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IAC 2018

The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen during the first week in October was the first time that I had attended an IAC. It was, quite simply, a fairly amazing experience.


Ariane 6 greets the delegates

The theme of the conference was ‘Involving Everyone’ which is a great theme and it was wonderful to hear that nearly half of all attendees were under 35 and that thousands of people came to the public day. However, only 22% of delegates were women and there were far too many all male panels for a conference that declared its theme to be ‘Involving Everyone’. There really isn’t an excuse for this disparity, there are plenty of excellent women in the space sector, so I hope that future IAC’s make this a priority.

One of the issues that was much discussed was that of space traffic management (STM) and space situational awareness (SSA). These issues go hand in hand and are part of dealing with the increasingly crowded and conjected (and contested?) Earth orbital environment. This is a topic worthy of its own blog post so I won’t go into a massive amount of detail here, but as the names would suggest it is about having an awareness of the object, vehicles and debris operating in outer space, specifically Earth orbit (and most focus is on Low to Medium Earth orbit where most space activities occur) to ensure a safe operating environment just as air traffic management does for aviation. To date the US Department of Defense has been the major player is SSA, but more countries are taking greater roles and there are even private companies looking to get into the market. I met the CEO of LeoLabs who are building a ‘map’ of space debris.[1] I also met several senior people from Cislunar Industries who are looking to ‘recycle’ space debris.[2] All of this raises numerous interesting and important legal, policy and regulatory issues which will need to be addressed if we are going to maintain access to the space environment, let alone open it to enabling the economic potential that it possesses. Therefore discussion of SSA, STM and space debris is vital to the future of humanity in space.

Speaking of the future of humanity in space, I also attended several session on commercial human spaceflight, a number of these sessions overlapped with the previous sessions as SSA, STM and space debris are also important topics for commercial human spaceflight. There were several interesting presentations from the UK Space Agency and a few others discussing the UK’s ‘spaceport initiative’. This was mainly focused on the UK’s regulatory approach but one included an analysis of potential European launch sites for suborbital vehicles and the indication from that presentation was that Northern Scotland and Norway were basically the best places in Europe for suborbital spaceports. If the past 10-15 years have demonstrated anything it is that one should ignore any suggested timelines for commercial human spaceflight but there is certainly a lot of activity being undertaken and numerous states now have or are in the process of development national legislation to regulate it.


Spaceport Regulation

Another major feature of IAC was considerable discussion of the Moon Village and Deep Space Gateway concept, indeed Lockheed Martin’s booth was almost entirely devoted to the Deep Space Gateway and it was a significant feature of Boeing’s too! My paper for this year’s IAC was on the legal issues presented by space settlements and outposts, some of which I have discussed in previous posts and will explore more in subsequent ones. However, as the plans under discussion at present are reminiscent of the International Space Station and/or Mir, it is likely that any legal framework will be based upon those stations. That said, if there is a significant commercial element then that could introduce complications…

On a side note one of the coolest things I got to do was the Galileo SAR VR experience which showcased the capabilities of the European Union’s Galileo GNSS in expediting Search and Rescue operations. It was also nice to meet the person who runs their twitter account, which I highly recommend following, if for no other reason than SAR is a nice, clear, easy to understand benefit of space assets!


@SARgalileo providing a virtual demonstration of the benefits of GNSS

And on another side note, it was a pleasure to be able to talk to people out the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization, my space law and policy ‘think tank’ which launched one month ago today (12 September), you can check us out at or follow us on Twitter @spacefaringciv.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first IAC, it is always a pleasure to get to spend time with my friends in the space sector, meet new people, put faces to twitter handles and attend interesting panels. There was a lot to think about, I’ve acquired a multitude of ideas that I probably don’t have time to work on but will do so nonetheless and I am eagerly looking forward to IAC 2019 in Washington D.C.

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