With nearly 40,000 visitors expected over four days, the planet’s largest space trade show kicked off Monday at The Broadmoor, and businesses large and small were working to cash in.
With a growing military emphasis on satellites, a drive to send astronauts to Mars and a booming economy for orbiting entrepreneurs, organizers say the 35th rendition of the Space Symposium should be the biggest ever.
Tom Zelibor, who heads show organizer the Space Foundation, said 20 heads of space agencies from around the planet will attend along with top leaders from the Defense Department.
“All those people come here because this is where they can get the most done,” Zelibor said.
The global space economy is expected to hit $400 billion this year and approach $1.5 trillion by 2040. Military spending on space will top $14 billion under a budget proposal being mulled by Congress.
Kathy Boe, boss of defense contractor Boecore in Colorado Springs, said the symposium gives small businesses a shot at a piece of those growing space budgets.
Being at the symposium isn’t cheap.
A ticket to the three-day event costs nearly $2,500. And prime booths for vendors also carry an astronomical price, insiders say.
But for those who want to see and be seen, it’s worth every penny, Boe said.
“Anyone who is anyone in the space industry is in Colorado Springs,” she said.
During the symposium, leaders from NASA, the Pentagon and big contractors will take the stage to address the future. From missions to Mars to deterring Russian aggression above the planet, the top experts will discuss the hottest topics.
But the business gets done behind the scenes. From conference rooms to hotel rooms and parties, gaggles of industry will gather, building partnerships, planning bids and showing off their latest technology.
Boe, whose 18-year-old engineering company boasts the Air Force and Missile Defense Agency as clients, said the military is relying more and more on small businesses to come up with cutting-edge ideas. But from finding partners to share contracts to meeting the brass, the high-tech space business requires a lot of old-school handshakes, she said.
“You don’t just start teaming with someone you don’t know,” Boe said. “Relationships are built on trust.”
And those relationships and the billions of dollars in contracts that come with them start at the symposium, she said.
“You start talking with people about what you are going after in two years,” she explained.
Zelibor said Pentagon proposals that could break off space functions into a new Space Force are intriguing but aren’t the main concern for symposium attendees.
“We’ll let Congress and the Department of Defense figure out what that means structurally,” he said.
But businesses are paying attention to the Trump administration’s budget proposals — and they’re celebrating.
In addition to the $14 billion from the Pentagon’s space program, the administration has asked for more than $21 billion for NASA.
The spending is bringing back fond memories of the 1960s, considered a golden age of American space efforts.
“Space has a renewed focus like I haven’t seen since I was a kid in the Apollo era,” Zelibor said.