15 May 1998
Reports - General (None)
Space 98 Emphasises Space Commercialisation
ASCE starts planning "Space 2000"
by Patrick Collins
Space 98, the biennial space conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Aerospace Division, is one of the few "mainstream" space conferences that is actively adapting to the "new paradigm" that space activities are becoming increasingly commercial, and their funding will come increasingly from the private sector with the objective of earning profits.

Held in Albuquerque from April 25 through 29, there were presentations by leading practioners of the new commercial approach to space activities, including Jim Benson, CEO of SpaceDev which is developing the first commercial asteroid mission, Alan Binder, leader of the low-cost Lunar Prospector mission, Chuck Lauer, business development manager for Pioneer Rocketplane, and Robert Meyerson, integration manager for Kistler Aerospace Corporation which is planning to test-fly their reusable launch vehicle later this year.

There was also a special joint lecture on Space Tourism by leading advocates Tom Rogers, President of the Space Transportation Association (STA) and co-author of the recent NASA/STA report "General Public Space Travel and Tourism", and Patrick Collins, Chairman of the Japanese Rocket Society's space tourism business research committee.

With around 100 papers presented, there were 3 sessions on space commercialization, and (for the first time) 1 on tourism, as well as 6 sessions on access to space, space transportation and space ports. There was also a wide range of technical presentations on many aspects of lunar construction and development, concrete in extra-terrestrial applications, large space structures and asteroid mining - all the specialist areas of civil engineering in space. There were also sessions on policy and legal matters, international cooperation, the international space station and Mars exploration.

Space 98 was held in parallel with Robotics 98. Using a combination of autonomous control, remote guidance, tele-operation and miniaturisation, the roboticists are getting closer and closer to designing robotic systems for use on the lunar surface and asteroids that are sufficiently low-cost to be commercially financed, following the pioneering efforts of SpaceDev and Lunacorp (which is planning a private lunar rover mission). Reaching that tantalising goal will open a new era of lunar and space development. In addition to technical sessions there was a student competition requiring competing teams to build a robot to cover a model lunar base with simulated regolith.

This "smorgasbord" of topics covering the widest range of space-related subjects gives the ASCE space conferences their unique inter-disciplinary value. And with growing attention to commercial approaches, from the selling of science data to space agencies, to sub-orbital transport, tourism and other promising possibilities, the "Albuquerque conference" looks well-set to capitalise on linking wider space development to the increasingly recognised potential of space tourism, as exemplified by Tom Rogers' presentation on the NASA/STA report.

With lucky timing, Hilton International recently announced plans for a Lunar Hilton giving a clear demonstration of the potentially direct link between the tourism industry and commercial lunar development. The only change needed to spark the realization of such a project is the development of low-cost space transportation systems - and that is now the target of the greatest commercial efforts since space activities began. Any guesses on the date of the first lunar tourist flight?

The ASCE apparently appreciates the value of this conference, both in its business potential and its publicity value, and is planning to support "Space 2000". With the promise of several new launch vehicles starting test-flights over the next two years, Space 2000 promises to have "turned the corner" and be a great event on the threshold of the commercial space era. So keep an eye on the web-site here.
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Patrick Collins 15 May 1998
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