12 Apr 2017 1:13 PM

I’ve always been fascinated by space and the activities supporting space exploration, which is why I enjoy working with businesses in the space industry sector. I even have a satellite office on the Harwell Campus (also the home of the European Space Agency) where I’m based one day a week, bringing me closer to space sector businesses. So I jumped at the chance to attend the 33rd Space Symposium, which was held in Colorado Springs last week. Sponsored by the Space Foundation, the Space Symposium lasted three days and included speakers and thought leaders; 160 exhibitors; educators and students from around the world.  It is considered to be the major international gathering of professionals and minds from the space industry.

During my time at the Symposium I heard about the initiatives currently underway in the international arena, the challenges faced by the sector and the plans for the future. Here are some of the highlights from the event.

At an informative panel discussion with 12 Space Agency leaders from various countries I heard that:

  • Collaboration between nations is key
  • The main focus is Mars missions looking for signs of life
  • Space debris and planetary defence are both globally important challenges
  • China is launching a far side of the moon landing in 2018, a Mars mission in 2020 and a Mars return mission by 2030.
  • South Korea has a space launch vehicle scheduled to go into operation in 2019
  • Canada has developed an astronaut recruitment programme and teachers are focussing on the next generation of talent

At a session on Big Data we learnt that this market is estimated to be worth at least $1trillion per annum, and the value is in the analysis of this data rather than the data itself. But as humans we do not have the capacity to analyse the volume of data that we produce, so machine learning is vital. The data needs to be enabled to be accessed and much of it is in the atmosphere and space. The future challenges are keeping pace with change and maintaining the quality of data. Experts believe that the mid 21st century will be data centric and that AI could be used to analyse data to predict future events.

I was interested to hear about 'Heavy Lift', a term used for a specific type of space travel vehicles. Their construction makes journeys to other planets shorter and more cost efficient. Heavy Lift vehicles can also be used to build larger telescopes in space, which would allow more thorough surveying of stars for earth like planets, and for transporting large amounts of material for building a moon base in space.

Currently there are four private companies capable of sending humans into space, Blue Origin, Boeing, SpaceX and Lockheed Martin, to date only the US, China and Russia had achieved this. NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) will be a game changer when it is ready and is expected to be complete in September 2017.

Blue Origin

Photo: Blue Origin exhibit their space vehicles

On the last evening at a reception in honour of international guests, the Chairman of the Space Foundation thanked international delegates for attending and was delighted to see numbers increasing year on year. He went on to emphasise the importance of the space sector to everyone and the benefits of global collaboration along with government and private sector partnerships.

While I was at the event I was constantly reminded of the rationale for space exploration; new knowledge, challenge driven innovation, inspiration, and to develop global partners as well as the more scary message that ultimately the survival of the human race on only one planet is a very risky approach. I have heard thought provoking presentations and met inspirational experts and feel that the future of space exploration, if we all work together, will be very exciting for all.


Photo: The view from the hotel at Colorado Springs