News from the 32nd Space Symposium

Photo Credit: Rocket Lab / The engine for the Electron launch vehicle being tested in 2016. The Electron is being developed by Rocket Lab, and will be launched out of a facility in New Zealand.

Jaclyn Wiley/News Editor

Every year, the movers and shakers of the private and military space industries gather in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the annual Space Symposium. This year’s symposium took place from April 11 – 14, and was attended by over 10,000 people.

The Space Symposium was put on by the Space Foundation, which is a global non-profit organization that advocates for space awareness, education, and cooperation. Its mission is to “to advance space-related endeavors to inspire, enable and propel humanity.”

This year’s Space Symposium featured some major announcements from some major companies in the commercial space industry. Some of the companies that made announcements this year include Rocket Lab, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

On April 13, Rocket Lab announced that it is planning to test launch its Electron rocket later in 2016. These launches will take place at the company’s launch site in New Zealand, the construction of which was just finished. Though the company launches out of New Zealand, it is based in the United States, where it is trying to grow its working population.

Rocket Lab, due to its US operations, requires a space launch operator’s license from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST), as well as a spaceport license from that organization for the New Zealand launch site.

FAA-AST is in charge of licensing commercial space launch operators, spaceports, launches and reentries of launch vehicles, and is not fully funded at the time of this publication. This might change however, according to Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.)

During a speech at the Symposium, Rep. Bridenstine formally introduced the American Space Renaissance Act, which would update and improve the United States domestic space policy. The bill is comprehensive, covering topics including the length of the NASA administrator’s term, the security of military satellite communications, and the budget of the FAA-AST. Once the full budget promised was given to the FAA-AST, it could do more hiring, which would be beneficial for students at Embry-Riddle, who have gotten internships with this office in the past.

Orbital ATK announced that it had booked its first customer for its on-orbit satellite servicing program. This customer was IntelSat, an international company that operates one of the world’s largest commercial satellite fleets.

In-orbit servicing is the idea that some space assets, like satellites, can have their orbital capacities extended by another space object, which would be launched with the express purpose of helping the first object. The services that the servicing object provides could include mission extension, refueling, or space debris capture.

Orbital ATK will service IntelSat and other customer’s satellites with its Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV). The MEV would basically capture the satellite and take over its locomotion, maintaining its orbit to prolong the mission of the asset. This prolongment could save the operating company the countless dollars and paid hours of labor that accompany creating and launching a new satellite.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a Sacramento-based rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer owned, pitched that its AR1 engine was the most viable replacement for the controversial RD-180 engine. The RD-180 engine currently powers the Atlas V launch vehicle, and is produced in Russia.

Though the engine is highly reliable once attached to the Atlas V, there have been issues in the reliability in the fabrication and transport of the Russian engine from Russia to its customers. In recent years, there have been issues about blocking of the supply chain due to increased international tensions.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s proposed solution is its own engine, the AR1. The AR1 has received interest from the US Air Force and a partnership with the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Aerojet Rocketdyne projects the engine to be ready by 2019, though some industry experts question the reliability of this timeframe.

A highly marketable trait of the AR1 is that it can be used on both the Atlas V launch vehicle, which is one of the most reliable vehicles in its class, and the new Vulcan rocket from ULA.

The Vulcan launch vehicle was announced at the 31st Space Symposium in 2015. This launch vehicle, which is being developed as a private-public partnership, will deliver heavy payloads once completed. Though no solid timeframe has been established for the date of the completion of the Vulcan, ULA does not expect the rocket to be finished before 2019.

These were just some of the many announcements made at the Symposium in its history. The Space Symposium was founded in 1984, with a small number of attendants. The number of people attending has grown dramatically in the years since that first conference; these attendees include exhibitors, speakers, and industry leaders.

The Space Symposium is a great way for students to network and learn more about the space industries in the United States and around the world. The benefit is not limited to students in the Commercial Space Operations degree program; there is always a need for engineers and other degrees as well at these companies.

To learn more about the Symposium, visit The next Space Symposium is April 3 – 6, 2017, and one of the best ways to experience the event is to volunteer. To find out more about the volunteering opportunities, visit Make sure to sign up early, since this is
a selective process.

Graphic Credit: Orbital ATK / Orbital ATK’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), on the left, will service satellites while in orbit with the purpose of lengthening the satellites’ missions. The first contracted customer for the MEV is IntelSat, which runs one of the largest commercial space satellite fleets.

Graphic Credit: Orbital ATK / Orbital ATK’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV), on the left, will service satellites while in orbit with the purpose of lengthening the satellites’ missions. The first contracted customer for the MEV is IntelSat, which runs one of the largest commercial space satellite fleets.