Since its humble beginnings in the 1980s as a small trade show in Colorado Springs, the annual Space Symposium has grown to become the world’s largest and most renowned space industry event.
Last year’s 30th annual Space Symposium drew more than 9,000 people, up from 250 at its inception, and organizers expect next week’s event at The Broadmoor to attract an even greater crowd.
“Everybody comes to it,” famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said in a video promoting the event. “You get important people from security space, from military space, from commercial space, from entrepreneurial space, from academic space — they’re all here.”
Scheduled for April 13-16, the event is organized by the Space Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit headed by CEO Elliot Pulham.
Pulham said sales are “nicely ahead of last year” for both attendees and participants.
“I’m delighted to say we’re fully subscribed and sold out,” he said. “I’ve really seen this thing come a long, long way.”
Major economic impact
Though the Space Foundation no longer generates economic impact estimates for the yearly event, the Symposium is likely to bring $30-35 million to the Pikes Peak region next week, Pulham said.
He attributed the growth of the event to an outreach plan that Pulham and the foundation began implementing about a decade ago.
“We made a very conscious decision that we at the Space Foundation have to get more into international outreach,” he said, “because that is the way the industry is moving. We’re ahead of the power curve there, in terms of building relationships in Asia and Europe.”
He said the growing reputation of the annual Symposium and the fanfare that surrounds it have also contributed to that growth.
It has become increasingly noteworthy in the U.S. and around the world because of well-known attendees and presenters, including Bill Nye (the “Science Guy”), Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, “Cosmos” host Tyson and others who are creating an easily recognizable face for the event throughout popular culture.
“It continues, every year, to be diverse,” Pulham said. “We are continuing this year to add more content to the Symposium in order to meet the needs of different people in different sectors of the space industry. The industry is growing and it’s not only growing in the defined industrial pathways, but we’re also seeing new applications, new entrants from overseas and more demand for more technical information.”
Pulham said this year’s program will include “a lot more international focus and more ‘deep diving’ into international issues, as opposed to U.S. space issues with an international influence.”
The increased international activity spurred the creation of a “Country in Focus” series of presentations discussing space activity in Germany, the UAE, the United Kingdom, Japan and Vietnam. For the first time in the Space Symposium’s history, a senior government delegation from Vietnam will attend, Pulham said.
“We will be doing something within the program to recognize the 20 years of partnership between our two countries,” he said. Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton announced formal normalization of diplomatic relations with Vietnam in July 1995, 20 years after the U.S. withdrew from the region.
“It’s kind of an interesting dichotomy. At the same time we’re seeing it become so commercial and international, we also have our strongest and largest contingent of U.S. government speakers ever, including the military,” he said, adding that the Symposium’s military presence had dipped in recent years due to sequestration.
Pulham said this year the Foundation also has seen increased participation by the world’s young space-centric community.
The industry is growing and its not only growing in the defined industrial pathways, but we’re also seeing new applications, new entrants from overseas and more demand for more technical information.”
– Elliot Pulham, Space Foundation CEO
[/pullquote]“I think one thing that really excites me about this year is the influx of young professionals from around the world,” he said. “We’ve made a real conscious effort the past half-dozen years to reach out to young professionals — what we call the new generation — through our partnerships with the United Nations and space agencies around the world. … It adds a real great dynamic to the program to have all of that youthful energy and diversity.”
In response to that activity, the organizers have arranged for panel discussions and lectures geared toward younger crowds, as well as an entire “New Generation Space Leaders” program with mentoring opportunities and interactive sessions.
The opening ceremony scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday in the hotel’s International Center is sponsored by Northrop Grumman and will “be highlighted by a stunningly unique animation-based digital performance by Enra, a visual dance troupe from Japan that combines elements of performance art, music, technology and light,” according to a Foundation news release.
Before the opening ceremony, the Space Foundation will present its annual awards. The event will be followed by the grand opening of the Ball Aerospace Exhibit Center and Pavilion, which will feature “the world’s latest space technology, equipment and services,” according to the release.
In the days following the opening ceremony, top government and military officials will speak on issues related to all manner of space-related topics.
Among the Space Symposium’s 100-plus speakers and panelists are representatives from a range of aerospace and defense entities, including Gen. John Hyten, head of U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, and Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, as well as many former astronauts and government officials.
A major change to the program is the classified status of two tracks, Cyber 1.5 and the Space Classified track. The one-day cyber conference, which is scheduled Monday, was created in recent years to accommodate discussion on issues of cyber terrorism, security and warfare.
After last year’s Cyber 1.4 program, the Space Foundation and its partners decided it would be best to put those programs into their own classified tracks, offered to those with clearance at the Scitor Conference Center near Peterson Air Force Base. Pulham said they chose that center because of its maximum capacity and ability to ensure secrecy.
“We put our toe in the water with the classified sessions last year and it was very successful, so we decided to go ahead and move that cyber session into the classified world as well,” Pulham said. “The sign-ups have been good and I think it’s going to be a great one. The agenda is amazing, with a group of people that is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere.”
Over the years, the Space Symposium has become known as a popular place to discuss and exchange ideas and form business partnerships. With more than 100 companies from across the world sharing their concepts and products on display in the Ball Pavilion, most aerospace firms would be hard-pressed not to take advantage. But it’s more than that to scientists like Tyson.
“It’s not just a place to conduct business; it’s a place to get inspired again,” he said.
“It’s the most awesome symposium in the world.”
Busy week at The Broadmoor
The Space Symposium’s opening ceremony has long been a spectacle to behold, complete with performances, celebration and a grand awards reception.
Award winners this year:
• the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award to June Scobee Rodgers;
• the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award to NASA Industry EFT-1 Team;
• the Space Achievement Award to X-37B OTV Team; and
• the John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. Award for Space Exploration to the Rosetta Comet Team.
Featured speaker for the Cyber 1.5 program:
U.S. Rep. James Frederick “Jim” Bridenstine, (R, Oklahoma).
Top civil and military space leaders from the U.S. who will present during the regular program:
Maj. Gen. Charles F. Bolden Jr., a retired Marine and administrator at NASA;
Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency;
Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves, U.S. Air Force commander at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Air Force Space Command;
Gen. John E. Hyten, U.S. Air Force commander at Air Force Space Command;
Honorable Deborah Lee James, secretary of the U.S. Air Force; and
Lt. Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, commander of the 14th U.S. Air Force.