Advancing space missions for decision velocity was a central theme at Space Symposium 2023. A key topic among attendees was data—the enabler and accelerator for every program and priority announced by stakeholders, from NASA to the U.S. Space Force. Here are our impressions of this year’s event, held April 14 – 17 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Everyone I spoke with was focused on data, data, data—the digital fuel for their space missions and a source of differentiation for the U.S. government among spacefaring nations,” said Andrea Inserra, executive vice president for Booz Allen’s aerospace account.
Shane Morris, a lead engineer for the firm’s machine learning practice, agreed. “There were so many exciting objectives mentioned in the main sessions. I talked to people from different companies and agencies who spoke of how adapting and sharing data is critical to get to those objectives,” he said.
“NASA announcements are always exciting, but the unveiling of the Moon to Mars Architecture by deputy administrator Pam Melroy really grabbed attention,” said Eric Boulware, a leader in Booz Allen’s NASA business. “Discovering NASA’s blueprint for sustained human presence and exploration throughout the solar system brought home the spectacular scope of the space vision.”
As for defense stakeholders: “Agencies like the Space Force have made so many strides. From what I heard, I’d say that the military overall is cautiously optimistic,” said Booz Allen defense analyst Matt Bille. Attendees were eager to hear defense space news such as the announcement by Commander General James Dickinson that U.S. Space Command has set initial requirements for four key mission areas—space domain awareness, space combat power, joint space command and control, and the joint space communications layer.
Eric and Matt also noted the U.S. government’s enthusiasm for partnering with the commercial sector. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said the commercial space industry is a key plank in the agency’s strategic plan, with five focus areas: coordinating regulatory functions, growing the customer base, improving space safety and sustainability, promoting innovation, and advancing capabilities for earth observation.
Distilling the main themes across the event our team highlighted the following areas. Space data plays a critical role in each:
It’s urgent to accelerate. Space is critical for missions ranging from defending the U.S. and its allies to addressing climate change. The war in Ukraine is an ever-present reminder that satellite data empowers warfighters for missions from anticipating movements to identifying targets.
Science is the mission for space exploration. Advancing human well-being with discoveries and technologies is NASA’s goal for its ambitious plan ahead. “It’s not just about landing a crew on the moon,” says Eric, speaking of the astronauts recently announced for the Artemis II mission. “It’s about how this will pave the way for space science that benefits people.”
Partnerships are essential to make the future happen. No single group can solve all the challenges alone. It’s imperative to join efforts across nations, government, academia, and industry. For example, NASA’s Pam Melroy spoke about pursuing multiagency solutions, whether for climate control, space exploration, or defense. Bringing partners together requires innovative ways to bring together data which today is trapped in organizational siloes.
Government must pave the way for commercial collaboration. Eric reported an eye-catching statistic from The Space Foundation: 77% of the space economy represents commercial investments. Connecting commercial innovation with government programs will expedite technologies, including data advances such as more powerful algorithms, using techniques such as quantum computation to allow more precise satellite tracking and better launch predictions.
We need a larger, more diverse workforce—now. It’s critical to attract more space professionals with diverse skills and backgrounds. Tech-savvy professionals are needed to speed modernization across missions, from accelerating new processes and expediting approvals to speeding technical innovation. Data analytics must be accelerated to help leaders make faster acquisition decisions, while government-owned application programming interfaces (APIs) on open data frameworks are needed to allow plug-and-play testing of candidate technologies.
Buzz at the Booth
Spot, our robot dog which, as The Colorado Springs Gazette noted, was “prancing around” our exhibit hall booth, was a crowd-pleaser that demonstrated the power of data for capabilities such as object detection to identify malfunctions. Created by Boston Dynamics and programmed by Booz Allen, Spot was one of our five solution demos that made data a natural topic on the exhibit floor—and brought record traffic to our booth.
Another Booz Allen demo, a Space Domain Awareness application that integrates new native and third-party capabilities, drew attention for its ability to allow satellite operators from different organizations and nations to share data. “It helps unite a fragmented industry, inspiring true collaboration, and makes space safer for everyone,” Shane said.
A Celebratory Mood
One thing that was evident across the event: Attendees were upbeat. “I think this is the most vibrant mood I’ve seen at the Space Symposium overall,” said Matt Bille. “Thinking of the military sector, I’ve never seen so many uniforms from so many countries before.”
“And from the civil side, NASA continues on an amazing trajectory—while on the commercial side, industry is booming,” says Eric. “It’s an exciting time to be in space.”
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