By Seth Potter
Hundreds of space advocates, educators, students, engineers, scientists, and business people gathered in San Diego May 23 through 27 for the National Space Society’s annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC). The theme of ISDC was “Global Collaboration in 21st Century Space.” The conference consisted of plenary addresses, multiple parallel technical tracks, speaker meals, and informal SpaceUp discussion groups. There was also extensive presentation by students who presented their results from the NASA/NSS Student Space Settlement Contest. The latter were presented both as poster sessions and as presentations in the various technical tracks.
The tone for the conference was set as early arrivals converged at the La Jolla Hyatt on Wednesday, May 22 to mingle and attend tours of the area. The conference itself began on Thursday morning, May 23 with opening ceremonies, followed by multiple technical tracks. A track on asteroids, moderated by Stephen Covey, addressed the issue of near-earth objects not only as potential dangers, but also potential opportunities, with their vast supplies of metal and mineral resources. Other technical tracks were held in parallel with this, including a Mars track, chaired by Brandon Larson of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Mars Society. Participants then broke for a lunchtime talk by Dr. Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express, Inc. Dr. Richards spoke of the resources available on the Moon. The technical tracks then continued on Thursday afternoon. This was followed by a dinner featuring Rick Tumlinson, founder of The Earth Light Institute, and Chairman of the Board of Deep Space Industries.
The technical sessions continued on Friday. A track on Space-based Solar Power (SSP) began on Friday morning, and ran throughout Friday and Saturday. The track was chaired by Dr. Peter Schubert of the Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). The presentations addressed technical, economic, and environmental issues. Deliana Ernst spoke on “Regulatory Framework for SSP.” This was followed by a presentation by Lewis Fraas and Professor Don Flournoy (the latter of Ohio University) on “Space Mirrors for Ground PV.” Mr. Fraas and Prof. Fluornoy described a concept in which mirrors in space can reflect sunlight to ground-based solar collectors at dawn and dusk, thereby extending the number of hours per day that they can provide useable power. Attendees then participated in a luncheon featuring a talk by author Howard Bloom. Mr. Bloom described visions of humanity’s future in space in a biological and historical context, citing, among other examples, the economy of the settlement of the American West.
The technical sessions continued on Friday afternoon. Paul Jaffe of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Professor Nobuyuki Kaya of Kobe University in Japan spoke on sandwich module concepts for solar power satellites. In such concepts, a solar power satellite can be constructed in which the solar collectors and power beaming transmitters are sandwiched together. Dr. Brad Blair of NewSpace Analytics LLC spoke on “In-Space Markets for SSP,” in which he discussed the extraction of resources in space as a possible beneficiary of beamed solar energy.
The Gala Dinner was held on Friday evening. The featured speaker was Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the former President of India. Dr. Kalam is also a prominent aerospace engineer, and was instrumental in founding India’s space program, which gained him the nickname “the Wernher von Braun of India.” Dr. Kalam spoke on “Space Solar Power: Key to a Liveable Planet Earth.” In his talk, he summarized SSP activities in India, the U.S., and other countries. He then said that fossil fuels and mineral resources are being depleted. To address the issue of clean and sustainable energy supplied from space, he called for the creation of a World Space Knowledge Platform with a Virtual Laboratory for Space Industrialization. Such a laboratory would facilitate collaboration between India, China, the U.S., and other nations. Dr. Kalam was presented with the Wernher von Braun Award from NSS. NSS Board of Directors Vice President of Public Affairs and educator Lynn Zielinski then acknowledged students present from ten countries, and mentioned the student Space Settlement Design Competition. Zielinski later received the National Space Educator Award, becoming the first two-time winner in the 30-year history of the National Space Club National Space Educator Award.
The technical sessions continued on Saturday morning. In the Space-based Solar Power track, John Mankins, President of Artemis Innovation Management Solutions LLC, presented his “SPS-Alpha” concept for a modular solar power satellite. The lunchtime speaker on Saturday was Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who spoke on “A Unified Space Vision: Mission to Mars,” which was also the theme of his new book, co-authored by Leonard David. His presentation focused on his Earth-Mars cycler concept, in which space vehicles would continuously shuttle back and forth between Earth and Mars. Dr. Aldrin called for the construction of an international Mars base, and a permanent human presence on Mars before 2040. Practice for a Mars base could take place on the Big Island of Hawaii. After Dr. Aldrin concluded his talk, the emcee introduced Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.
The technical sessions continued Saturday afternoon. In the Space-based solar power session, a panel discussed a five-nation wireless power transmission demonstration. The panel was moderated by Professor Don Fluornoy of Ohio University, with Professor Narayanan Komerath of the Georgia Institute of Technology and OASIS Board member Dr. Seth Potter participating. Dr. Potter later gave a presentation on solar system properties and resources.
The Saturday evening dinner was emceed by NSS Board of Directors member Anita Gale and honored women of space. A moving tribute to Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, opened the evening. This was followed by featured speaker Dr. Maria Zuber, Principal Investigator of the NASA GRAIL mission. This pair of lunar orbiters provided information about the internal structure of the Moon by measuring variations in its gravity. After the talk, NSS Chapter Awards were presented. OASIS won a Special Merit Award for Public Outreach for their public lectures as well as participation in space-related events.
Technical presentations continued on Sunday morning with several Space Engagement tracks. In one of these, OASIS Secretary Robert Gounley expanded on Dr. Zuber’s talk in a presentation titled “GRAIL: A Mission of Gravity.” Mr. Gounley explained how the two co-orbiting spacecraft were able to map the Moon’s gravity by measuring variations in their relative velocity.
The Sunday lunch speaker was Christopher Ferguson, Commander of the last shuttle mission, and currently Director of Crew and Mission Operations, Commercial Crew Program, Boeing. He discussed Boeing’s construction of a new crew capsule, and talked about the benefits of a vibrant space program. He referred to several projects, including the International Space Station, the Kepler Space Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope. He stressed that while it is important to dream big, it is also important to dream practical. After the talk, Anita Gale was presented with an award by NSS.
Sunday afternoon consisted of several SpaceUp sessions. The concept behind SpaceUp, sometimes referred to as an “unconference,” is that many of the most valuable discussions in a conference take place in hallways, between or after the formal technical presentations. The goal of SpaceUp is to skip the formal presentations and move the informal discussions directly into the meeting rooms. At the ISDC SpaceUp, volunteers attended an orientation session in which they suggested topics for discussions that they were interested in leading. Seth Potter led a discussion on Sublight Interstellar Flight. This was followed by a discussion on the Casimir Effect, a possible means of extracting energy from the vacuum of space, led by Robert DeBiase of the NSS Chapter of New York City. Other SpaceUp sessions covered construction on Mars, CubeSats, radiation in space, the International Space University, and how economic issues affect space exploration and development.
The Sunday evening dinner speaker was Adam Steltzner, leader of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Entry, Descent, and Landing Team. The talk included a showing of the “Seven Minutes of Terror” video of the landing of Curiosity on the Martian surface, so named because no one knew whether the landing would succeed! The team was presented with the 2013 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering. ISDC 2014 Chairwoman Pat Montoure then invited attendees to come to next year’s conference, to be held right here in Los Angeles.
The conference concluded with a luncheon on Sunday, featuring a talk by Dr. Robert Kerr, Director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Dr. Kerr described the technical aspects of the huge radio telescope, and also discussed educational outreach to the community in Puerto Rico.
ISDC 2013 was a “big tent” conference, encompassing a diversity of ideas and viewpoints, and attracting attendees from many walks of life. NSS members and officers, as well as the space-interested public, are no doubt looking forward to expanding this tent at ISDC 2014.