The space industry’s largest global event takes place next week in Colorado Springs — without NASA, the U.S. space agency.
Thanks to budget cuts by the federal government, no one from NASA will be exhibiting, presenting or attending the 29th annual Space Symposium.
“This has been our most challenging year,” said Space Foundation spokeswoman Janet Stevens. “We’ve had to branch out in a lot of areas we don’t normally have to — and we’ve had to redo the agenda, change events and move things around, all thanks to the U.S. government.”
Despite the attrition, attendance is down only about 4 percent, which means about 9,000 people will flock to The Broadmoor for the conference.
“That’s because of the globalization of space,” Stevens said. “We’ve grown and grown the international presence at the symposium, and that’s kept attendance up. We’ll have a presentation from the International Space Station, but ironically, no one from NASA. That’s kind of sad, but it’s the way the industry is moving — more and more, other countries are taking the lead.”
Representatives from more than 40 countries will attend and take part in discussions about the industry.
Usually, the Space Symposium is a major networking event for government agencies to meet with contractors and private industry sectors. This year, even the military presence will be down slightly, with all non-essential travel canceled.
Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham expressed his frustration in this week’s Space Watch column, “The View from Here.”
“To be sure, a significant and tragic amount of chaos and pain has been caused by sequestration, by Congress adopting an FY13 budget six months late, by the Administration still not having submitted the FY14 budget proposal that was due Feb. 4 and the horrifically ill-advised promulgation by the Office of Management and Budget of OMB Memorandum M-12-12, limiting government travel for meetings and conferences,” he wrote.
Still, Pulham said the symposium wasn’t suffering from lack of government participation.
“This year we’ll see the temporary absence of a few government organizations on the exhibit floor,” he said, “but, as we announced a month ago, the Lockheed Martin Exhibit Center and Lockheed Martin Exhibit Pavilion are once again sold out.”
There will be a military presence, Stevens said, though somewhat smaller, thanks to Colorado Springs being headquarters for U.S. Space Command. Personnel from Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases don’t have to travel to attend the symposium, so more will come from those ranks.
Things could be worse, Stevens said. The “show will go on.”
“And that’s not always the case,” she said. “Every day, we hear about an event that has been canceled somewhere else. People have to choose, and because of the breadth of what we offer, they’re choosing the Space Symposium. And if your event relies on a large government presence, say the Missile Defense Agency, and they pull out, the whole thing can fall apart.”
Here, the Space Symposium brings about $25 million in economic impact — hotel rooms, transportation, lodging. It’s one of the biggest annual events in Colorado Springs, with The Broadmoor completely booked as are Cheyenne Mountain Resort, the Crowne Plaza and several other hotels.
It’s a shame, Stevens said, because absent sequestration, the symposium might have had a blockbuster year.
“We have more international attendance than ever before,” Stevens said. “And we’ve worked to bring in more young professionals. It’s still going to be a great program. We have industry filling the gap that government left.”
Last year, the symposium added a United Nations young professional group, called the Space Generation Advisory Council’s “Fusion Forum.” The group meets for two days during the symposium and then makes a presentation to the audience.
“It’s been a big hit,” Stevens said. “So we kept doing it this year — some of them will stay on for the entire symposium, but this is a chance for the next generation of space leaders to really sit down and create a report based on the challenges they’re seeing.”
Those challenges are many, she said.
“It’s ironic to us because we pointed out that NASA was hamstrung by politics — it’s at the mercy of issues that have nothing to do with its mission,” she said. “We pointed that out in our ‘Pioneering’ report, that NASA should focus on space travel solely, and its budget should be set for years in advance, instead of being changed every year.”
The uncertainty around budgets damages NASA’s mission, but it also hurts private space companies, she said.
Those companies, which for the most part provide the Space Foundation’s monetary support, are also facing uncertain times.
Budget constraints aside, the symposium didn’t change much. The foundation added several new features last year, so the focus now has been helping people get to the symposium.
“We’ve done everything we could to try to get this stopped,” Stevens said. “We’ve worked with local groups in order to try to stop sequestration. But there was no stopping that train.”
Still, Stevens points to the silver lining.
“I really do think we have created stronger partnerships locally because we worked with local groups to try to get some of the policies changed,” she said. “That’s been very beneficial — those stronger ties — and I think we’ll all be working together on future policy changes.”
Despite challenges in the U.S. government budget that some experts claim are damaging NASA’s ability to compete globally, the global space industry had a record year during 2012.
That’s the news from the annual Space Report, a publication researched and produced by Colorado Springs-based The Space Foundation.
During 2012, the global space economy grew to $304.3 billion in both commercial revenue and government budgets, reflecting growth of 6.7 percent from 2011 levels.
Commercial activity — space products, services and commercial infrastructure — drove much of the record increase, the report said. During the past five years, the total space economy has grown 37 percent.
The U.S. is without a vehicle to take crews to the International Space Station, but is working with private industry to find a successor to the space shuttle program.
Other countries, however — Russia, Brazil and India, among them — are working on plans to create new launch vehicles, satellite systems and exploration missiles. China is making progress on its own human spaceflight program and Japan is pursuing the commercial launch market.
“The commercial space industry maintained a healthy growth rate, far outpacing increases in government spending,” the report said.
The largest portion of the global space economy is made up of commercial products and services, such as broadcasting, communications and weather satellites. That sector grew by 6.5 percent last year, while commercial infrastructure companies grew at 11 percent, the report said.
Commercial groups will continue to play a significant role, according to the Space Foundation report, particularly in light of government austerity programs.
NASA’s challenges don’t stop with money. The report shows its workforce is aging: Only 15 percent of its civilians are under 35; more than 36 percent are older than 54.
“NASA’s employees eligible for retirement constituted 16 percent of the agency’s workforce as of the beginning of fiscal year 2013,” the report said. “The agency is taking steps to address this by making a concerted effort to hire recent graduates, but there are still challenges to overcome in ensuring that knowledge and expertise is documented and passed down…”
While the U.S. struggles to replace its aging workforce, more people are working in space industries in other countries. In Europe, aerospace workers have grown by 20 percent since 2006. Japan’s workforce is at its highest level in 10 years.