On October 21, the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), and the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) with the contribution of several sponsors held the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington D.C. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Coincidentally, coming off the heels of the first all-women spacewalk and 50th Anniversary of the moon landing, this year’s theme being “Space: The Power of the Past, The Promise of the Future”.

With what seemed to be the most attended IAC opening ceremony in recent years, IAC opened with welcome remarks by the Honorable Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States, congratulating the crew of Apollo 11 for receiving the IAF’s World Space Award and highlighting NASA’s forthcoming Artemis missions.  Attendees lined up in droves for the Opening Ceremony in a way that was reminiscent of Elon Musk’s appearance at IAC 2016. While Vice President Pence’s opening remarks were heavily American-centric, he did call for international cooperation to create a “stable and orderly space environment that drives opportunity, creates prosperity, and ensures our security on Earth.”

During the day, conference attendees have the option of attending technical sessions, panel discussions, special events and more to inspire Astropreneurs of various levels. While each of these options appeals to space-based entrepreneurship, even with the 5 days of the conference, IAC is in fact too massive for one individual to cover. With that said, highlights included the Entrepreneurship and Investment Committee, a technical session on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator company pitches, a press conference with the heads of NASA, JAXA, ISRO, and ESA; and witnessing Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos get awarded the 2019 IAF Excellence in Industry Award.  A line that particularly stuck with me during the award ceremony was when Mr. Bezos said:

“Every decision I’ve ever made has been done with my heart”

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In addition, IAC provided opportunities to conduct interviews, that will be released shortly, that every Astropreneur should find insightful, with Gynelle Stelle, Program Manager for NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Program; Elena Petrakova, the founder of Easar LLC; and Mina Takla the CEO of Cosmox. Stay tuned for the IAC interviews to be released shortly.

As with every IAC, the Exhibit Hall is a professional and visual highlight of the conference. With more than 250 companies being represented this year (including companies like Astroscale that have been featured on Astropreneurs), the Exhibit Hall also served as a focal point for Interactive Presentations, media availability, and startup pitches. Due to the sheer size of IAC’s program & the Convention Center, the Exhibit Hall offered a reprieve from the technical sessions while offering an area for attendees to meet and discuss all levels of the space industry outside the technical sessions. It will be a valuable time investment for Astroprenuers to spend more time at the Exhibit Hall for future editions of the conference.

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Overall, based on observation, my top 3 takeaways from IAC 2019 that every Astropreneur should consider are:

  1. Moon is Where the Money’s at 💰 : Mars and deep space exploration trend well on social media, however, don’t lose sight of where the money is going. While the moon landing rightfully served as the backdrop for IAC 2019,  there was also a notable presence of startups, companies,  exhibits, and presentations focusing on lunar resources, exploration, and/or some aspect of a lunar economy more than any other sector of the space industry (the satellite sector had the second largest presence)
  2. International Cooperation is key 🔑: No conference captures the global element of the international space community the way that IAC does. From the press conferences with heads of leading space agencies and emerging space agencies as well as the ever growing Space Generation Advisory Council, there is no lack of a global presence. Yet, it perplexes me as I type this but, why aren’t we (the international space community) making money together? With such an international presence, parts of the conference or Exhibit Hall shouldn’t come off as regional sections. While I understand that countries’ policies do regulate parts of the industry to being regional, there is enough commercial space for international commercial startups beyond the profit margins of global corporations. We (the international space community) have proven time and time again that we are able to work together in regard to scientific space endeavors (i.e. International Space Station). It’s time to make that transition commercially.
  3. Artemis will be a gamechanger 🚀🌕: Speaking of international cooperation, the Artemis Program was a keystone throughout the conference and at NASA’s booth in the Exhibit Hall. While NASA is working with ESA, JAXA, and CSA with the goal of sending a man and woman to the lunar south pole by 2024, the Artemis Program is so much more. Named after Apollo’s sister, the Goddess of the Moon, the Artemis Program seeks to lay the groundwork for private companies to establish a lunar economy. Moreover, the technology and advancements to be developed because of the Artemis Program (such as the Lunar Gateway) will fundamentally change the lunar landscape as we know it.

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Thank you to IAC and all the entrepreneurs, as well as Astropreneurs, for making IAC 2019 an unforgettable one.

Posted by Mclee Kerolle