HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Imagine satellites no bigger than a loaf of bread. Now dream up technology that would power low-cost launch systems. These are the kind of topics that will emerge at this week’s Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, an annual gathering that allows thousands of defense industry professionals to make contact with government and military leaders.
The educational, professional development and networking event, which began Monday and runs through Thursday, brings around 300 exhibitors to the Von Braun Center, some with large tents similar to tactical operations centers, while others will set up a base in a 10-by-10-foot area.
“The 2013 Symposium offers numerous opportunities to increase one’s understanding of the space industry, of missile defense, of the science and technology that are necessary for future space and missile defense and about the acquisition process required to purchase our pace and missile platforms,” the event’s website says.
Stephen Cayson, vice president and chief scientist at Huntsville-based Sigmatech, is this year’s technology chair for the conference. Before joining the company last year, he worked for the U.S. Army’s Huntsville-based Space and Missile Defense Command, which gives him both government and civilian perspectives on the industry. He said that while the conference partially focuses on policy related to the technologies, there also is discussion about emerging technologies.
“The symposium lets us bring together the industry and government people who are working these technologies,” he said. “It creates a dialogue about the evolution of technologies and what they could be or should be. It really instills a sense of collegiality inside the technical areas. That’s especially helpful in these times when resources are going to dwindle, and it brings the government and industry together to solve these common problems.”
This is the 16th year for the conference. According to Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, about 60 percent of companies at the conference are already have operations in Huntsville, while the rest are likely do business in the area or in the industry.
Undersecretary Frank Kendall of the U.S. Department of Defense is scheduled to speak at the event, along with U.S. Rep. Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., a senior member of House Armed Services Committee; and U.S. Rep. Michael J. Rogers, R-Mich., a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a recognized leader on national security policy.
“I think this year is going to be different because of the changing environment,” Battle said. “We’re slowly but surely getting out of a wartime aspect of space and missile defense. Now it’s mainly vigilance, making sure we are vigilant with our country against unknown assets out there. It may be a different emphasis when you start talking about how to stay with readiness at its top level when you don’t know who the adversary is out there.”
The SMD Symposium is designed to bring government and industry figures together to facilitate collaboration. Officials want to provide information about their long-term and short-term operational needs, along with describing their strengths and deficiencies. Companies want to learn what the government needs and how they might be able to offer solutions.
This year’s conference will showcase technology related to small satellites – those ranging from the size of a loaf of bread to others more than a meter long — and low-cost launch systems. Companies with a significant Alabama presence already working in those fields include Aerojet Rocketdyne, Dynetics and KT Engineering.
Microsatellite and nanosatellite technologies in space can help fill an urgent need in this operating area. But while lower-cost satellites ranging from $500,000 to a few million dollars exist, Sigmatech’s Cayson said launch vehicles are often more expensive and offset the money saved by the small satellite itself. Many of the companies in Huntsville and at this year’s conference are working to address the two issues.
For decades, Huntsville has been a hub for both the U.S. Army’s aerospace activities and for NASA, the U.S. space agency. Redstone Arsenal, a key U.S. Army base where the nation’s first ballistic missile was developed, is located in Huntsville. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, designer of the Saturn V moon rocket and the future Space Launch System (SLS), is also based on Redstone. The city also is home to operations from major aerospace companies such as Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon.
“We have a great thing going in Alabama and a lot of people just don’t know,” said Madison Mayor Troy Trulock. “So if we bring them in to show them what Huntsville has to offer and Alabama has to offer, they’ll move here.”
Other speakers for the event include Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency; David Berteau, senior vice president and Director of International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess Jr. , senior counsel for National Security Programs, Cyber Programs and Military Affairs at Auburn University; and Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.