I attended the AIAA SciTech Forum held on Jan. 23-27, 2023. AIAA is the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The event featured speakers and panelists from a variety of space technology companies, organizations, and institutions. I attended many of the presentations and listened to panelists with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise.
Here are my key insights and takeaways from this event.
Common Themes from Several Presentations
1. New design and development tools are accelerating product development in the space industry. These tools are handling more of the design tasks so humans have more time for creative thinking and innovation.
2. Artificial intelligence is helping with many tasks and will gradually become more integrated into space tech systems.
3. There’s a large variety of business opportunities fueled by public and private investments and new technology being developed by an increasing number of companies.
Which is your favorite idea?
I attended the Idea Challenge: Applying Aerospace Technologies to Solve Societal Problems presentation at the AIAA SciTech Forum today (Monday).
The event included presentations by three teams of young professionals – each team presenting their idea. Here are the three ideas:
1. Food Secured – Using satellite data and historical weather data to provide farming suggestions to increase crop yield and reduce water usage. Initial application in India due to the large population and significant need to improve food production.
2. Kidddney – Combining 3D Bioprinting with Microgravity to produce 3D printed kidneys for human transplant. The 3D printed kidney is expected to be created in one week, as compared to the current average wait for a kidney of 3.5 years.
3. CIA – A data sharing platform for underdeveloped countries. Connects people in rural areas with critical information, such as safety announcements, weather warnings, and availability of community services. Uses satellite data, cellular networks, and drones to share data throughout a country, such as the Philippines.
All three ideas are fantastic. Congratulations to all team members for working to solve important problems.
I attended five presentations at the AIAA SciTech Forum on Tuesday. Here are my key insights and take-aways.
1. Advancing Space Propulsion Technologies – NASA and DARPA will be collaborating on developing a Nuclear Thermal Propulsion system. They plan to test a new system by 2027.
The new propulsion system is expected to be significantly more efficient than chemical propulsion systems and provide faster travel to deep space and to Mars.
The program is named Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) and will demonstrate a nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) in orbit.
Stefanie Tompkins and Pamela Melroy discussed the details of the DRACO program.
2. Public Investors in the Future of Aerospace – This panel discussed various funding sources from NASA, AFWERX, SpaceWERX, and other organizations.
For example, NASA offers the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. SpaceWERX offers financial awards through the Orbital Prime program.
The panelists were Sha-Chelle Manning, DyanGibbens, Byron Knight, and Gynelle Steele.
3. Space 2050 – Nelson Pedreiro (Lockheed Martin Space) shared his vision of space in 2050, only 27 years from now.
His vision includes current activities and projects by Lockheed Martin. Nelson expects that highly automated design tools will shorten the design and development time required to develop new space technology and systems. This will allow new space technology to be developed more quickly.
One part of the vision for 2050 is the existence of a power and communication infrastructure. This will simplify the design of new space vehicles and space systems because they can access the power and communication infrastructure rather than having to design their own power and communication systems.
4. Private Investors in the Future of Aerospace – This panel provided many helpful tips to help space tech startups successfully obtain funding. Several panelists encouraged startups to fail fast and ask lots of questions so they continue to learn and grow. The panel members discussed different stages of funding and what to expect at each stage.
Startup leaders were encouraged to conduct their own due diligence when evaluating a potential investor in their company, such as whether the investor is a good fit with your company an if they can support the growth of your business.
The panel members shared that investors are looking for startup leaders with “grit” and persistence. They also stressed the importance of having a strong team with relevant business growth experience.
The panelists were Hailey Nichols, Sherman Williams, MislavTolusic, and Nicole Conner.
5. Innovation for Impact – Curt Carlson shared an approach to Innovation that focuses on a customer value proposition. He explained that addressing an important unmet customer need is critical to creating a new product or service. He discussed examples of companies that failed because they were not solving an important unmet need.
Curt also discussed an approach to pitching your idea that uses a hook to grab the listeners attention, then discusses the value proposition and the action you want the listener to take. It was interesting to watch several live pitches with feedback to the people presenting the pitches.
Did you know that satellite data is being used to fight wildfires, monitor climate changes, improve crop yields, and more?
On Wednesday, I attended the AIAA SciTech Forum Monitoring Planet Earth presentation. The panelists discussed how data is being collected by satellites, aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The collected data includes weather patterns, wildfire images, thermal information, and more.
This data is being used by companies and government agencies to help fight wildfires, understand how the earth’s climate is changing, and suggest farming activities (based on soil moisture levels, crop rotation, etc.) to improve crop yield. Machine learning systems can process this data to discover trends and make predictions that may identify the likely movement of a wildfire, predict climate changes in specific areas, and suggest farming activities.
The panelists were Al Tadros, Cathy Olkin, Rob Stevens, Barry Tilton, Marcus Johnson, Julie Robinson, and John Choi.
I attended several presentations at the AIAA SciTech Forum on Thursday. Here are my key insights and take-aways.
1. Accelerating Digital Technology to Transform the Aerospace Industry – Guillermo Jenaro (Acubed – Airbus Innovation Center) shared his thoughts on digital tools that reduce product lead time and reduce cost. His team is also working on autonomous flight systems and machine learning solutions for the next generation of aircraft.
He predicts that the next big disruptors are:
- Artificial Intelligence advancements
- Quantum computing
- Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality
2. Addressing Increasing Complexity in Aerospace Systems – This panel discussed new types of modeling and simulation tools that assist with complex designs.
NASA’s key areas of digital transformation are: engineering, discovery, operations, and decision making. An important area for Boeing is applying digital solutions to legacy platforms.
Several panel members mentioned that digital tools are being used to help get answers to design/development questions fast. The panel also stressed the importance of lifelong learning because technology and tools are moving very fast.
The panelists were Michael Grieves, Sophia Bright, Jill Marlowe, Ryan Tintner, and Karen Willcox
3. Transformative Systems Engineering Success Stories – This panel discussedexamples of new products that were designed digitally using the latest digital design and development tools.
Digital twins are used to accelerate the design system and test new ideas quickly.
An example of successfully using digital tools discussed managing wiring harness design in complex space systems. The tools helped manage wiring harness placement throughout the design process.
The panelists were Marilee Wheaton, Jason Bartolomei, Don Farr, Olivia Pinon Fischer, and Corbett Hoenninger.
4. Humans and Autonomy – This panel discussed the need for both real-world testing and simulated testing of autonomous vehicles. Several panelists expressed their views that fully autonomous vehicles are several decades away.
The panel also discussed the importance of having humans quickly take control when unusual or high-risk situations occur. They also discussed the importance of keeping humans actively operating the vehicles so they don’t lose their skills.
The panelists were John Tylko, Kailah Cabral, Mary Cummings, Amy Pritchett
The AIAA SciTech Forum was a valuable event that shared exciting visions for the space industry and provided information about the latest advancements in space technology. I enjoyed the event and look forward to attending again next year.