From immersive VR spacewalk simulators, to gunmetal gray drones suspended by wires, to “space lettuce” incubators bathed in their purple UV lights, SpaceCom 2016’s exhibition hall boasted an impressive array of technology that would have been considered science fiction just a decade ago.
The Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, held from Nov. 15 – Nov. 17 at the George R. Brown Convention Center, drew over 2,000 attendees from 32 countries around the world this year, serving to not only showcase the latest developments in the field, but also reaffirm Houston’s status as the world’s “Space City” amidst a changing industry.
“We’re in a transition for space,” said Steven Gonzalez, NASA’s Executive Liaison at the Greater Houston Partnership, “We’re going from a world where it was purely government-led, and now we’re getting to an environment where it’s commercially-led activities into space. And what is Houston’s role in that?”
In many ways, Houston is ideally suited to take advantage of the commercialization of the space industry, which, with a “Space Economy” valued at $330 billion worldwide, is worth more than the GDP of most countries. In addition to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston will soon be home to a spaceport at Ellington Field. On top of that, many of the leading private contractors used by NASA, such as the aeronautics and energy engineering company, Atec, are headquartered in Houston due to the city’s preeminence in the industry, favorable tax policies, and low-income office space.
However, none can deny that the space is becoming increasingly accessible for all. With inventions such as the miniaturized “Dove” class CubeSats satellite, which—at 9 lbs—weighs 1,000 times less than its predecessor, space exploration is now far more affordable than ever before. As such, the industry is seeing a globalizing trend, as companies around the world delve into the exciting and often lucrative markets of satellite data analytics and GPS mapping.
Although the Space City may be facing more competition in the years to come, exciting opportunities for international collaboration, such as solving agriculture dilemmas through improved analytics, mining asteroids and eventually tackling interplanetary colonization, suggest a new dawn in the space industry – one in which Houston will have a pivotal role.
“We want Houston to be epicenter of the Next Generation of space,” said Mayor Turner in his opening speech to the gathered assembly. “And with the help of the Johnson Space Center, I am sure we can get there.”