30th Space Symposium Plus: A Truly Global Event

June 10, 2014  - By
The 30th Space Symposium offered a lot to see and do.

The 30th Space Symposium offered a lot to see and do.

I have said before and will undoubtedly say again, there is absolutely no space-related event in the world today that approaches the sophistication and professionalism of the Space Symposium held annually in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the five-star Broadmoor Resort. The Space Symposium, carefully engineered and meticulously overseen by the Space Foundation, is truly the premier, must-attend space event of the year on a global basis.

I have been honored to attend 27 of the 30 symposiums, and I hope to attend many more before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Believe me when I say this; it is not merely an oblique reference to health issues. I was hospitalized for four days afterwards with exhaustion among other issues, and the chairman of one of the key companies in space today now has walking pneumonia. So, while this is a major event, you can overdo it, but that is a personal issue and not by any means the fault of the Space Foundation or the event sponsors. Instead, it is an affirmation of the quality and necessity of the event. Indeed, the Space Symposium, with an average attendance of 9,000+, has grown to the point that a single individual just cannot take it all in. It is just not physically possible, whether you are 25 or 65 — believe me, I tried.

Therefore, planning your time at the Space Symposium is essential. Unlike many symposiums where you are able to “play it by ear” and take events as they come, at the Space Symposium if you don’t plan well you will truly miss some crucial space-related event. Plus, it is difficult to relate the quality of the networking opportunities. You have access to space professionals and company VIPs at the Space Symposium that you would never be able to contact in normal daily business circumstances, and the beauty of it is they don’t have an office to escape to. There are so many additional cultural and social events that most VIPs attend, so if you don’t contact your target company VIP, it is probably just for lack of trying. Having said that, it is always good to have your elevator speech polished, because your quantity of time may be limited. You must take advantage of every opportunity. And no matter how well you plan, there are always those chance encounters, which is one of the aspects that make the Space Symposium so worthwhile. Sometimes just the opportunity to rub shoulders and discuss space matters with other professionals is all that’s required; those opportunities were abundant at this year’s symposium.

May Day versus April Fool’s Day

This year circumstances prevailed, and the 30th Space Symposium was held 30 days later than normal. The events that led to that scheduling change are significant in their own right. For instance, I will list just a few events and names; they might initially seem random, but they are intricately related:

  • Phil Anschutz
  • Broadmoor Resort
  • Construction
  • Renovation
  • Colorado weather
  • School schedules
  • Graduation dates
  • Space legislation
  • Sequestration
  • Colorado governor
  • Ambiance
  • Consistency
  • Education

OK, the list could go on and on, but the point is that the Broadmoor Resort, as a resort, has been around since 1918, or 96 years. The property history actually goes back as far as 1871 and the founding of Colorado Springs by Spencer Penrose, but that is another story for another time.  The most recent important facts are that in October 2011, Mr. Philip Anschutz, a local Denver-based billionaire, purchased the Broadmoor, a place he fondly remembered from his childhood. He decided that it needed renovating in the best style of the early 1900 Italian Renaissance — which was always reflected in the older  resort buildings on the eastern side of the lake, but was not reflected in the newer western side, with a lack properties. Consequently, the two-plus-year renovation certainly impacted the dates and availability of rooms and services available for the annual Space Symposium. In 2012-13, the event took place in spite of construction, but the 2014 date needed to be moved from April to May to ensure all facilities would be available. Indeed, the formal completion and grand opening after renovations took place was on the Friday preceding the Sunday opening of the Symposium. But then, close only counts in love and horseshoes.

So this accounts for a few words on the list, but the rest are definitely related to the conference itself. For years, many of the non-Colorado space companies and sponsors of the symposium wondered aloud if the second week in April in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains might be a bit early for such an event, since it invariably snowed, usually more than once, on participants sometime during the week-long event. However, the Space Foundation held firm on the dates for many reasons, one of which was the belief that flatlanders just don’t understand that the foothills of the Rocky Mountains are eligible for snow 12 months out of the year. Seriously, we have lived here for going on 25 years now, and we always said we were eligible for snow 11 months out of the year until a couple of years ago, when it snowed ten inches in August. It had been 80+ degrees the day before. So the Space Foundation pretty much ignored the clueless flatlanders and stuck to their guns on the date issue.

But, in all honesty, there is much more to the date debate. The Space Foundation prides itself on education and fostering interest in all things space related. It helps fund numerous space-related institutions, scholarships ands organizations. The future of space and our national heritage as it relates to our future space professionals is a consuming force in the Space Foundation’s mission. In May, most schools in the Rocky Mountain region have been dismissed for the year, and quite frankly, as they discovered this year, the space symposium is significantly diminished if the students, teachers and professors cannot attend. This year the attendance was down almost 2,000 attendees, from 9000+ to 7000+, simply because schools and educators from grade school to graduate school found it difficult to participate. Be that as it may ,the Space Foundation could not ignore Philip Anschutz and the multimillion-dollar Broadmoor renovation, nor the major inconvenience to the guests and attendees. So they reluctantly agreed to move the date to May as a one-time experiment.

The results of that experiment were definitely mixed. On the plus side, the renovations were complete and the transformation was phenomenal — if you had never visited the Broadmoor before, you would not be able to tell anything was changed. Facilities and buildings on both sides of the lake look like they were built in the early 1800s, but with all the modern conveniences of the 21st Century — a truly amazing accomplishment and tribute to Phil Anschutz’s vision. I visited the Broadmoor at least once a month during the two-year renovation, and I was still amazed at the transformation.  Nineteenth-century Italian ambiance and 21st-century convenience, what a combination.

Now to the weather. Indeed, there were only a couple of small snow showers in the early morning hours during the week at around 0500, which most everyone missed. But Wednesday’s monstrous mega-hailstorm happened in the middle of the afternoon and was not to be missed, visually, aurally or physically. I was enroute to a meeting with Dr. Mark Crews and company from Ball Aerospace on the East side of the lake when the meteorological freight train struck. Fortunately I was under a huge Broadmoor umbrella at the time, or would have surely suffered a concussion, and that is no exaggeration. Golf-ball-sized hail appeared in biblical proportions (Moses would have been proud), and insurance companies executives, many who were in attendance, could be seen talking rapidly on phones and groaning visibly. Indeed, USAA, my insurance company for the last 50+ years, reported more than 800 automobile and 400 property insurance claims in a 24-hour period following the storm, and many insurance companies sent in their disaster and catastrophe teams. So, all in all, I vote for the occasional light snow in April versus the icy rocks raining from heaven in May. I know it is an anthropomorphic illusion, but it is as if Mother Nature were thumbing her nose at those flatlanders who dared be critical of a few snowflakes in April. On the plus side, the added moisture ensured the fireworks display could take place as planned this year, and it is always a spectacular event over the Broadmoor Lake.

Politically Speaking

Politically, the timing could not have been better for the Governor of Colorado, the Honorable John Hickenlooper, who came south of the Mason-Dixon line and attended the event where he ceremoniously signed significant Colorado State tax legislation that — bottom line — makes it more profitable for all space-related companies to operate in Colorado. Colorado currently ranks third in the nation for space-related income. Many believe it will return to the Avis, or number-two, spot that it held for many years, after this legislation has time to take effect. Current rankings are California first, Florida second, and Colorado third.

Social Events

And last but not least, let’s not forget about the entertainment and social gatherings. There are more breakfasts and luncheons than you could possibly attend. Of course you have to be invited, but if you have something somebody wants, the invites flow. The evening dinners and some social events are much more restricted in nature, but are in truth where much of the real “marketing” and work — read deals — are accomplished.

This year just as last year there is one event that stole the show. Strictly invitation only — last year only 200 select individuals were invited, and this year although the number doubled (word got out), it was still very much the exclusive event. I am speaking of highly coveted invitations to the Connecting Colorado Gala hosted by Braxton Technologies at the Cheyenne Lodge at the Broadmoor, several miles from the main event. There were CEOs, company presidents, CFOs, politicians and wanna-be senators and congressmen. A small chamber music group  played quietly in the background, and you could actually talk in a normal tone of voice and be heard. Delicious delicacies streamed out of the world-class kitchen for hours. There were huge roaring fireplaces on the wrap-around deck, lit with torches, and of course lugubrious cigars, champagne and other fine wines and brandy in abundance. The weather cooperated and the stars put on a fine show. Security was clearly evident, and it worked. Because parking is extremely limited and buses provided the majority of the transportation, you could not board the bus without an invitation. There were no gatecrashers at this event. As my highly prized pass to the event clearly stated — Non-Transferrable — some names were checked against photos at the door. It was truly a classy evening, one that will be long remembered and one that absolutely works from a networking point of view, and if you are not networking, then why be there? My hat is off to the O’Neil brothers, Kevin and Kenny, as well as their CEO Frank Backes. It was a class act, the place to be, and they literally showed every other company at the symposium how it should be done.

We haven’t even discussed all the announcements and events that took place at the 30th Space Symposium, and yet if you were there, you saw seamless million-dollar renovations at a major five star resort, all of your closest buddies in the space world, as well as VIPs you have been trying to get in to see for years, and meteorological and man-made fireworks second to none — along with networking opportunities that frankly only occur once a year at this prestigious event.

I was able to meet with and have lengthy conversations with many VIPs from major space companies, and there are some exciting announcements to come. Believe it or not, some companies want to get out of the government space business — frankly, seques-castration has scared them away. They no longer want to bet the future of the company on congressional budgets. Certainly understandable. Then there are companies that have been out of or momentarily unsuccessful in the GPS/PNT business and are anxious to get back in the game. There are groups of companies that briefed me on proposals that will simply amaze you, and be assured I am doing my best to obtain permission to write about those opportunities. These stories and conversations with VIPs are just too important to give short shrift,  so I will be reporting on them in future columns.

Now let’s address the huge shift in Who’s Who in Military Space. The national military space landscape is changing dramatically and is being led by the imminent retirement, in August, of my long time friend and colleague General William Shelton. Willie will retire in the Colorado Springs area and be replaced as the Commander of AFSPC by Gen (S) John Hyten, who I have also had the pleasure of knowing and working with for the past 20 years. Indeed, almost all the major space players in Air Force Space Command and at SMC are changing and those that remain are in the most part good guys, like Colonel Wild Bill Cooley and Mr. David Madden at SMC who understand this business and can be trusted to do the right thing. However, be advised the changes are still pervasive. A friend emailed me just this week and asked me for info on all the significant changes in the Command that I knew about, that affected the continuity of the national security space mission. Just off the top of my head, I came up with 14 moves and retirements — so you get the point.

 A Lunokhod Rover from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center on display at the Space Symposium.

A Lunokhod Rover from the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center on display at the Space Symposium.

One of the major changes concerns the GPS IRT (Global Positioning System Independent Review Team), which John Darrah and I co-founded in the Chief Scientist Office at HQ Air Force Space Command just over 19 years ago in May. We decided that in order to operate totally independently, the IRT needed to be administered by a truly autonomous organization, so the IRT was designated to be tasked by the commander of AFSPC. For a time, this was the Undersecretary of Defense for Space through the auspices of an FFRDC (Federally Funded Research & Development Corporation) think tank, known as the Institute for Defense Analyses or IDA. During the last 19 years the IRT conducted studies and helped solve thorny space issues, mostly related to GPS and PNT, for eight commanders of Air Force Space Command and for key officials in the Department of Defense. Our first chairman was none other than the late Dr. James Schlesinger, who previously served as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, director of the CIA, U.S. Secretary of Defense, and the U.S. Secretary of Energy. He also served and advised eight presidents, and at the time of his passing was serving (since 2007) as the chairman of the National Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board. The PNT Board is composed of recognized GPS experts from outside the U.S. government that advise the deputy secretary level PNT Executive Committee in its oversight management of the GPS constellation and its governmental augmentations.

No sooner was the IRT formed under Dr. Schlesinger’s leadership than it was given a non-GPS or PNT-related task, and it proved to be a major task indeed. The task was to form a Broad Area Review panel for space launch and determine why the U.S. had, over the period of a few months, put more than $4 billion worth of space hardware into saltwater versus the vacuum of space. Since that original and subsequent BAR, the U.S. has not had a single complete launch failure in over 120+ launches, a record that cannot be claimed by any other space-faring nation and testament to the value of world-class, truly independent review teams that tell it like it is, warts and all.

Dr. Schlesinger represented the caliber of people that serve on the IRT, which still exist today as an independent panel led by Major General (USAF, Retired) Robert Rosenberg under the auspices of the Independent Strategic Assessment Group, also administered by IDA and chaired by former Chief of Staff of the USAF and former head of IDA, General Larry Welch (USAF, Ret).

The landscape and leadership are changing, but the National Security Space mission remains the same. Hopefully the national leadership will be able to adapt and perceive the current changes as opportunities – because while brilliant and intelligent leaders matter, people matter. Success should never be about personalities but rather about integrity, professionalism, and dedication – about doing the right thing and making the right decision every time.

What Is Don Reading?

Lindbergh_bookThis month I only have room for one important tome: Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg.

I initially read this wonderful volume several years ago and enjoyed it very much. I read it again recently because of the Time and Navigation display at the Smithsonian that piqued my interest in all things related to time and navigation through the ages. Lindbergh’s first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean was not a flight of fancy, but rather a flight of daring as well as one of historical significance from a world-class aviator. He did not take any over-water navigation classes until after the event! As the jacket states, “…here at last is the definitive life of one of the most legendary, controversial, and enigmatic figures in American history.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Highly recommended.

Until next time, happy navigating, and please make your plans now to attend the 31st Space Symposium in 2015. I hope to see you all in Orlando, Florida, at the ION JNC (Institute of Navigation Joint Navigation Conference) event later this month (June 16-19, 2014).


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About the Author: Don Jewell

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.