International Astronautical Congress 2011 Wrap-up

 International Astronautical Congress 2011 Wrap-up

Each year more than 3000 representatives from the space industry, space users, space policy makers, students, young professionals, researchers and academicians come together at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). I first attended the IAC in 2005 as a researcher and it was such a mind-blowing experience that I vowed to do everything I could to attend every year. Even though I’m now working in education, I’m pleased to say that I have continued to attended the congress and have expanded my involvement, including helping students get the most out of the IAC program. 

This year the Congress was held in Cape Town, South Africa, 3rd – 7th October, but preparation started as last year’s Congress ended. I would like to share with you some of my experiences from the IAC 2011.

Naomi Mathers
VSSEC Program Developer

Plenary Program

With so many leaders of the space industry in one place there is no shortage of excellent speakers. As well as the technical program the IAC offers a series of Plenary events, Highlight Lectures and Late Breaking News. Unfortunately the program is so tight I wasn’t able to attend many of them. Luckily for me (and you) these events were recorded and are available from the IAF website.

Heads of Agency
African Space Leaders Round Table
From Space to Earth: Challenges and Opportunities
Impact of Satellite Communications in a Global Market: Future Direction in the 21st Century
Monitoring Fresh Water from Space with a Focus on Space
Next Generation Visions for Earth Observations in the 21st Century
IAA Heads of Space Agencies Summit Follow-on
Human Space Flight: 50 Years in Orbit
South African and African Space Activities
The Amazing Flying Machine: The Space Shuttle’s Technical Advancements and Contributions to the Next Generation
Direction of International Earth Science Programmes
A Road Map for Space Astronomy in the Next Decades
The Global Exploration Road Map
NASA’s Orion Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System: Recent Design and Mission Decisions
China Manned Space in 2011
Nigeriasat2 and Nigeriasat X

IAF Space Education and Outreach Committee (SEOC)

The Space Education and Outreach Committee (SEOC) manages the Education Technical sessions of the IAC, the Student Paper Competition, the SEC/ISEB Teacher Professional Development Program, judges the IAF Your Grant, and works with the Workforce Development Committee to organise the Youth Plenary. This is the strongest education program I’ve seen at any science / engineering conference and the committee is one of the most active I’ve ever worked on.

Education Technical Symposium
This year I presented VSSEC’s Robotic Mission to Mars program in the Primary and Secondary session and chaired the Tertiary session with Marilyn Steinberg from CSA. The standard was very high and it was great to see some of the innovative approaches being implemented. MIT presented their new project-based course where they are teaching practical leadership within a satellite development course (IAC-11.E1.2.6), definitely a model that should be considered by other institutions. Scott Madry from ISU (International Space University) presented the new Southern Hemisphere Summer Space Program and the White Paper produced in the first session (IAC-11.E.1.2.12).   

Student Competition
The standard of the student competition continues to rise. As well as giving students experience in presenting their work, this competition is a great way for students to present their work to industry.

The committee is always grateful to the industry and academic judges who give their time before the congress to review papers and during the congress to judge presentations. Please contact Marco Schmidt if you would be willing to assist with the judging.

The USA, Europe and the UK each hold regional competitions and the winners are guaranteed a position in either the undergraduate or postgraduate competition. Australia also has a guaranteed position in the competition for a national representative. This year Crystal Forester represented Australia in the undergraduate student category. Contact Naomi Mathers at VSSEC for more details.

With such a high standard and such deserving candidates it’s always a very difficult task for the committee to select the winners. After much deliberation the 2011 winners are:

Undergraduate Category
1st prize: Mr Rex A. Bair, University of Arkansas, “Gimbaled Permanent Magnet-Based Attitude Control for Pico/Nano Satellites”
2nd prize: Mr François Laurendeau, ISAE-SUPAERO, “Flight Thrust Modulation Using Hybrid Propulsion System”

Graduate Category
1st prize: Mrs. Maren Rahmann, University of Wuerzburg, “Assessing Crop Water Demands from Space: Classification of Irrigation Systems in Arid Central Asia Using Latest Optical Remote Sensing Systems”
2nd prize: Mrs. Jacoba Auret, Stellenbosch University, “Design of an Aerodynamic Attitude Control System for a Cubesat”

Joint SEOC/ISEB Teacher Professional Development Program
As well as supporting undergraduate and post graduate students to move into the industry, the SEOC also understands the importance of building a strong skill base in primary and secondary school, and the important role of teachers. In 2010 a Teacher Professional Development Program was initiated to engage teachers in the host country and expose them to space as a context for teaching STEM.

This year the teachers worked with early career researchers from the space agencies to explore space science and engineering through hands-on activities that can be used in a classroom.

IAF Youth Grant

In October 2008 the International Astronautical Federation established a grant program to actively engage, inspire and support the next generation of students and young professionals, and to prepare them to be the future leaders of the international space community. This year the SEOC received more than 80 applications from which 6 student and 6 young professional awards were granted.

This grant program gives preference to emerging space nations, so Australia has had two grant recipients, Mary D’Souza in 2010 and Eloise Matheson in 2011. Thanks to the grant, Eloise participated in the IAC, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) Congress, the UN/IAF Workshop and the ISEB Student Program. It’s lucky Eloise was such an enthusiastic, dedicated candidate, because she certainly didn’t get much sleep! 

International Space Education Board (ISEB)

The International Space Education Board (ISEB) was established in 2005 to encourage collaboration between the Education Divisions of the major space agencies (NASA, ESA, JAXA and CSA). CNES was accepted as a member of the ISEB in 2007 and VSSEC was accepted in 2009.

The Heads of Education meet each year to discuss joint activities, exchange ideas and plan the IAC Student Program for the following year. The ISEB activities now include the GENSO Ground Station Network, the French CanSat competition and access to the NASA Academy Program and the ESA QB50 program.

Yasunori Matogawa, Head of Education, ESA
Marilyn Steinberg, Head of Education, CSA
Hugo Maree, Head, Education Policy & Primary/Secondary Education, ESA
Leland Melvin, Head of Education, NASA
Naomi Mathers, Program Developer, VSSEC
Franco Emma, Head of Education and Knowledge Management, ESA

ISEB Student Program

In 2011, more than 60 students participated in the ISEB Student Program at the IAC. This year Australia had its largest delegation to date with 5 students; Eloise Matheson, Crystal Forester, Cynthia Chen, Michael Kretzenbacher and Kristian Grayson.

The program is a balance between opportunities for students to network and gain technical knowledge, and a chance for them to inspire the future generation. 


Ice-Breaking Dinner
The ISEB student program starts with an Ice-breaker event. This year the students and agency staff came together for dinner at The Gold of Africa Restaurant and Museum. The evening started with a guided tour of the museum and drumming lessons. For engineers and scientists the group had excellent rhythm but paled in comparison to the African drummers. The food, dancing and singing provided an excellent cultural experience and by the end of the evening everyone was relaxed and ready for a busy week.  

Heads of Agency Q&A
After the Heads of Agency Plenary the students get exclusive access to their Heads of Agency (HoA) for a Q&A session. For the first time the Manager of the Australian Space Policy Unit, Michele Clement, was invited to join the panel consisting of:

Mr. Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator
Dr. Yasushi Horikawa, Technical Counselor, JAXA
Mr. Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General, ESA
Ms. Michele Clement, Manager, Australian Space Policy Unit

The students were given an opportunity to ask each of the panellists questions before the Heads of Agencies turned the tables and posed their own questions to the students.

Australian ISEB Student Breakfast with Michele Clement
In addition to the Heads of Agency Q&A session, each of the agencies hosts an event to give their students direct access to senior management. The Space Policy Unit hosted a breakfast for the Australian students with Michele Clement. This was a great opportunity for the students to be briefed on the development of Australia’s space policy and for Michele to learn more about the issues faced by young graduates entering the industry.  

International Student Zone

The International Student Zone (ISZ) is a meeting place for all students and young professionals at the congress but other delegates are encouraged to mix with the students. It provides a place for students to share their work, a platform for expert speakers, and a focus for cultural activities. This year the ISZ also welcomed the 400 8th graders participating in the Space Ambassadors program.  

Space Ambassadors Program

The Space Ambassadors Program was a new feature of the ISEB Student Program in 2011. It was initiated to engage the local community and to give the ISEB students a chance to “pay it forward” by sharing their passion with the budding scientists and engineers of the future. 400 8th grade students and their teachers from all over South Africa were invited to spend the day at the congress and participate in a range of hands-on activities.

Space Exploration Leaders Panel
The outreach program started with the Space Exploration Leaders forum. Africa has a strong tradition of storytelling. The ISEB embraced this tradition, and asked key people within the member agencies to share the story of how they got where they are. These stories were collated in a storybook for the students, and some of the exploration leaders were available to share their experience in person. The panel included:

- Leland Melvin, Head of Education, NASA, and former astronaut
- Dr Mabel Mathews, Higher STEM Education Manager, NASA
- Dr William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA
- Marilyn Steinberg, Head of Education, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)
- Dr Woodrow Whitlow, Jr, Associate Administrator for Mission Support, NASA
- Franco Emma, Head of Education and Knowledge Management, European Space Agency (ESA)
- Christyl Johnson, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, Goddard Space Flight Centre, NASA
- Dr Yasunori Matogawa, Special Advisor to the President, JAXA
- James Stofan, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Education Program Integration, NASA
- Dr Naomi Mathers, Program Developer and Aerospace Engineer, VSSEC

Hands-on Activities
After the Space Exploration Leaders forum the students broke into groups to participated in a range of hands-on activities and visit each of the agency displays in the Exhibition. Although Australia didn’t have an agency display, VSSEC had a display within the International Student Zone.

The students built LEGO rovers, investigated renewable energy through the construction of solar powered cars and investigated the stars of the southern hemisphere. Each of the students were given a passport which they got stamped at each agency booth. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the year 8 students or the Space Ambassadors!

IAF Cluster Forum - ISEB Student Ambassadors

Throughout the week the IAF hosted a number of Cluster Forums. The final IAF Cluster Forum for the congress was the ISEB Space Ambassadors: “Building the Space Workforce Pipeline”. This forum brought together students, academics, industry representatives and the IAF Executive to discuss the issues faced by the sector to ensure the future workforce. The forum heard from agencies who are struggling to fill positions as well as students looking to move into professional positions. Most importantly it heard from groups trying to bridge this gap.


After a week of technical sessions and outreach events the final event of the ISEB Student Program was a visit to Cape Town’s free roaming Big 5 Private Game Reserve. This was a great opportunity to experience something uniquely African before flying home. From the safety of our jeeps we were treated to close encounters with zebras, wilder beast, buffalo, lions, springbok, ostridge, rhino, elephants, and the stories of our guides who had experienced real close encounters (sometimes with serious results and hospitalisation).

I was thrilled to get this close to so much African wildlife and struck by how similar the South African and Australian landscapes are. The other striking similarity was the shared obsession with sport! Thanks to the clash between Australia and South Africa in the Rugby World Cup the Australians were the focus of much ribbing.


UN/IAF Workshop

Each year the UN/IAF Workshop is held prior to the start of the IAC to discuss the role of space technology applications for improving the quality of life in developing countries. Although the workshop focuses on developing countries, the projects and lessons learnt have much broader relevance. I’ve found this one of the most useful workshops I attend each year and a great way to get a fresh perspective from a user point of view.

This year’s Workshop focused on Space for Human and Environmental Security. There were some great presentations but the standout presentations for me were from Amnon Ginati from ESA and Jeanne Holm from JPL. Both speakers explored innovative strategies for overcoming the cultural gap and lack of dialogue between potential users and the space sector. It was a great reminder that often the greatest hurdles aren’t technical. The presentations from this workshop will be made available through the UNOOSA website. 

Space Tracking Treaty Signing

As the congress brings together so many industry leaders in the one place, it provides an opportunity for bilateral discussions and a chance to execute bilateral agreements. On Wednesday 5th October, a Space Tracking Treaty was signed between the Australian Government and the European Space Agency (ESA). The treaty was signed by Michele Clement, Manager Space Policy Unit, on behalf of the Australian Government and Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General ESA, on behalf of ESA. This treaty continues Australia’s long standing relationship with ESA and guarantees ESA continued access to ground stations in New Norcia and Perth. The signing was attended by a large contingent of Australian delegates including all the students participating in the ISEB Student Program. It was a great thrill to witness this historic event.

Next year the IAC will be held in Naples 1st - 5th October. Watch the VSSEC website and the International Astronautical Federation website for details and significant dates.