By Michael Costas
General Manager for Defense and Space
Bechtel Nuclear, Security and Environmental
ASCEND Guiding Coalition Champion for Infrastructure
What are Bechtel’s primary areas of business, and why are you interested in the space sector?
Bechtel is a trusted engineering, construction and project management partner to industry and government. Differentiated by the quality of our people and our relentless drive to deliver the most successful outcomes, we align our capabilities to our customers’ objectives to create a lasting positive impact.
Bechtel brings 123 years of broad experience, technical capability, and the resources of a $17 billion global company to deliver mission critical, highly complex, multi-billion-dollar projects for U.S. government customers such as the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). With offices in more than 40 countries and approximately 58,000 employees, Bechtel and its affiliated companies have completed over 25,000 projects on all 7 continents.
Bechtel National, Inc. is the entity that serves Bechtel’s U.S. government customers within our Nuclear, Security and Environmental global business unit. Our other global business units include: Bechtel Energy supporting the needs of the oil and gas market and the global energy transition, Bechtel Infrastructure supporting the development of projects including roads, airports, power plants, and railways around the globe, and Bechtel Mining & Metals supporting mining operations and technology development to create environmentally friendlier mining operations.
This broad experience in multiple markets allows us to draw upon diverse expertise whenever approaching complex or first-of-a-kind problems like those that we are seeing in the space sector right now.
What are you most excited about in the space industry right now?
The increased involvement of commercialization in human space flight, and the opportunity for accelerating exploration through the cooperation of multiple industries, governments, and private commercial organizations to accomplish a goal that would not be possible without that cooperation. This is exciting both from the standpoint of the possibilities that it brings, but also in the impact that it can have for humanity.
What do you think the role of Bechtel will be in the space industry over the next 10 years?
This answer really depends on the level of industry involvement and how fast the space market is able to accelerate the physical infrastructure scopes of work on the moon and then on Mars. We are here to support our customers in their endeavors both for the development of the terrestrial infrastructure needed to achieve these goals, as well as to lend support and expertise for deep space exploration in the future.
How are you ramping up and accelerating your approach to the space market?
As an organization we are increasing our focus on the space market and how we can best support and grow with the industry. Bechtel has supported the space market since 1961 when we built the plan and conceptual design for a “Permanent Operational Site on the Moon” for General Dynamics. We are continuing our lean-forward approach to supporting our customers and space exploration that we have had since our first project in this sector.
What is Bechtel’s advantage versus competitors in the space market?
We offer the complete spectrum of engineering, procurement, and construction services for the market – from concept to detailed design, fully-integrated self-perform construction and start-up, right through to support services during operations.
Our unique experience and global supply chain bring an unparalleled portfolio of expertise to benefit our customers’ projects around the world, on assignments of different sizes and complexities. When this spectrum of expertise is combined with our master planning services, we are able to make these first-of-a-kind visions come to life in an executable, successful, project.
We are also a privately held, family-owned company, which allows us the freedom to take a long-term view of the market and make investments that may not have an immediate return on investment, which others may not be able to do.
What types of business partners will your company need to succeed in space?
We are looking to partner with owners/operators and technology providers so that we can be successful together. We believe that diversity of thought is critical in creating new concepts and generating unique solutions, and we want partners that feel the same way. Working together as a team, bringing past experience and future possibilities together will provide the most robust and successful solutions to the market in order to achieve our customers’ goals.
What are the characteristics of a successful (company) employee in space? What new space jobs are you creating or anticipating in your company?
We are expecting that there will be increased reliance on teleoperators, remote construction operations, robotic programming expertise, and design for robotic operations. Labor will likely be performed by machines directed by a human, rather than directly by a human, which will require higher fidelity human-machine interface development and technically proficient team members. People comfortable working with and through machines will be critical to the success of future exploration and infrastructure development. I think we can build upon the lessons learned from assembly of the ISS in LEO and apply those that are applicable to work on the moon and Mars.
Are there things that make your company successful on Earth that won’t translate successfully into space? Likewise, are there things that hold you back on Earth that won’t be barriers to success in space?
Typically for a construction project mobilization of a large on-site workforce, often with highly specialized skills, is a critical piece of the project. However, rapid mobilization of people on Earth is much easier than it will be in a space environment. This means that we will need to lean into our other strengths in front-end planning, digital design for construction, and robotic construction to accomplish these same goals with fewer people. Drawing upon our past experience of building in extreme environments with dust and extreme cold will help in understanding and adapting to the conditions that will be encountered on the moon or Mars.
The immediate payback on Earth is as we master these capabilities for execution in space, similar techniques can be applied terrestrially to improve safety and performance of projects.
How will your industry’s participation in ASCEND accelerate its growth in space?
ASCEND’s mission is to bring the space community together in order to discuss and accelerate humanity’s off-world future. Participation in ASCEND will allow us to better understand the needs of our customers and their goals, while allowing us to build relationships with potential partners who share a common vision and mission of accelerating future exploration.
All of this is aimed at establishing the future of the space economy. As an example, what are we as a community doing to propel the space economy as we move forward? ASCEND allows the entire current and future space community to have these conversations and figure out how to build a sustainable space economy that will attract long-term customers to enable success.
On a personal note, what is the one thing that has made you successful throughout your career?
There are many techniques that work to promote successful outcomes in a leader’s tool kit. How you integrate the application of these tools will largely define the experience for our people and customers. If you were to find a common thread across leaders that have managed to post significant achievements, you would call out their sustained focus on pulling up people.
As you know, organizations cannot succeed without the efforts of high performing teams who consistently engage and overcome significant challenges. After working in industry for 40 years, I have experienced my share of tough projects. If I were to consider the best and worst of these times, I can say without a doubt that our successes were tied to those individuals who saw the best in every team member. This allowed the leader to involve every team member in developing a solid view of the opportunities necessary to overcome adversity or continuously improve performance. And, of course, by being calm and measured in every response, the team could move mountains together because they owned the mission.
In application, leading through personal contact, deploying impactful communications, creating a genuine desire to care for one another, building trust, and providing a vision for the future were all elements critical to creating a better place to work. These investments built up people, while protecting them from negative forces and unintended consequences. In my opinion, leadership is all about working with people to achieve extraordinary outcomes, whereby, we can leverage the strengths of a diverse and inclusive team. Furthermore, creating this kind of legacy will have a profound effect on future generations who desperately need good people to emulate.
So, I never thought too much about my personal success. Everything seemed to fall into place when I got the human element right.
About Michael Costas
Michael Costas is general manager of the Defense and Space business line of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security, & Environmental global business unit. He is responsible for oversight and growth of a project portfolio that includes first-of-a-kind construction, operations, and business transformation services for U.S. and allied governments.
Included in that portfolio is a plant that is disassembling and destroying surplus U.S. chemical weapons in Colorado and a sister plant in Kentucky expected to start operations in 2019. Michael also oversees the test operations and sustainment contract at the Arnold Engineering Development Complex for the U.S. Air Force, with ground test facilities in Tennessee, California, and Maryland.
Michael joined Bechtel in 2011 as manager of corporate quality and Six Sigma, where he guided improvements to our quality management system to benefit project delivery.
He then joined the $16.8 billion Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) project as manager of Quality and EPC Functions, and was named president and general manager of the Waste Treatment and Completion Company – a 1,500 person Bechtel-led company responsible for construction, startup, and commissioning of the WTP.
In 2018, Michael was named principal associate laboratory director for Capital Projects as Los Alamos National Laboratory, a premier national security science institution with more than 11,000 employees.
Prior to joining Bechtel, Michael spent 25 years in the defense and space industry working for leading companies such as Raytheon, Boeing, and Rockwell. At Boeing, he led the Delta IV launch vehicle’s first stage rocket propulsion system project.
Michael was elected a Bechtel principal vice president in 2012.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in business and management from Pepperdine University and earned a certificate in Bechtel’s General Management Plan.