Insight - SWF and The Space Symposium

Monday, April 4, 2016

By Michael K. Simpson, SWF Executive Director

Here in Colorado, April brings the scent of spring, a few more snowy days, and the Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium.  A rare gathering of all constituencies in the space sector - civil, commercial, and military, the Symposium has proven fertile ground for the kind of engaged conversations we have found so useful in building support for space sustainability. 

We believe that working for a commitment to the long-term sustainability of space activities makes the world more secure, makes the deployment and use of weapons in space less likely and increases the size of the global constituency supporting and seeking to protect the peaceful use of Earth orbit to meet human needs. 

Increasingly we find receptive ears to these themes at the Space Symposium. Amidst the many exhibits and conversations on military space capabilities are exhibits and conversations aplenty on addressing issues of orbital debris, radiofrequency interference, severe space weather, and conflict in space, all of which could jeopardize critical space capabilities and services for those on Earth who need them.  There are also conversations and discussions on trends that amplify humanity’s reliance on space systems:  diversification of space actors, emergence of new commercial applications and markets, and the increasing way in which space applications are woven into the fabric of society. 

In recent years, Secure World Foundation has organized several well-attended panels and forums at the Symposium designed to meet the growing interest of the space sector in space sustainability, structured cooperation, and space-enabled services to people on the ground. We have presented a plenary panel on space sustainability, organized a breakfast forum on the challenges of intentional and unintentional radio frequency interference, and offered a session on evolving from space-supported disaster management to space-enabled disaster prevention.  

This year we will tackle the challenge of how space technology can advance human security. We face a growing number of challenges on Earth, and space can play an important role in overcoming those challenges. But there are a growing number of natural and human-generated threats to the long-term sustainability of space, including renewed concern about conflict in space, that could end up harming human security in a world where so many essential services depend at least in part on space assets for support. 

The Space Symposium has changed quite a bit since I first attended.  Civil and commercial space are much more visible; the attendance is far more international; panels, forums and discussions about space in service to human needs are more numerous. With our signature method of facilitating discussions between different perspectives and disciplines, the SWF team is renowned for generating new insights and possibilities for synergy. For example, at a previous Symposium session, we networked a conversation between the incoming Commander of US Air Force Space Command and the Chairman of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space that was frank, candid, concerned, cordial, empathetic, and optimistic.

Wherever we have been able, Secure World Foundation has also worked with the Space Foundation to increase the number of non-Americans attending the Space Symposium and presenting their perspectives and aspirations there. Our panels and forums reflect the international character for which we are known. We have supported the presence of representatives of the European External Action Service, as well as those representing many emerging space countries. This year, we will partner with the Space Foundation in sponsoring a reception for international attendees, hosting an invitation-only discussion of Latin America regional space issues, and co-sponsoring an invitation-only seminar looking at changing perceptions of space protection

As the Symposium’s base of attendance broadens, we see a growing opportunity to build greater support for space sustainability, and bring in new players to help tackle the challenges we still face in pursuing it.

There is a lot of the right thing visible at the Space Symposium We look forward to continuing to work with the Space Foundation in supporting it.

Last updated on November 3, 2016