International Space Development Conference truly is international
LOS ANGELES — Attendees from over a dozen countries including Japan, Romania, Turkey, India, and the United States descended on Los Angeles to discuss the latest in space developments at the National Space Society’s 2018 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).
The crowds were treated to presentations from scientists to middle school students, and everyone in between. Now in its 37th year, ISDC returned to the city where it all started. This year’s event, which occurred May 24-27, 2018, was hosted at the Sheraton Gateway, just a few minutes down the road from the Los Angeles airport.
The Big Events
The highlight of ISDC 2018 was the presentation of the Gerard O’Neil award. This year, Jeff Bezos was given the honor for his work on developing infrastructure that could help take humanity into space. His space company, Blue Origin, is currently developing the suborbital New Shepard rocket system, the orbital New Glenn rocket as well as various other projects.
The award was presented by O’Neil’s wife Tasha. Once at the podium, Bezos announced that Amazon, one of the companies that the billionaire owns, was picking up the recently-cancelled SyFy show “The Expanse” for a fourth season.
After the announcement, science writer Alan Boyle then sat down with Bezos in an informal interview discussing the how and why of Blue Origin and what the billionaire hoped to achieve.
“This is not something we can do, this is something we must do,” Bezos said before challenging the audience to ask themselves if their missions are changing the world.
Physicist Emeritus Freeman Dyson was honored with the Robert A Heinlein memorial award, for his continued work in the field of physics. In his acceptance presentation, Dyson explained his idea of the “Noah’s Ark Egg,” a device designed to seed the universe with life. The concept involves storing one embryo from each species into a container and launching to interstellar space. By launching thousands of these eggs, it might be possible to “restart” life on a planet elsewhere.
The Space Investment Summit returned to the conference after a multi-year absence. Led by Thomas Andrew Olsen and Meagan Crawford of the Center for Space Commerce and Finance, the summit injected ISDC with financial discussions.
Ken Davidian of FAA’s Office of Space Commercialization hosted a panel titled “War Stories” that featured such notable space entrepreneurs as Dennis Wingo, founder of Skycorp, Chuck Lauer of Rocketplane, John Garvey founder of Garvey Space, Red Ridenoure of Ecliptic, and John Wilkes, a sociologist assisting with the Google Lunar X-Prize. Each of them presented a brief history of their careers, including the difficulties they faced in running their businesses and in some cases the reasons for their firms failures. The conversations as well as the audience questions helped keep the mood lighthearted during a somber event.
Part of the summit included a space business plan competition. Six companies were selected to undergo an intense boot camp to polish proposals before stepping in front of the ISDC “Space Sharks” to pitch their ideas.
Of the six, Waypoint2Space won the audience participation award for its astronaut training and entertainment complex to be located right outside Johnson Space Center in Houston. Voyager, a software firm working on creating an easier and faster way for satellite builders to complete requests for proposals, took home the cash prize of $2,500 presented by the Heinlein Trust and CSCS.
NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts presented a panel composed of past award recipients who showcased their far out ideas and how they could change the nature of space travel. These presentations ranged from spacecraft capable of reaching the nearest neighboring star (Proxima Centari) in less than 20 years to advanced fusion drives. One proposal called for the development of paper thin satellites that would capture space debris and dispose of it in Earth’s atmosphere.
LaunchPad hosted a series of discussions on spaceflight concepts from university researchers. Shawna Panda led the presentations that covered everything from tele-medicine, artificial gravity, and other unique concepts such as Eric Shear’s Saturn Ice Ring Network Exploration Mission that would use a single mothership and several daughter ships to explore and analyze the materials of Saturn’s rings.
Colleges and Universities were in attendance with Doratea Macri, Eric Pillai, and others from Berkley’s Space Enterprise Team bringing components from their current rocket program. They introduced a new material for liquid-fueled motors that required no cooling from a propellant jacket. The material, called CFOAM, could handle the internal temperatures and, with some exterior carbon fiber, the chamber pressure as well.
The team from University of California, San Diego including student researchers Philby Wang and Maxwell Kelly parked their engine test stand, nicknamed Colossus, in the lobby of the hotel for all to see. The massive machine is capable of testing liquid rocket motors that output over 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) of thrust.
Over 400 students participated in a Space Settlement contest managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center. According to Lynn Zalinski, a coordinator for the project, the students had to design a space habitat, explain what its function was, how many people it would hold, how much it would cost to build, etc. Once they had the technical elements completed, the students had to create a poster describing their habitat.
In addition to the posters, some student groups brought real hardware they were working on. One team included Chantal Mbala, Skylar Martin and Dene Castles—the first from South Africa to attend ISDC and present their findings. They brought with them their ion drive experiment based on the VASIMR engine work by Frank Chang-Diaz.
ASTRAX, a consortium of companies from Japan, had a large presence at ISDC. The founder of the consortium, Taichi Yamasaki, presented why he was involved with so many companies and what their ultimate goal was—the creation of space-related products ranging from zero-gravity flights to landing on the Moon to space Saki.
Another company, Space Division Inc. (SDi), is working to recycle unused carbon fiber material from the aerospace industry. SDi collects unused carbon fiber and processes it into everyday items.
“Thousands of tons of waste comes from the aerospace sector alone,” said Jaysen Harris, co-founder of the company. “What we recover and upcycle can become anything from office desks to skateboards to bow ties.”
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.