This year’s SpaceNews Icon Awards celebrated the tremendous growth, recent successes, and all-around upswing of the commercial, military, and civil space industries. A highlight of the afternoon was a panel discussion hosted by SpaceNews senior staff writers Jeff Foust and Sandra Erwin, with some of the award winners. During the panel, guests were asked to discuss the industry’s crowning achievements from the past year, some of the main obstacles or challenges currently posing a risk to continued development in space, and what most excites them about the future, among other things.
Joining the panel this year were:
- Isar Aerospace CCO Stella Guillen, who accepted the award for Startup of the Year
- OneWeb Technologies CEO Kevin Steen, who accepted the Deal of the Year award for Eutelsat’s acquisition of OneWeb
- OSIRIS-REx project manager Richard Burns, who accepted the Civil Space Achievement of the Year for the NASA mission’s successful asteroid sample return
- Mark Skinner, the Aerospace Corporation’s senior project leader for space traffic management who accepted the Space Stewardship Award on behalf of T.S. Kelso
- Small Satellite Conference Chair Pat Patterson, whose conference won the Unsung Hero Award
- Col. Richard Kniseley, who accepted the Military Organization of the Year award on behalf of Space System Command’s Commercial Space Office and who delivered the award ceremony’s keynote address
In the video above, the panel discussion begins at 50:30. A full transcript of the discussion is below.
Jeff Foust: Before I start doing individual questions for each panelist, I’ll start off with one question for everybody on the panel. Notice here we have a very diverse set of expertise. We have government and commercial, we have U.S. and international, [we have a] very broad perspective. So I want to ask each of the panelists their view on what they think is the biggest space milestone, this year, at least so far this year; we’ve got another 25 days or so left to go, but the biggest space milestones they’ve seen this year. Except — there is a catch — except it can’t be something that they themselves did. So Rich, as impressive as returning samples from OSIRIS-REx was, he’s got to think of something other than that as sort of the biggest milestone. But I’m curious to see what these people see as what has shaped the space industry this year. Pat, why don’t we start with you?
Pat Patterson: Okay, Rich, I got you, buddy. OSIRIS-REx. That is the coolest mission I’ve seen for a long time. But there are others. I realize this wasn’t exactly the past 12 months, but James Webb Space Telescope. When I look at those images and I compare them to the images like the Hubble Deep Field It really gives you a little perspective of where you are in this world, right? It’s incredible science, both of those missions, that we will learn things from for decades to come. I think those would be my biggest.
Mark Skinner: So my background is experimental astrophysics, I have a Ph.D. in that. So my answer may be surprising. I note that not only are we within the beltway here, we are in the district. And so I think that what I see as the biggest contribution in space is to actually have Congress fund the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce with a realistic budget to get moving on their TraCSS program that was initiated by Presidential Directive 3 back in 2018. But as we know, as mathematicians say, that’s necessary but not sufficient in Washington for something to happen. Others may say that and five dollars gets you a cappuccino at Starbucks. So I think that we’ve started that off. And I think that’s an important step in spacecraft coordination.
Col. Richard Kniseley: So for me, as a former launch guy, I would definitely say what we did with Firefly Victus Nox would probably be one of the highlights. Now that the launch enterprise is as mature as it is, the success rates are where they’re at right now, and where we’re going with the threat, the space domain, and need to be more operational, and relevant; taking those opportunities to decrease, mission assurance, have more on-orbit call-up. That’s going to be a huge operational capability going forward that’s going to be able to be used in almost a launch -on-need [basis]. I know definitely that the Space Systems Command is ready to take some of the next steps. We are looking forward to integrating some CASR [Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve] concepts with the next exercise as well. But the way that they did that call-up in 24 hours to launch was truly amazing.
Stella Guillen: Also from the launch side as well, I think Starship having that last flight was incredible. I think that’s going to make a big difference and to see all the micro launchers coming to launch as well — Firefly, ABL, and Relativity, and all the others, I think that changes the world of the demands in the launch industry. On the European side, from our view as well, is little signs that institutions like [what] ESA and [the European Commission] are doing to change the way they procure satellites and launches. And I think that’s going good progress for this year and I’m looking forward to more for next.
Kevin Steen: All right, so I think I’m gonna go with Col. Knisely. I think that the U.S. government changed how they procure SATCOM services, specifically commercial SATCOM services. They moved from a historical CapEx model. They would buy the hardware, buy what they needed, and figure it out themselves. And they weren’t leveraging all the technology advancements in the commercial arena. Now you’re seeing it as a service adoption model by the U.S. government that COMSO is driving. I think it’s going to result in a monumental shift in the capabilities that the U.S. government and the ecosystem receive from commercial SATCOM. Simply by the change in their economics, they’re going to be able to harness what commercial companies have to offer in a way commercial companies are used to selling or shifting design. So it’s going to change the way everything gets digested, especially by the U.S. government.
Rich Burns: Jeff gave us a little heads up on the question but he didn’t mention that you had to exclude your own personal accomplishment. I had my answer all ready to go, which wouldn’t have been very surprising. Difficult question for me, because I’ve been down in my OSIRIS-REx focus with my blinders on for a very long time, since launch. But I will say, listening to this group here, the transformation that’s happening in the commercial industry is both fascinating and a huge opportunity, not just for the military, but also for the civil side of space. So I’m really interested in what Col. Knisely had to say. That transformation, of course, has already been mentioned on the launch side, and the spacecraft side in reentry as well. It’s a really fertile ground out there for innovation, and progress is moving at an uncharted territory. So it’s really inspiring to see. And I think there’s lots of opportunities for NASA and other spacefaring organizations to leverage as Col. Knisely already described for the military. So I’m really looking forward to the next adventures.
Jeff Foust: Alright, let’s get a chance here, now, to talk a little bit about OSIRIS-REx. I think everyone, probably most everyone in this room, saw the capsule return to Earth back in September. You know, people saw that, they thought that was the end of the mission; the mission’s over. Actually, the mission is still going on. So maybe you can tell us what’s been going on with the mission since the capsule landed back in September.
Rich Burns: Sure. There are really two aspects, it’s sort of a bifurcation of the mission. The primary mission, the samples being processed, recovered in a cleanroom in Johnson Space Center. Our science team has already extracted more than 70 grams of sample from the collection head, with more to come. And so they’ve begun to distribute that to our science team for study. And I think over the next year, you’re going to see some astounding findings from that study of the sample; it’s gonna be really exciting to, for me, to sort of be in observer mode for that portion of the mission and in fan mode. I’m going to be really rooting for our science team to make some fundamental discoveries about the nature of the formation of the solar system and life here on Earth. So stay tuned for that. I’m sure it’s going to be groundbreaking.
Meanwhile, back in space, our spacecraft continues on. I was just at Lockheed Martin, where our operation center is, last week, preparing for the spacecraft’s first perihelion. The close approach we made with Earth reduced the orbit energy, such that our perihelion distance is now about at half the distance between the Sun and the Earth. So it’s a thermal environment that the spacecraft was not designed to accommodate. So, being a mission of ingenuity and innovation, a team of ingenuity and innovation — that can’t be said enough our team is remarkable and has overcome every single challenge that the mission and the asteroid offered us … But our team, being one of ingenuity, has invented a spacecraft orientation, configuration of our solar arrays to shield the sensitive parts of the spacecraft from the Sun. So we think we’re going to be doing well to survive these close passages to the Sun. We have several on our way to a soon-to-be famous asteroid called Apophis.
Apophis is going to make a very close approach to Earth in 2029, and, shortly thereafter, OSIRIS-APEX, which is the name of the extended mission, will rendezvous with Apophis. It will conduct a very similar global mapping campaign as we did with Bennu. It will be more challenging because A: Apophis is somewhat smaller. It’s about 370 meters in diameter compared to 500 meters. So we’ll get to break our own Guinness World Record of smallest body ever recorded. And then the close approach with Earth is likely to have major disruption to the surface and the spin characteristics of Apophis. So that global-mapping campaign around Apophis is going to be significantly more challenging than Bennu. Bennu is a simple spinner. Challenging as it was, this one is going to be more challenging, so we’re going to be really leaning on our team to innovate. And then, on top of that, we’ve committed to the agency to be more efficient, to execute our proximity operations phase at Apophis with a leaner staff, which means in the meantime, between now and 2029, we’re going to be investing in new capabilities on our existing flight system to operate more autonomously, in proximity, via robotics.
Jeff Foust: And speaking of ingenuity and such, how are things going actually getting the sample container open? I know that’s been a bit of a challenge.
Rich Burns: So, things are going well. We ran into a bit of a hurdle — two of the fasteners that removed the base plate to the sample collection had set in insets. And they’ve been a little stubborn about coming loose. And we need to be very careful. Our foremost concern is with the integrity of the sample. So we’re going to do nothing to compromise that. The work that’s being done on the sample collection head is inside a cleanroom. People in bunny suits — you saw our principal investigator, Dante Lauretta, very happy with the sample collection in the movie. And so bunny suits and then also the sample is inside a glove box, which was a very arduous thing to be working in.
So … the team has to work slowly, carefully, and methodically. Those fasteners we are planning to get loose with new tools that are fabricated to be consistent with not contaminating the sample. So we’re in the process of fabricating those new tools to ultimately deliver the sample that remains in the sample collection. I will say our sample collection requirement was 60 grams, and already the combination of sample that was on the avionics deck and that was easily extracted from the sample collection already exceeds our requirement. We’re already in excess of 70 grams, with more to come.
Jeff Foust: So the next time you struggle with opening packaging or something, know that NASA has the same problem. Stella, you had a big accomplishment back in March with raising $165 million, a huge amount of funding to get you towards the first launch of Spectrum. Where is the progress right now with Spectrum? How close are we to that first launch?
Stella Guillen: It’s been a great year for us, not only on the fundraising side, but we had the Andøya Space Center open. So our launch site is open, ready for us to ship our rocket. We are in the middle of doing that and expect to have some testing done on the first and second stage. Our engines have been fully qualified now. So we are getting ready to integrate everything and launch. As soon as we test the stages, we’re ready to go.
Jeff Foust: So sometime in the new year?
Stella Guillen: Yes, the beginning of the new year.
Jeff Foust: Wonderful. You know, a big event that took place in Europe last month on the space scene was the European Space Summit. One of the announcements that came out of that was the plan to hold this launcher competition. I’m curious — from ISAR’s point of view, how significant is that for the company itself, but for the broader European space sector to start opening up more launches to this type of competition that we continually see in the US?
Stella Guillen: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a huge incentive. And, you know, we are sort of late right now. Europe is behind on the launch supply, let’s say. And this is actually a great sign that they’re pushing not only for the traditional way of doing business in Europe, but actually opening up to us, following very much the U.S. government as they say, “we are here.” But I think it’s a great competition. We’re looking forward to it. And yeah, it’s hopefully going to open up the market a little bit more and have a choice for a European launcher.
Jeff Foust: You know, SmallSat, one of my favorite conferences, … I remember first going about 20 years ago, it was about five, six hundred people. People said, “It’s so big, I don’t know how much bigger it can get.” You know, this year was around 4,000, thereabouts or so. So it’s grown tremendously, tracking the growth of the SmallSat sector. How has the conference changed besides simply the growth in the number of people? How has the conference really evolved, along with the greater SmallSat industry?
Pat Patterson: Great question. So when SmallSat started in 1987, the whole point really was to get educators, students, [and] professors together so they can learn, get some hands-on experience to augment the classroom training that they were receiving. Because there was no real way to get hands-on experience before you went to work for Lockheed or before you went to work for a big company, right?
Over the years, we have essentially worked with the industry to help guide us where things went. So that first day, I don’t know what the numbers were. I tried to actually look them up a few months ago, but it was probably 95 percent university-affiliated in 1997. [That number started] going down. Today, we are 20 percent still university-affiliated, 20 percent military and government, 20 percent international, and the remaining 40 percent are made up from all of us within the industry. So other than size, which is an obvious thing when you come to Logan and you see everything’s falling apart on you because there’s too many people in town. But yeah, I mean, it really has moved along with the industry, and I think we have a pretty good cross-section of people within the industry helping to guide us. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing, other than we have to have a lot of food.
Jeff Foust: And then sort of to complement that, what hasn’t changed? What’s the same now as it was 10, 20, 25 years ago? I’m going to have Sandra come in and handle the next set of questions.
Pat Patterson: The thing that hasn’t changed since the very first day, which is before I got there. People like Gil Moore, who many of you know, Frank Redd, Rudy Panholzer, Bob Twiggs, the people in the industry who really started the foundation of the small satellite work for student research. We still call heavily upon the industry to help guide us where to go. If it’s automation, like it’s going to be this year, whatever, the community helps us get there. That has not changed. The topics we’ve covered, the size, how many gallons of ice cream you have to buy, all that sort of stuff has changed. But who runs the conference, which is really the entire community, has not.
Sandra Erwin: Good afternoon, and again, congratulations to all of our award winners. And thanks to all of you for sticking around for the panel. Please think about some questions, if you have any, so we can make this more interactive. I did want to ask the question to Dr. Mark Skinner. And the context of this question is [that] we’ve been hearing, probably since 2018, that the Commerce Department is going to be taking over space traffic management. The Department of Defense does that today. They want to offload a lot of duties to the civilian agency. We’ve talked about the TraCSS program. So I don’t know how many people really understand what the TraCSS program is. So I was wondering if you could give us a quick overview of what the TraCSS program is and why is it taking so long?
Mark Skinner: So, it has taken a while. Nothing could happen faster than the speed of funding. It wasn’t until this year that the significant budget – and I see several folks in the audience that have been involved heavily in this mission in the past and if you talk to them, you’ll find out, hey, when you only get $18 million and you need $77 [million] or whatever the numbers are, it’s hard to do what you do. Congress also put a number of wickets that we had to clear to get to that. I would invite everyone to go to the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commerce webpage. And watch the TraCSS video, primarily narrated by Dr. Sandra Magnus, a former astronaut. It’s like 40 minutes long, but you’ll get all your questions answered. So, TraCSS is a system for space traffic coordination. It’s going to be rolling out in Q4 ’24, that hasn’t changed. And it’s not going to be a one and done, it’s going to be a phased approach where there’s phase 0, phase 0.1. It’s designed to be a cyclic development so that it’s not just static. I think people have learned from some of the approaches that we had in the past legacy systems that were hard to upgrade. And I think that was some of Congress’s fears that they had seen things, procurements that didn’t work out as planned, and they wanted to try to avoid that by putting a number of conditions before they could get things going.
But TraCSS will be rolling out at the end of fiscal year 2024. And we’ll be building step by step by step by step in a very incremental approach from there. There’s a lot of pent-up demand from industry and from users, and that will be met as we go forward. It’s designed to maximize commercial participation.
Sandra Erwin: So when you talk about a rollout, the end of fiscal ’24, what are we going to see with that rollout? And how can the industry engage more closely with the project?
Mark Skinner: So what we’ll see is we’ll see something that is not a lot different than the current system that the Space Force operates, with some distinct improvements: evolving owner-operator ephemeris, and maneuver coordination, that kind of thing, which is not as ubiquitous today as it will be then. And then there’ll be a number of things that fall into the new features, new features, new features. Industry can be involved by one, getting involved with the public-facing activities they have. Commerce had a geopilot, there is going to be a number of studies that are ongoing now, that will involve commercial participation, both from satellite owner operators, as well as commercial data providers and commercial analysis providers. There are a number of RFPs, RFIs, that kind of thing that are on the street, those should be looked at and responded to. Feedback should be given to the Office of Space Commerce by industry if they’re seeing things that aren’t like “Hey, I can’t see that, that doesn’t make sense, have you thought about that.” There’s a number of industry days that have been held; this will be an ongoing situation, listening sessions, to try to understand how industry sees it, how industry solutions can fit into this.
Sandra Erwin: Thank you for that really helpful update and good luck and hope everything stays on track, no pun intended. So I wanted to ask Kevin, a question about this new company that you have merged Eutelsat and OneWeb. We heard Colonel Knisely talk about this new p-LEO for the created low-Earth orbit contracting vehicle. You’re one of the companies on the IDIQ contract — indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity. There is still some paperwork that the office, the Space Force has asked the industry to fill out in order to participate in this area. But as far as your expectations, can you talk about how this Eutelsat-OneWeb being merged — how does that perhaps support some of the requirements that the government has? And what are your expectations in competition for this p-LEO contract?
Kevin Steen: Good question. So I think from the contract itself when you take a step back and think about what they set out to do [with] the p-LEO contract. It was the ability to contract rapidly for a broad variety of SATCOM services. It’s not just to contract for LEO-only SATCOM, right? So they want a broad variety of services from the industry, to run it through a contract vehicle where they can issue a task order and have it issued and awarded in less than 10 days, maybe seven, but very, very rapid and unprecedented in the history of the U.S. government awards.
So it’s a very creative and, I think an innovative way to award things. So back to the heart of your question is [what does a combined] Eutelsat and OneWeb mean for that? So what they’re looking for is a wide variety of service offerings or capabilities. And they’d love to get as much as they can bundle from one company. And then you have your partners as you need to add partners and subs and primes to bring the full suite together. So from the Eutelsat-OneWeb perspective, we are in a unique position. We’re the only company now with this combination to be able to offer a LEO-GEO hybrid offer effectively on a single rate card. We don’t have to partner with someone else, which we do, we will — you need your GEO satellites in the right spot for those offerings to make sense — but we can now offer a hybrid fully integrated solution onto the p-LEO vehicle. I think that’s one element. And what they’re looking for, I think you rattled off a whole host of capabilities you’re looking at, like Alt PNT [alternative precision navigation and timing…and resiliency. So we can create integrated resilient solutions for SDN on the back end that bring a very, very specific tailored set of capabilities to match what the US government wants.
And then with [the] already innovative, and I would say the scope, if you will and partnership model we have with the U.S. government, we’re looking to bring customized creative solutions to bear as well. So in the latest round of this on-ramp, we’re going to be offering our Alt PNT and other solutions directly into that contract vehicle. So I think that when you think of the combination of the two companies, we can bring our broader set of capabilities, technologies, and offerings to bear and deliver them right onto that p-LEO contract vehicle to support that rapid turnaround cycle.
Sandra Erwin: We see the entire satellite communications industry, they’re trying to offer these multi-orbit services. I’m curious now that OneWeb is part of Eutelsat, or you are combined. For example, Intelsat, they are partnering with OneWeb; we just had a story from Jason about their in-flight connectivity service that we provide. Other companies also work with OneWeb. So is that going to continue? Or is Eutelsat going to expect OneWeb to only work with Eutelsat?
Kevin Steen: That will continue. So from the U.S. government perspective, where our focus is is bringing the best solutions to bear. So with OneWeb technologies, there’s no mandate for us to be exclusive to that GEO Eutelsat constellation. That’s not a requirement. You think about where their satellites are; they’re in very specific locations. Fantastic satellites. But if the U.S. government has a need in a spot where there’s none, we are fully expected to provide the best solution to the U.S. government regardless of who the combination was with Eutelsat and OneWeb. So there’s no expected mandate to be exclusive to that GEO constellation.
Sandra Erwin: Thank you very much, Kevin, congratulations again for your award. And before we run out of time, I want to ask Col. Knisely a question. This overview that you gave us today about all the work that Space Systems Command is doing with commercial industry. We also heard from the Space Force leadership, Gen. Saltzman said, he’s working on a commercial integration strategy, which I assume that you helped him with. And he said, “It’s coming out soon, it’s coming out soon.” We haven’t seen it yet. What’s happening?
Col. Richard Kniseley: So, yeah, the commercial integration strategy for the Space Force, which is being led by the CSRO office, will be a dual signature with General Saltzman as well as the Honorable [Frank] Calvelli. We started in the February timeframe. So like anything, they stood up a very robust OIPT (integrated product team office), many different members across the Department of the Air Force and some outsides right now. The current status right now, the team actually just a couple of weeks ago just got done meeting with the Space Operations Command to understand their mission area teams. Doing some really good analysis on where commercial can play and also doing some discussions; you may hear the term civil inherently government, which is what I deem one of those no-fail missions where, while we may have a government constellation or a capability, I still see areas where commercial can still play in a smaller level. But the current status right now, they did just release another revision of the strategy for coordination, and we’re actually actively looking at it right now. So hopefully, hopefully it will be released in the near future but CSRO [deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs, requirements] will have the final say in that.
Sandra Erwin: It’s also remarkable that we heard from Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks, just recently, she said, “Yeah, we’re working on a commercial integration strategy. And, you know, that’s separate from the Space Force strategy,” but they’re very interested in all the commercial capabilities and to develop a plan for the way forward. Have you talked to that part of DoD? Do you think it helps them to have so much more visibility in the Pentagon for commercial space?
Col. Richard Kniseley: I do. So the area that started drafting out that strategy was under Honorable Plumb’s office and OSD space policy. Coincidentally, they have been a foundational piece of our CASR [Commercial Augmentation Space Reserve] task force. So it’s been great working with them. And we have actually been integrated and feeding into that strategy as well. Obviously, the goal is to have good alignment, both at the OSD side as well as down at the service side. So, that’s pretty much the nature of the beast and the five-sided puzzle piece. If one does a commercial strategy, the other one will. But I’m excited to see that one come out, and we’ve had eyes on that one as well. And we believe it was last month, they sent that out for coordination, and we were given the opportunity to inject ourselves at the ground floor for that.
Sandra Erwin: Thank you, and congratulations again for the award. So before I turn it over to Jeff, any questions from the audience anyone wants to get up and ask these panelists?
Marcia Smith, SpacePolicyOnline: So over the decades, space programs have had a lot of ups and downs and ups and downs. Right now, it’s on and up in the government and the commercial sector. What do you see as the biggest obstacle ahead that could turn the tide?
Col. Richard Kniseley: Obviously, like I said in my remarks, if you want to start turning the tide, our current PPV structure is not built for how we need to go about doing things right now in space. So we have to say we’re very much funded to systems rather than overall mission capability, where I have the flexibility within the funding to do pivots over to commercial, or even vice versa if I need to pivot onto a new program of record, so as that model and that function changes, I think that that’s going to lend itself a lot better to integration of commercial capabilities, as well as innovation.
But until we get to that point, right now, in order to do what we need to, and more or less work with the PEOs, we do need to have some very good dedicated funding to get after a lot of the integration tasks that we need to to get these commercial capabilities out there. One of the things I probably missed in my remarks and one of the reasons why we’re constructing the CASR model the way we are, is that we’ve got to get after this in peacetime, because you can imagine as a warfighter, if you’re in a crisis or a conflict and you get a new capability just handed to you, you’re not going to know what to do with it; it’ll just be something that might just end up in the background. So if we get it out to the warfighter early, you have a better opportunity to integrate it into a role, a way of life that becomes part of your CONOPS [concept of operations]; it becomes part of your overall everyday life. But at that same time, you are now introducing it into exercises, you’re finding do you have new capability gaps? Where can we do innovation? That feeds right back to the market. So my overall thing right now is just to have that overall dedicated funding to get after a lot of the integration things that we needed to.
Mark Skinner: I will pivot off funding and say I would be remiss if I didn’t bring in space environment preservation. That could be not even a full-blown Kessler Syndrome, but just a huge increase in space debris, which has the right of way. If you’re an operator, you remember that or you won’t be operating much longer.
But that has the ability to rain on our parade by preventing us from using certain orbits or increasing the cost of going in space because of the crowded nature of space with both operational and debris objects up there. So I think that is something that is in our control, but it’s not in our control that we need to be worried about that. So there are a number of actions that have been taken involving mitigation and remediation, we do need to move out on that. And some of them are going to be less expensive, some of them are going to be more expensive, for example, active removal is likely to be more expensive. But I think if we pivot off of a lot of the work that’s being done, for in-space service, assembly, and manufacturing, that will allow that segment, the active-removal segment to actually get some wings and start flying because it will be used to, and the technology available. And there’ll be the right amount of transparency and a number of issues with all of this. But I think that’s the way to solve that particular question.
Pat Patterson: Yeah, those are really good. I think, in general, we are really good at funding and building widgets. We don’t spend enough time, in my opinion, developing architectures, resulting in] funding behind those for long-term strategic plans. This is across the board. If we can get that setup, with this backbone that they were talking about, and then build the widgets and the technical things to fill in those pieces. I think that would be helpful, long term.
Stella Guillen: Again, on the European side of everything that is established right now, it’s very heavy on processes. And it takes a long time, you know, new companies don’t find funding on the regular capital markets as easily as here in the U.S., for example. I think institution funding takes a long time. It’s a process that it’s just very difficult to break. And I think the worst that we can expect to happen is to actually fall back to the old ways of doing things. I think we are seeing some changes, but it’s not fast enough.
Kevin Steen: From my perspective, it’s the ability of the U.S. government to actually rapidly adopt, digest, and procure, and acquire, and contract for those commercial capabilities as a commercial enterprise, right? If we can’t get that done in a timeline that works for us or our investors, we have no choice, we have to look for other customers. And that would just be a tragedy. Because I think the shift in how the government is procuring is fantastic. But there’s still a long way to go, as you just highlighted. And I think that’s the biggest hurdle we got to overcome, is making sure that we can then connect the commercial offer to the warfighter’s needs rapidly, so they can digest it. Otherwise, it’ll all just kind of start to be diverted to other areas. That would really be a tragedy.
Rich Burns: Yeah, so I’ll make that analogy to operate a spacecraft where you put a spacecraft in a new regime, ask it to do things that it never has done before, you learn things about it. I think the situation we have, the transformation and launch vehicles cost to get to orbit is being transformed. Presently, we’re going to learn a lot of things about what the consequences are of that. What the consequences are, and benefits, of having thousands of spacecraft available to us for communications. And how do we utilize that? How do we operate in a responsible way? And then globally, we have competition that we need to measure and respond to. And I think all that combines into one of the big challenges: it’s having a coherent national space strategy, and an investment. Those things go hand in hand. It’s difficult in the current political environment, obviously. But if we don’t do that, we’re going to suffer as a nation. I think the development of a coherent national space strategy is paramount in this industry in a way that it has never been.
Sandra Erwin: Thank you, and Jeff will close out the panel
Jeff Foust: Real quick, since we’re running out of time here and the reception is calling — I started off asking our distinguished award winners what was the most significant events that they saw in the space industry this year. We’re gonna close out by asking them to peer in their crystal balls and ask them what they’re most looking forward to next year. And this time, they can pick something they are working on for next year. So, Rich.
Rich Burns: I already gave mine away. We’re passing through close to the Sun on OSIRIS-APEX. I’m looking forward to coming out on the other side in good shape and ready to execute the remainder of the extended mission.
Kevin Steen: Things can be commercialized in the hybrid solutions, right? Really offering your market LEO-GEO hybrid connection. And so while we’re doing demos and actually could deliver that service today, it might be a little hard, but it’s going to be amazing this year, the advances we can already see what we’ll be offering in Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, and I can see how it’s going to seamlessly start to integrate. It’s going to be really cool. No one’s ever done this before, really. We’ll be the first ones to do it, and it’s gonna be fun to be part of. That’s why I joined the company.
Stella Guillen: For us, of course, [it] is launch. We’re excited to face the new year with launch but also starting to build out our second launch site in Kourou in French Guiana, and to get more support to expand our factory capabilities as well.
Col. Richard Kniseley: So I would definitely say from a commercial perspective, one thing that we are embarking on is a tactical surveillance, reconnaissance, and tracking pilot program with AFRICOM. I think that’s going to be amazing going forward, because it’s been reported earlier, utilizing these commercial capabilities to get after real-world problems. We’ve already established good results with AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM. And we’re looking to continue that and build out that capability and really show what commercial has to offer.
Mark Skinner: The TraCSS rollout at the end of the fiscal year 24, along with a new way of doing things and new development and the ongoing participation of partnerships with the Space Force, EU SST, JAXA, other national systems as well as U.S. important commercial industry and academia and in developing space traffic coordination space lasers.
Pat Patterson: [The] Space Development Agency’s deployment of tracking and transport layers. There are so many pieces that have to get put together to make this all happen. This is a hard systems engineering problem. And I’m very excited to see that. I’m excited about Kuiper. Andseeing how Kuiper deploys things. I’m also really looking forward to the Sat cellphone stuff that’s coming. We’re hearing SpaceX is going to have text capability in 2024. I know some others do already and some tests, but some more operational type stuff. And probably the last thing and the one that’s closest to that I’m most interested in hearing about or seeing [is] the level of automation, because smaller satellite systems are being asked to do very complex missions, sometimes very distant distances from the Earth. And those t wo kind of drive automation of some sort, whether it be light touch, automation all the way to full autonomy with AI. I am really interested in watching the industry and how they incorporate autonomy to make their systems function well and do the jobs they want to do. I think that we’ll be seeing that in the next two or three years. So [that will] be exciting.
Jeff Foust: And I’m looking forward to covering all that and more.