The 37th Annual Space Symposium returned in person this year after the pandemic caused a two-year hiatus. Held April 4-7 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado – and online through a virtual option – the event welcomed more than 10,000 space professionals and decision-makers. It is the No. 1 international event for the space industry, attracting thousands of representatives from the military, civil and commercial sectors.

Hosted by the Space Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1983, this year’s symposium had an agenda packed with industry leaders discussing challenges and solutions, plus key accomplishments. Attendees also got to see cutting-edge technologies in action on the exhibition floor, where about 235 exhibitors and representatives from 40 countries showcased their wares – “largest and most expansive exhibit hall we have ever had,” Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor said.

Control, command and dominance

Space experts’ major concern is “great competition for space with nations that do not share our views,” Gen. John Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force, told an overflow crowd at the symposium.

To ensure that space remains “accessible, stable and secure,” Raymond said, the Space Force, the newest military branch, must aggressively modernize space hardware. “It’s a competition where the outcome is no longer assured, and it’s a competition that we cannot lose. Because if we lose our access and ability to operate freely in space, we all lose.”

“Control of space is essential if one is to control the air, the sea and the land,” added Frank Kendall, Air Force secretary, who called space a “warfighting domain.”

Raymond specified three areas in which space is crucial to national security: integrated deterrence, campaigning and actions that build an enduring advantage.

“Space creates options across the entire spectrum of conflict – for example, imagery and intelligence to support diplomatic negotiations and treaty verification; ensuring we can manage escalation; and protecting communications for our nation,” he said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exemplifies the importance of satellite imagery. Ahead of the initial action on Feb. 24, U.S. intelligence agencies more than doubled their procurement of commercial electro-optical imagery. David Gauthier, director of commercial and business operations at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said that imagery from Maxar, BlackSky and Planet “was able to flow directly to those who need it: [U.S. European Command], NATO and directly to Ukrainians.”

“The amount of commercial GEOINT being used is unprecedented in this engagement. It’s on the news every day. And I couldn’t be prouder of the way our companies and our government have responded,” Gauthier added.

Workforce woes

Another industry concern, according to leaders, is a labor shortage, with Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of Blue Origin, calling it the “biggest challenge.” Driving the problem is employees’ preference to work remotely, rearranging of space workers rather than recruiting new ones and difficulty in getting people to see themselves as part of the space industry.

To further address workforce woes, 24 executives at the symposium signed the “Space Workforce 2030” pledge at the symposium, promising to advance diversity, equity and inclusion industrywide. The pledge states that by 2030, the companies will:

  • Increase the number of women and employees from underrepresented communities in the technical workforce and in senior leadership roles.
  • Work with universities to increase the percentages of women and students from underrepresented groups receiving aerospace engineering degrees to levels commensurate with overall engineering programs.
  • Sponsor K-12 programs that reach more than 5 million underrepresented students.
  • Meet twice annually to exchange best practices on strengthening diversity recruitment, STEM education outreach and representation at leadership levels.

Now boarding: commercial space flights

Commercial space flight offerings by SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are another way to garner excitement about the industry – and their partnership with NASA is indispensable.

“We are in the golden age of commercial space,” NASA Deputy Administrator Col. Pam Melroy said at the symposium.

The trips several companies made to low Earth orbit in 2021 were just the beginning of what’s possible, said David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration with the European Space Agency. “So far, we just went to the museum gift shop, grabbed a few souvenirs, and came home again,” Parker said. “Now we’re on a path for sustainable lunar exploration to turn into a place, as low Earth orbit is today, for doing science, for doing technology, for doing innovation and commercial opportunity.”

Tejpaul Bhatia, chief revenue officer at Axiom Space, predicts the creation of multiple trillion-dollar companies in response to the emerging market.

“We’re at an inflection point, in the trajectory of human spaceflight, and the development of space,” Blue Origin’s Sherwood said.