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A Recap of the 37th Annual Space Symposium

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Space Symposium is the premier assembly for the global space ecosystem, hosted by Space Foundation since 1984. Bringing together leaders from commercial, government and military space from around the world, Space Symposium provides a forum to discuss, address and plan for future achievements in space.

The 37th Annual Space Symposium was held April 4-7, 2022 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and online through a Virtual Experience. Space Symposium is the largest convention hosted in Colorado Springs every year, drawing thousands of attendees. This year there were over 11,000 attendees representing 43 nations and 15 space agencies. There were 235 exhibitors and 221 speakers/presenters.

Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor noted that the growth of the space ecosystem has spurred curiosity into its drivers and opportunities.

“The space ecosystem is growing so rapidly — forecast to more than double from $447 billion last year to $1 trillion by the end of the decade — that there is a lot of desire to see what is going on and driving the economics of it,” Zelibor said.

There’s a Need For Talent 

Several presenters stressed a critical need for talent in this booming industry. With even more opportunities in space thanks to the commercialization of space exploration, there is a desperate need for talent to keep up with this growth.

Despite an 18.4% increase in labor throughout the past five years, there is still a concern for talent. Brent Sherwood, Blue Origin’s senior vice president, identified talent shortages as the “biggest challenge” facing the space industry today, alongside issues of defense threats.

How can this labor shortage be combatted? Many Space Symposium presenters and panelists agreed that it starts in the classroom. STEAM-based learning is critical for K-12 students and can be one way to inspire future generations. Space Foundation supports these initiatives through its Center of Innovation and Education division.

If you already work in the space industry, it is clear how many different roles are required to make space-related companies function. There is much more beyond astronauts and astrophysicists. We know that space allows us to better understand life on Earth in addition to learning about space, so the opportunities for careers in space are endless.

Educating the future workforce about opportunities available beyond traditional STEAM roles is another way to introduce the possibilities within the field. 

Johannes Torpe, one of Thursday’s panelists, mentioned rebranding is crucial to attracting new talent and making the industry appeal to younger talent. Rebranding will help set the space industry apart from other competitive opportunities.

Space Foundation consultant, Lee Steinke provided an example of what this sort of rebranding looks like. She mentioned a company that changed a job posting for software engineers to a video game programming position.

With the same skills required for both positions, it attracted a different audience. Tailoring position descriptions alone can help these roles stand out and appeal to an audience of younger people. 

Attracting new staff is half of the labor shortage battle—the other is retaining current employees. One way to ensure employee retention is to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Maxar’s President and CEO, Daniel Jablonsky, mentioned that having support for employees of different cultural and racial backgrounds is important to ensure they feel valued within your company.

In order to continue this boom in the space workforce, businesses need to adapt to ensure they are responding to this labor shortage. The space industry is not alone in its staffing shortage, while many other industries and companies are struggling to retain workers. Although it is a challenge, the smart minds of individuals in this industry can rise to the challenge. 

Growing Conflicts Between Russian and Ukraine Put Relationships at Risk and Open Up Discussions of Defense

Another important element in the space realm is the ongoing and ever-changing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The commercial space sector has given us tools to better understand the situation. Commercial satellite imagery has provided greater access to on-the-ground events, as well as a greater understanding of how space and defense go hand in hand.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Director of Commercial and Business Operations, David Gauthier, discussed the use of commercial imagery during a panel at this year’s Symposium.

“We partner with over 100 companies, we’re currently using imagery from at least 200 commercial satellites, and we have about 20 or so different analytic services in our pipeline,” Gauthier said. “Because of all that, when Russia prepared to invade, we and the NRO [National Reconnaissance Office] increased and accelerated several efforts that were underway commercially.”

Daniel Jablonsky added that the amount of time saved through this almost instantaneous technology means decisions in defense and analysis can be made at a faster rate, which can save lives.

The situation between Russia and Ukraine is constantly changing. The United States Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall commented about space serving as a war-fighting domain, and that the conflict is an example of the realities of space and the possibility of war through space.

Russia is not the sole nation that the U.S. needs to consider when discussing space as a defense domain. China is developing its space technology at a fast rate.

“China’s long-standing and extensive modernization program is the greatest challenge to the Department of Defense’s and the Department of the Air Force’s ability to perform its missions,” Kendall said. “Although China is the Department’s pacing challenge, we also regard Russia as an acute threat.”

Funding For Space in 2023

Pam Melroy, Deputy Administrator for NASA, shared that NASA is working on more projects now than it ever has, and with increased efforts to execute these projects, requires increased funding. 

“Space is crucial to the lives of everyone on Earth,” Melroy said.

Melroy discussed President Biden’s request for $26 billion for NASA in 2023, and the 8% increase in funding compared to years prior.

“This is the largest request for science funding in agency history,” Melroy added. 

The budget request will allow not only for funding for space programs, but it will create room for STEM education to encourage future generations, invest in businesses that partner with NASA, address climate change, and can promote values of diversity and equity. This funding can address not only labor issues but can increase jobs and growth in the defense sector of space. 

Stay Up-To-Date on Space Foundation News

While Space Symposium is the largest Space Foundation event held yearly there’s no need to wait to get the latest space news. Symposium 365 hosts monthly panels and virtual events that connect industry professionals in both public and private sectors.

See upcoming Symposium 365 events here. If you’re interested in attending the 38th Space Symposium on April 17-20, 2023, you can sign up for email updates.