As we process applications for the 2011 Inc. 500 | 5000, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. One that caught our eye was Atlanta-based SpaceWorks Enterprises.

Before a new space concept reaches development, most organizations require that the design receives a fair and unbiased assessment by an independent firm.

That's where SpaceWorks comes in. The company, comprised of only 18 engineers, examines and appraises new space technologies at a conceptual level, directing the developers on the feasibility and payoff of a proposed technology.

"We pull together a small team to perform numerical analysis of what that future system would do," says John Olds, founder and CEO of SpaceWorks. "The goal is to come up with a system that could have some improvement over what we're doing today."

Currently, SpaceWorks is working on crew escape systems and launch assist technologies to help sling rockets and satellites into space, but virtually every technology that comes into SpaceWorks is speculative at best.

"In a sense, we're the input to the decision maker who determines whether or not that technology needs to be taken to the next step," Olds says.

The company, which is ready to enter its 11th year of operation in August, was originally a side project of Olds' while he was a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering.

After several years of consulting on the side, Olds finally took a leave of absence from Georgia Tech and, with the help of his wife Melinda, officially launched SpaceWorks on August 1, 2000. Melinda, who also helped finance the endeavor, still serves as the company's part-time CFO.

Olds and SpaceWorks enjoy the prestige of being associated with Georgia Tech, but their work with the Air Force and NASA is what drives the business. Aerospace has forever been a government-driven sector, but Olds believes the industry may head in a new direction.

"Our industry is starting to turn a little more commercial," Olds says. "There are these great stories in the aerospace business these days about entrepreneurs—millionaires and billionaires—that are starting their own aerospace companies that want to launch space tourists and private individuals into space."

Serial entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk are currently pursuing ways to launch tourists into space, but many consider these projects all style and no substance. On the other hand, SpaceWorks believes the next logical step to commercialize the aerospace industry is very small communications satellites.

"When you think of a satellite, you think of something that's five feet tall, but universities and small research organizations are starting to build very small pico-sats and nano-sats that you can hold in your hand," Olds says. "Our company created the subsidiary, Generation Orbit Launch Services, to basically develop a fighter jet-based launch system to launch these very small satellites. We think that's where the industry is going. Miniaturization went through handheld electronics; it's going to come to space also."

Like the universe itself, the SpaceWorks enterprise is expanding rapidly in many different directions. Besides its engineering and commercial endeavors, SpaceWorks continues to sell its software line, which provides data analysis tools for engineers and designers, and will soon begin development on a line of mobile apps.

"At heart, we're all kind of space geeks at SpaceWorks," Olds says. "We're going to put aerospace-oriented applications on everyone's mobile devices."

Looking for ways to take innovation to the next level? Join us at the Inc. 500|5000 Conference, taking place September 22-24, 2011 in Washington, DC. Visit inc5000conference.com for more details. Be ahead of the curve and register by August 8 to save $400.