Second View

Advancing the Future of Space Technology

Written by: developer

This month’s Second View is by Space Foundation Director – Research & Analysis Micah Walter-Range.

Aside from unlikely scenarios, such as encountering hostile alien intelligences determined to eradicate humankind, or accidentally bringing back viruses that destroy life on Earth, there are no good reasons not to engage in space exploration (and in both of those cases, forewarned is forearmed). In contrast, reasons to explore and subsequently utilize space are easy to list for anyone who pays attention to the space industry. This striking difference came to mind recently as I was answering a survey about the future of the space program that asked for a list of the main reasons for and against space exploration.

Usually, when people say that space exploration is not worthwhile, what they really mean is that space is low enough on their list of priorities that it does not deserve sufficient funding for significant exploration efforts. This is very different from the assertion that space exploration is an inherently bad idea, even if someone else could be convinced to pay for it. Unfortunately, the two arguments are often conflated, and as space advocates we find ourselves constantly attempting to correct misconceptions about the value of space. Our annual publication, The Space Report, has demonstrated the increasing value of space each year. Over time, it has also documented the changing balance within the global space economy, in which moderate increases in government spending are outpaced by growth in commercial revenues.

If space spending is associated with a strong economic return, then in times of austerity, space spending should not be cut because that would worsen the economic situation. However, at a political level, people often get sticker shock and do not follow the rest of the argument through. Cutting budgets will reduce results, which in turn could create further downward pressure on budgets. For the good of both the industry and the nation as a whole, the space sector needs to find ways to produce exciting and dramatic results despite the austere environment.

One way of “doing more with less” is to do things the same way while pushing people and systems to the breaking point, but we believe the space industry would prefer to look for forward-thinking solutions that can improve the overall process. So, in recognition of fiscal pressures on government space programs and the growing number of opportunities for innovation in the commercial sector, the Space Foundation is adding a Technical Track to its 30th Space Symposium. The goal is to bring together government and industry participants to discuss the latest technical advances and proposals for addressing major challenges faced by government and industry alike. As demonstrated by the successful completion of the development phase of commercial cargo resupply for the International Space Station, partnership between government and industry can produce powerful results. We hope that we can help nurture similar relationships with the addition of the Tech Track.

The Tech Track program, much like the main Symposium program, will feature speakers and panelists who are leaders in their respective fields. In addition, an open call for papers has been issued to solicit submissions on topics of interest for civil, commercial and national security space (the deadline to submit an abstract is January 2, 2014). The Space Foundation recognizes that solutions come from all levels of an organization, not just the top, and we want to provide an opportunity for attendees to hear from a diverse group of speakers.

Authors will be able to present their work in a series of 20-minute tech talks during the Tech Track program, showcasing the efforts of their organizations and engaging in dialogue on creative approaches to the many challenges associated with space activity. I encourage you to share this opportunity with any colleagues who would be interested in presenting either as an individual or on behalf of their organization.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and there is convincing evidence that space exploration and utilization are worthwhile efforts. I look forward to seeing what the space industry has in store for the future, as the people involved look for new ways to do things, not merely “well,” but exceptionally well — a task that has become imperative in these difficult times.

This article is part of Space Watch: December 2013 (Volume: 12, Issue: 12).