Our Industry Depends on Developing Future Space Leaders

Space Station food packaging, lasers for satellite communications and earth-bound applications of space technology were just a few of the topics mentioned at Future Space 2014, a conference sponsored by the Future Space Leaders Foundation.

Given the low graduation rates in science technology, engineering and math (STEM), non-profit organizations such as the Future Space Leaders Foundation, organize panel discussions and other mentoring events to encourage the next generation to consider careers in space and avionics technology.

At the Future Space 2014, attendees, who included congressional staffers, along with young professionals and interns from companies in the aerospace industry, heard from a diverse group of panelists that included representatives from both the public and private sector.  Speakers included representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology, DARPA, NASA, the House Armed Services Committee as well as satellite and space technology start-ups, launch providers such as SSL and our own company, Intelsat.

All of the panels were centered on the development of future space based technologies.  For example, the White House talked about encouraging innovative space-based ideas such as new packaging for the food destined for the International Space Station (ISS) and solar propulsion. A NASA representative spoke about the Laser Communications Relay Demo, using lasers to encode and transmit data at 10 to 100 times current speeds. Dorothy Rasco, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate, gave an impromptu demo of a parachute used for re-entry and descent from space that hadn’t worked as expected, but provided the necessary information to improve it. This is the type of exciting experimentation that can spark the imagination of the younger generation.

Representative Jim Langevin of Rhode Island spoke about the importance of satellites and space technology and how these applications are translated from space into  other areas of real life. He gave the example of the wheel chair on which he was seated, explaining that it was balanced on gyroscopes originally developed for space applications.

During the panel titled “Space and the Pacific Rim,” Col. Alan Rebholz of the U.S. Air Force discussed the importance of better coordination among the DoDs various space acquisition agencies to ensure there are no interoperability issues for warfighters. He also suggested that this coordination would be necessary among countries in the Pacific region as well.

“Coalition operations in space are the way to meet the challenges in the Pacific,” Rebholz said.

Another panelist reiterated the idea of partnerships for space projects. For example, do we need an international operational treaty among governments, and between governments and commercial entities, to address issues like mining asteroids or placing private facilities on the moon?

The “Wicked Space Technologies” panel included companies like Blue Origin, which is focused on future human space travel, but in the meantime has developed the first 3-D printer to be used in space. Jason Dunn, co-founder and chief technologist at the company Made in Space, believes that launches are the bottleneck to getting more satellites in space, so “why not build satellites in space?”

And Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat’s Chief Technology Officer, agreed that disruptive launch technologies are needed. Guillemin also talked about in-orbit servicing of spacecraft, which he believes will become a reality in the next five years. (Click here to download a whitepaper on this topic).

When asked by the moderator what one thing they would wish for, the panelists gave various answers including launch vehicle survivability and off-the-shelf satellites. Guillemin explained that commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) satellites could be quickly built and launched, with user-defined software being installed once the satellite is in space. He said this would dramatically decrease costs of building and launching spacecraft.

Rep. Jim Brindestine of Oklahoma talked about the Rocket Racing League as an example of the type of activity that encourages interest in the exciting and futuristic study of avionics and space.

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