Insight - The 67th International Astronautical Congress

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

By Victoria Samson, Washington DC Office Director

In the last week of September, SWF staff attended and participated in the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in scenic Guadalajara, Mexico. Every year, the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) organizes the IAC, an annual meeting of many international actors involved in space sector activities consisting of plenary sessions, lectures, paper presentations, and meetings. As well, a large exhibition runs concurrently. The congress is attended by the agency heads and senior executives of the world's space agencies, along with academics, researchers, industry and commerce executives, students, and young professionals.This major gathering of space professionals from around the world is held in a different part of the globe every year; previous IACs were recently held in Jerusalem, Israel; Toronto, Canada; and Beijing, China.  Roughly 6000 people were in attendance at this year’s IAC.

SWF attends IAC in numerous capacities, including: paper presenters, rapporteurs of panels, IAF voting members, IISL officials, and members of IAF committees. Papers by SWF employees this year covered topics as diverse as using Earth observation to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, future issues of commercial space sustainability, and possible consequences of debris detection, mitigation, and removal.

Prior to the IAC, SWF also holds an annual competition through which it chooses young professionals to sponsor their attendance at the IAC to present their research. The goal of this sponsorship is to grant the opportunity for young professionals to further their professional development and to inject new ideas into the space community. Requirements for applicants for the scholarship are that they be 35 years old and younger at the time of the IAC, and have had abstracts accepted for oral presentation. This year’s group of eight winners, coming from Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Nigeria, Turkey, and the United States, presented papers on a wide variety of issues, including the background of the African Space Policy, space security in the European context, and the need for space traffic management in commercial spaceflight.

Participating in the IAC allows for SWF staff to provide analysis, promote discussion, and explore potential opportunities for improved international policies, laws, and mechanisms that promote space sustainability. Between the plenaries, panels, and technical sessions, practically every aspect of space is covered at this conference, including many issues directly related to SWF’s organizational focus, such as:  space sustainability challenges, human and environmental security, and space law and policy issues. SWF staff have used this congress to share information about SWF programs that might be of interest to the global space community; past projects that were presented at the IAC include our work on public perceptions of on-orbit rendezvous and proximity operations between satellites; the SWF handbook for new space actors; and issues affecting self-defense in space.  The information gleaned from sessions and conversations at the IAC also allows SWF to develop targeted, effective resources to enhance the understanding of space sustainability and its benefits among all actors in the space community.

Attending also gives SWF staff the opportunity to meet with colleagues from far-away places that they might not have the option of seeing face-to-face otherwise; for some, the only time this personal interaction occurs is at the IAC. In the age of the Internet, there is still something to be said for discussions held in-person.

Next year’s IAC will be in Adelaide, Australia; the year after, Bremen, Germany; and in 2019, in Washington, DC. SWF looks forward to continuing its long relationship with the IAC and using the opportunities that arise at the congress to work toward the safe, secure, and sustainable use of outer space over the long-term.

Last updated on November 3, 2016