With an estimated $30 million impact on the local economy, the 30th annual Space Symposium is the largest event of its kind — both in Colorado Springs and across the aerospace universe.
“This is the place to go — it is the event in the industry,” said Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. “These people are spending money, paying taxes and helping maintain jobs here in our local community.”
The event, which was hosted Monday through Thursday at The Broadmoor, has grown from just 250 attendees when it started in the 1980s to more than 9,000 this year, according to Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham.
This year’s event was the biggest in its history, Pulham said during the opening ceremony Monday night.
Pulham said the Space Foundation, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit, has supported that growth through partnerships with dozens of aerospace companies, philanthropy groups and other firms, plus a support staff of hundreds of volunteers for the week.
Although corporate sponsors range big and small, local and international, the Boeing Company and Northrop Grumman Corporation remain two of the Space Symposium’s biggest champions. While Northrop Grumman funded the opening event in the Broadmoor International Center — complete with an awards ceremony and “cosmic concert event” by David Arkenstone’s Cirque de la Symphonie — Boeing sponsored the Exhibit Center and Pavilion, which housed more than 160 displays from companies across the industry.
“We have remained, over time, faithful supporters [of the Space Foundation and Symposium],” said Russ Anarde, corporate lead executive for Northrop Grumman in the Colorado Springs region. “If you were to go and interview my counterparts at Boeing and Lockheed Martin … I think that they would all tell you a similar story.”
Pulham issued three awards during the opening ceremony:
• Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award, to Lynne Zielinski, a retired teacher of physics, astronomy and space science from Illinois;
• Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award, to Col. Chris Hadfield, a recently retired Canadian astronaut who gained worldwide fame with his YouTube cover of the David Bowie song “Space Oddity”; and
• Space Achievement Award, to the U.S. Air Force GPS Team’s Program Office, which operates jointly with Schriever Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs.
Among the Space Symposium’s 100 speakers and panelists were representatives from a wide range of aerospace and defense entities, including Gen. William Shelton, head of U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, and Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” CEO of the Planetary Society. Also in attendance was famed Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin, as well as Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of pioneer American astronaut Alan Shepard.
Throughout the week, panelists and presenters from across the aerospace spectrum touched on a slew of space-based subjects — from legal issues and legislation to the business and economy of related industries. In addition, the exhibit center and outdoor pavilion offered companies a trade show-style opportunity to show off their inventions, concepts and other offerings.
“[The Symposium] allows us to show some of the work that we are doing … and that is a huge benefit,” Anarde said. “You’re able to gather information; you’re able to communicate; you’re able to share; you’re able to network. The value is broad for an event like this, particularly given its scale.”
But Merritt emphasized the Symposium is not the average trade show. He said the event serves an array of invaluable functions not only for the many companies marketing their products and services, but also for Colorado Springs to sell the city with the sprawling Broadmoor campus as a point of reference.
“The Space Symposium exposes people to this community who would otherwise not be,” Merritt said, adding that the event in recent years has attracted an increased number of international delegations. “That puts us on the radar screen for people and for companies that are looking for a new place to do business.”
Both Anarde and Merritt said there has been a shift in recent years from the military-centric focus toward more commercial and civil uses. They said the shift has been a noticeable one, illustrated by increased commercial aerospace activity.
“Even the state of Colorado has recognized that there is a lot happening out there and that if you rest on your laurels and stake your future on attachment on just one area … that’s not a place that you want to be,” Anarde said of the industry’s diversification.
To demonstrate the state-level interest, Gov. John Hickenlooper came to the Space Symposium specifically to sign a recently passed bill from the Legislature providing a tax exemption to businesses for equipment used in space flight.
And although the military presence was trimmed last year due to the effects of federal sequestration, Anarde said that this year’s event made evident that the U.S. armed forces remain a major player in the annual gathering.
“Sequestration posed a real challenge to this event in terms of enabling government participants to do just that,” Anarde said. “The foundation had to work hard last year to ensure that there was sufficient government participation to really make sure the show was worthwhile.”
One aspect of the week that attracted large concentrations of military personnel and other government employees was Cyber 1.4, hosted Monday in the recently reopened Broadmoor West. The one-day conference, which precedes the Symposium’s general program, was created in recent years to incorporate topics related to the ubiquitous issues of cyber security, terrorism and warfare.
“There has been an evolution … in order to reflect the change that is going on out there,” said Anarde, who has attended around 15 Space Symposiums.