector are doing. Information and knowledge are crucial for making the right decisions.
Third, apart from hard work, behind a long lasting success there is always a lot of study and science; so, while passion is crucial, a rational approach to the business is equally important.”
Written by Antonio Raspa, Senior Photonics Program Manager, EPIC