Some of the spaceflight community’s biggest movers, shakers and disruptors will gather in Seattle next week to discuss humanity’s next giant leaps.
Big names from a variety of spaceflight fields will speak at the conference, including Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides; billionaire investor Yuri Milner, a driving force behind the Breakthrough Starshot interstellar spaceflight project and the Breakthrough Listen search for alien life; Chris Lewicki, president and CEO of asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources; former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver; and Carolyn Porco, the imaging team leader for NASA’s just-ended Cassini Saturn mission.
“The ambition is to bring together a diverse group that will teach us, and itself, about quite how many different things there are going on in space,” The Economist Briefings Editor Oliver Morton told Space.com.
And there is indeed a lot going on. For example, Morton cited the reusable-rocket successes of spaceflight companies SpaceX and Blue Origin, as well as the development of increasingly capable small and inexpensive satellites by private outfits such as Spire and Planet.
“It’s quite a remarkable time,” he said.
Other exciting advances appear ready to crest the horizon as well. On-orbit manufacturing and assembly are no longer pipe dreams, for instance. California-based Made In Space already operates a commercial 3D printer aboard the International Space Station, and the company is developing a robotic-arm–equipped system called Archinaut that’s designed to build big structures on orbit.
Breakthroughs could also soon come via the combination of advanced machine learning and the profusion of data from small, Earth-observing satellites, Morton said.
“The world being reimagined as a huge database for training machine learning on — it’s going to teach us a great deal about both the natural environment and the human world,” he said. “That’s really interesting, and it just wasn’t conceivable five or 10 years ago.”