Small Satellite Conference Addresses Access to Space

August 4, 2003

LOGAN –– People from around the world will invade Cache Valley hoping to hitch a ride into space as the 17th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, hosted by Utah State University Aug. 11-14, will focus on "Access to Space."

Finding ways to get ideas and experiments to space faster and at lower cost was a major concern among scientist and engineers who have attended the Small Satellite Conference in the past.

"We have plenty of brilliant people who have the abilities and skills to build small satellites and sensor platforms that will make scientific breakthroughs," said Pat Patterson, chairman of the conference. "The problem is that the cost to get them to space is so outrageous, few can afford it."

Currently it costs around $20 million to launch a small satellite into orbit. A small satellite may cost $5 million to build, a fraction of the cost of the launch vehicle. Patterson likened the problem to having only a $50,000 car available to drive to a store that is 10 miles away. Most people could not afford the vehicle to get to the store; however, if a $500 go-cart type vehicle were available, then more people would be able to get there.

"There are so many missions that do not require a $20 million spacecraft," said Patterson. "The go-cart vehicle would work just fine."

Disaster monitoring is one type of mission that would benefit from small satellites. According to Patterson, if a satellite is able to launch quickly and affordably, a sensor could be placed into orbit to monitor a disaster like a volcano, forest fire, flood or earthquake.

"If more affordable access becomes available, the world will see a huge increase in scientific discoveries," Patterson said. "I can only imagine the life-changing impact those discoveries will make."

One session of the conference will address New ways to Get to Orbit with Near-Term Scheduled Launches. Several companies will discuss their new launchers. SpaceX will present its Falcon Launch Vehicle, the world's first all-privately-funded space launch vehicle. It is scheduled to launch Jan. 2004, and will cost $6 million per flight.

"Within the coming years we will see a huge change in the small satellite portion of the space industry." Patterson said. "There won't be just a handful of people who are able to get their experiments to space, there will be hundreds."

The keynote speaker will be Bretton Alexander, Senior Policy Analyst, Executive Office of the President of the United States. He will speak Aug. 11 at 1:15 p.m. Alexander assists with the development and implementation of the President's national space policies. His responsibilities cover all civil, commercial and national security space issues. He has been directly involved in drafting the nation's new Space Transportation Policy.

Another highlighted event is the Frank J. Redd Student Scholarship Competition. Each year undergraduate and graduate engineering students submit technical papers to compete for $20,000 in scholarship funds donated by individuals and participating aerospace firms. Three of the eight finalists selected represent international universities. Scholarships winners will be announced at an awards banquet Wednesday.

The Conference also includes a variety of exhibits from government agencies and top aerospace corporations including NASA, Boeing, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Northrop Grumman, Spectrum Astro, ATK Thiokol and over 50 others.