SATELLITE 2023 Trip Report
March 27, 2023
This article summarizes the experiences of the eight Olin Satellite + Spectrum Technology & Policy (OSSTP) Group undergraduate students who attended the SATELLITE 2023 Conference in Washington, D.C. with Prof. Whitney Lohmeyer. This trip was made possible thanks to the generous funding of the Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) Grant and to Olin College of Engineering.
This was my first time attending the conference, and Satellite 2023 was a great introduction to the event. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet professionals and learn about different opportunities and developments in industry. Since we attended SGx, an event for young professionals in the satellite industry, it was also an excellent opportunity to talk to peers in the industry and hear about what other student researchers are doing.
We attended a wide range of presentations and panels, but my favorite event was the space sustainability panel where we heard from a range of start-ups. There were talks by Scout, Starfish Space, and Astroscale which are all companies that I have come across in my research and were great to hear from. During this panel, they brought up interesting points about incentivising orbital debris removal that I hope to look more into and incorporate into the paper I am working on. Additionally, I really enjoyed the visit we took to the Federal Communications Commision (FCC) because it provided insight into what the government side of the satellite industry works on and how they operate.
Satellite 2023 was an amazing opportunity to meet professionals, hear industry discussions, and bond with upperclassmen! The on-orbit servicing technologies that were being presented were extremely interesting and I really appreciated being able to gain a deeper understanding of current space policy. My favorite presentation was a panel given during lunchtime by a female Northrop Grumman astrophysicist. She was exceptionally well-spoken, deeply motivated by her work, and inspiring. Getting exposed to real industry and the paths that prominent members of industry took to get to where they are was highly valuable.
Another favorite presentation I listened to was from Starfish space. Recently we have been working on a synthesization of current on-orbit technologies. Getting to mentally fit Starfish into that framework while internalizing co-founder Trevor Bennett’s opinion on what the industry should look like moving forward provided new insights on our work.
I really enjoyed attending Satellite 2023, especially as I had never gone to an industry conference–or D.C.!–before. The panels were consistently interesting & enlightening, particularly the ones on human space exploration (including former astronaut Tim Kopra!) and space sustainability (including Astroscale Senior Director Dr. Clare Martin, Scout CEO Eric Ingram, & Starfish Space CEO Dr. Trevor Bennett, all of whom I find really inspiring), as well as SWF Director of Space Applications Krystal Azelton’s presentation on international norms of behavior. I also really enjoyed the memorable keynote speeches from Clay Mowry at the beginning of the conference & especially from Blake Bullock on the James Webb Space Telescope during the Monday lunch, who were both absolutely amazing speakers that I feel like I learned a lot about the industry and effective communication just by listening to.
Besides listening, I also had a great time interacting with various professionals at the conference. I was able to ask a question during the space sustainability panel (“What are the main space sustainability issues that need to be addressed with policy and how do you see government and regulatory agencies facilitating the resolution of these issues?”) and receive a thoughtful, informative response on the expected progression of regulations and their dependency on the tech currently being tested & demonstrated in-orbit (as well as an adorable owl plushie from Scout that I was very happy to receive!).
I also asked professionals around the exhibit hall on Tuesday about their opinions on space sustainability regulations & was able to gain some informative tidbits of knowledge, such as that stand-off distance norms would have to be greater than 100-200 m (the current amount of uncertainty with detecting distances from other objects in space) according to the limits of existing technology. Other curious questions sprouted into lengthy technical conversations; everyone I talked to in the exhibit hall was quite welcoming & willing to help explain concepts to me as an engineering student, even those for whom English was a second language!
The FCC visit was also quite informative and fun in terms of getting a first-hand perspective of broadband-related policy-making and policy progression in general with all its complications and considerations. I came out of that visit understanding more not only about satellite spectrum but also about industry relationships with each other (e.g. the satellite & wireless industry) and the intersection of health, policy, and the people component with the bit about work done on the suicide hotline number.
Satellite 2023 was an amazing opportunity for me to meet professionals in the aerospace industry and get a broad perspective on the potential job outcomes of the industry, from roles in business to engineering to policy! I enjoyed being able to speak to a wide range of people in the satellite industry at all stages of their career and learn about how many different companies exist!
As students, we were able to attend the student and young professionals section of the conference (SGx). I particularly enjoyed listening to the diverse panels that were presented as part of this section of the conference! My favorite panels were on international norms and behavior and space sustainability. After the panel on international norms and behavior, I was able to meet the Director of Space Applications from the SWF and talk to her about how to get more involved in space sustainability, which was an incredible networking opportunity.
I also enjoyed visiting the Federal Communications Commission during the Satellite conference and getting to learn about initiatives and processes such as the auction rounds and the establishment of a national suicide hotline phone number. It was really interesting to hear from people with a background in economics and policy on these important matters and learn about how they came to the FCC.
Finally, it was great to hang out with other members of the lab and have lots of abstract co-working sessions :)
Satellite 2023 was an exciting opportunity to experience the broad spectrum of the satellite industry. We had the chance to hear about everything, from space sustainability to manned missions, presented by companies of all sizes. It was exciting to listen to both start-ups and well established companies and learn about their innovations. Having the opportunity to network with industry professionals and hear about their careers was invaluable. I loved learning about what drew people to their roles and how they pursued their careers.
While I thoroughly enjoyed meeting people at the expo, the real highlight of the trip was visiting the Federal Communications Commission’s office. It was exciting to see the FCC’s work beyond the research and analysis I’ve conducted in the lab, namely the FCC’s auctions programs and the important work they’ve done converting the suicide hotline number into a three digit call and texable number.
Overall, I hugely enjoyed this conference and this trip has reaffirmed my interest in pursuing a career in this field.
SATELLITE 2023 was such a meaningful experience for me. This was my first time attending any sort of space-related conference, and it was a fantastic and engaging introduction to how broad the world of space actually is. Hearing about the journeys of different leaders and engineers at different companies was so inspiring, and learning about their careers and passions really drove me to think about my own. In addition, we got to visit the FCC, which was an introduction to a world I previously knew nothing about. Learning about the role of the FCC in spectrum management was very interesting.
The most meaningful part of the conference for me was the lunchtime keynote speaker, Blake Bullock. She talked about the ideation and development of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is a spacecraft I have been interested in for years. Learning about the intricate details that went into the design of that telescope, along with the perseverance that was needed to make it a reality, was a truly astonishing and inspirational view into what the world of space exploration looks like, and further grew my excitement to pursue a career in the field.
As my first aerospace-related conference, Satellite 2023 was an exciting introduction to the satellite and space industry. Attending this conference grew my excitement to pursue a career in aerospace, and I am looking forward to opportunities to attend more aerospace events. We attended panels in the young professionals section of the conference (SGx) on space sustainability, deep space exploration, and human space exploration. Hearing from industry professionals including leaders, engineers, and even an astronaut about their career paths was quite interesting. I found it surprising that their progression through different roles was not necessarily a linear path. They took opportunities to pivot in new directions, along the way accumulating experience and skills.
One of my highlights of the trip was the lunch keynote speaker Blake Bullock, an Astrophysicist at Northrop Grumman. She worked on the James Webb Space Telescope for over a decade! I enjoyed her engaging presentation on the work it took to make the project a success as well as the scientific discoveries that JWST data is bringing about around star formation efficiency.
It was exciting to see innovative and new companies including Starfish, Astroscale, Impulse, Voyager, Relativity, and Kuiper being represented at this conference and to hear the continued excitement for development of commercial space capabilities. This seems to me, however, that it should increase the urgency of addressing continuing open questions about space policy both in the U.S. and internationally.
During our visit to the FCC, one of the things we learned about is how the FCC developed the method of using auctions to assign spectrum. I have worked on a paper about the FCC’s C-band auction and am now working on a paper about interference regulation metrics for NGSO systems, so it was great to meet the people whose work I have been following.
This was my second time participating in Satellite 2023, and while the general format of the conference was similar to last year, the content and people I met were completely different. If I had to choose the most memorable, the lunch panel with one of the scientists that successfully completed the James Webb space telescope was a joy. Their methodical explanation of navigating the technical and bureaucratic hurdles sprinkled in with some subtle humor gave me a great picture of the space industry at large.
My highlight of the entire trip was visiting the Federal Communication Commission’s office and meeting some of their economists as well as a FCC Commissioner! During this visit we learned about auction mechanics of the latest transfer between television operators to cellular carriers, the implementation of the national suicide hotline, and how the FCC fits within the federal government system. This was especially fascinating to me as in October I had presented research on the FCC’s highest grossing spectrum auction to date. It was impactful and awe-inspiring to meet the people behind the mechanics I had studied and spent so long analyzing. The cherry on top of this amazing trip was when we ran into commissioner Geoffrey Starks on our way out of the building.