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Event Recap July 10, 2020

Event recap | Space salon: Making space available for everyone

By Henry Westerman

On Wednesday, July 8, 2020, the GeoTech Center and Amazon Web Services (AWS) jointly hosted a public live event, “Space Salon: Making Space Available for Everyone.” In a panel discussion co-moderated by Dr. David Bray, Director of the Geotech Center, and Shayn Hawthorne, Senior Manager at AWS, specialists from across the space industry discussed approaches to making tools and data in space accessible to players of all sizes.

Panelists discussed new methods for automated collision avoidance at a massive scale, which would rely on more transparent data sharing between governments, companies, and other satellite operators. The experts hoped to see more information sharing so that global community can all benefit from the wealth of knowledge found in orbit. 

The panel of experts included Dr. Joseph Bonivel, Jr., Subject Matter Expert at the United States Department of Defense and GeoTech Center Nonresident Senior Fellow, Mr. Paul Jurasin, Director of New Programs and the Digital Transformation Hub at Cal Poly State University, Ms. Jody Medich, CEO and Cofounder of Superhuman-X, Dr. Michael Nicolls, CTO and Cofounder of LeoLabs, Inc., and Mr. Simon Reid, COO of D-Orbit. 

The panel emphasized the myriad opportunities that broadening humanity’s presence in space will open. In the past, access to space has been limited exclusively to the wealthiest governments in the world, and in particular to the few military branches capable of the billions of dollars in spending needed to launch satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond. The greatest space achievements of the 20th century were all accomplished by either state-run space agencies or collaborating governments. The 21st century, however, has been characterized by the commercialization of space, a process that the panelists anticipated will only accelerate over the next few years. As countries like the United States have relaxed stringent regulations for space launches, a growing number of private space companies have begun to fill the void left by less active government programs. 

As more private entities access space, the panel hoped to make the next wave of space exploration as accessible as possible to those who could most benefit from data acquired in space. The panel pointed out that space is one of the best places from which to gather planetary data, with satellites helping farmers in Africa or climate scientists in Antarctica gather critical information. Several of the panelists work to improve the safety of the LEO environment and to prepare more companies and individuals for creating their own satellite systems. For example, some, in partnership with AWS, are developing a predictive model for objects in LEO so that satellite operators can better anticipate potential collisions.  

When space becomes a safer and, importantly, cheaper environment to operate in, more stand to benefit from access to space technologies. However, the panel asserted that the only way to realize the full potential of space commercialization is for current players to change their manner of operating. Currently, the various militaries and governments that operate satellites in LEO are protective of system information in the name of national security. Though such precautions are prudent, denying navigational data to satellite operators in their vicinity greatly increases the threat of collision, which could destroy both systems. Thus, enforcing a new set of norms, especially those regarding data sharing to a reasonable extent, is key to securing an accessible future in space for all. 

Henry Westerman joins the GeoTech Center as a Project Assistant, having served as an intern with the team this past summer. He is a member of the Class of 2021 in the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs with a concentration in Security. Henry has previously interned with the Library of Congress Digital Strategy team, and at the Department of State Office of Science and Technology Cooperation. Henry’s primary academic interests include geospatial analysis, emerging technologies, and digital sensemaking; he also dabbles in Spanish and Philosophy. 

The GeoTech Center champions positive paths forward that societies can pursue to ensure new technologies and data empower people, prosperity, and peace.