All eyes on the future as Space Symposium convenes in Colorado
A pair of Ariane 5 rocket engines on display. The engine on the left can generate 65,000 horsepower; the one on the right, more than 2 million.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) -- Power suits and crisp uniforms have descended into Colorado Springs this week for a space industry gathering. That the National Space Symposium is taking place here should come as no surprise. The mountain town has had its eyes on the sky for awhile.
Selling software, satellites, rockets and radar, industry reps big and small started their pitches Monday, hoping to sell to each other, NASA and the armed forces.
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They offer chocolate space shuttles, raffles for a plush monkey in a space suit, and drinks in exhibit hideaways if the passerby merits the attention. About 80 exhibitors have set up shop at the Broadmoor Hotel, a mini-Versailles at the foot of the front range of the Rockies.
Nearby is Cheyenne Mountain, the inner depths of which hold the nuclear missile defense command post for all of North America.
Colorado Springs boasts other links to the sky. The city hosts the U.S. Space Foundation, organizer of the annual symposium; the U.S. Air Force Academy, whose ranks have produced many astronauts; and the John Mays museum, a roadside oddity that somehow combines space history with giant, exotic insects.
NASA administrator skips symposium
Booth for the X-33, the prototype of the Venture Star. The Venture Star is designed to replace the space shuttle, but will it ever get off the ground?
Industry leaders, ex-astronauts and top military brass begin panel
discussions Tuesday on a variety of pressing questions:
Which space companies will win and lose on Wall Street? Does the sale of high-tech aerospace products to developing countries threaten U.S. security? Will NASA keep repeating the mantra, "Faster, Better, Cheaper?"
The latter question is particularly relevant, considering the agency's loss of three Mars missions last year. But NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, billed as the keynote speaker, won't be around to answer it.
Goldin "regrettably had to cancel due to scheduling changes of
congressional testimony," according to an addendum to the program. He sent two top lieutenants in his place, allowing him to remain on Capitol Hill to placate Congress and seek more funding for NASA.
Shuttle going back to the future?
Like Goldin, who in the past urged his troops to push the high-tech
envelope, the U.S. Space Foundation's theme for the symposium is "Space: To Dare Greatly."
But with NASA scaling back its Mars program, will other mission teams find themselves in similar straits? Some of the engineers manning booths at the Broadmoor exhibition halls are building prototypes of the next generation of manned space vehicles, like the sleek X-33 and X-38.
NASA, however, could beat a hasty retreat to the past instead of pushing forward to the future. The agency is considering a plan to upgrade the aging space shuttle fleet, which could mean further delays for its successors.
Fat cats and little fish
Many major U.S. players showed up, like Hughes, Raytheon and the United Space Alliance, a joint Boeing and Lockheed Martin venture. So did European heavyweights such as the European Space Agency, its corporate partner Arianespace and Daimler-Chrysler, which makes Ariane rocket jets, some with more than 2 million horsepower.
Most of the exhibitors are smaller, but they nonetheless boast big ideas. The University of Denver Research Institute displays a
high-powered light-gas gun that shoots tiny projectiles as fast as 7 km a second, simulating micro-meteors slamming into a manned space module.
Space Imaging offers samples of a new generation of satellite maps that can distinguish objects as small as one meter. Purchase one of your street, and you can tell what stroke your neighbor is swimming.
Two fellows in a small booth away from the main traffic stream work for the Joint National Test Facility, which makes video war game programs for the Department of Defense.
"We're not going to spinoff into Nintendo," one said.
The Dismounted Battlespace Battle Lab
Many of the 2,000 conference participants talk in a jargon undecipherable to the layperson. A U.S. army brochure offers a typical example of the language, cluttered with undefined, long and perplexing acronyms.
"All of SMDBL's ASEDP experiments for FY 00 are planned for integration into the Joint Contingency Force Advanced Warfighting Experiment (JFC AWE)."
Want to know more about SMDBL? Read on:
"EMPRS is a collaborative effort with SMDBL, the Dismounted Battlespace Battle Lab, ASEDP, and Team Monmouth to provide the aeronautical satellite communications connectivity for EMPRS."
The winner is a slippery one
Despite the communication barrier, NASA and industry engineers realize they must speak the language of the people to ensure strong public support and continued congressional funding of space programs.
Toward that end, NASA and the U.S. Space Foundation in 1988 established the Space Technology Hall of Fame, which recognizes technology spinoffs from NASA research that prove useful to the general public.
Honorees in the past include a heart pump inspired by rocket-engine valves and cordless power tools. U.S. astronauts used the prototypes. One of the 1999 winners is the X-1R Crawl Track Lube, used on the transport that moves the shuttle to the launch pad. The super lubricant has spun off into several industrial applications.
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16th NATIONAL SPACE SYMPOSIUM
U.S. Space Foundation
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