Every year, the movers and shakers of the space industry gather at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). From 1 to 5 October, it will be Bremen’s turn to host the event. A team from the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) has been working on the preparations for the past five years. Around 4,000 experts are expected to attend, and Elon Musk could be one of them.
The challenges in space are of a different order to those on earth. “How do you weigh yourself in zero gravity? The answer is shaking. We bounce ourselves at the end of a spring loaded rod, and use the time it takes for one bounce to determine our exact body mass.” That was one of the recent tweets sent by @Astro_Alex. German astronaut Alexander Gerst has been back on board the ISS since June 2018. Over 1.2 million people follow him on Twitter to hear all about his adventures in space, and he will soon be answering questions in Bremen via a live link. The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will provide a worthy setting for the call, with around 4,000 experts from industry, academia and politics in attendance at the event.
Space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency will also be represented in Bremen. “The event will focus on all aspects of space travel, whether theoretical or technical,” says Peter von Kampen, Chief Financial Officer of the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen. His team have been working on the preparations for the IAC, which takes place in a different location every year, for five years. The event will provide a platform for discussing not only the latest developments in space research but also future space exploration.
The idea for the congress was born out of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), which was founded in 1951 and today brings together some 350 institutions from 68 countries. The organisers of the event in Bremen successfully applied to host the congress for the second time and have had their hands full ever since. The technical programme alone comprises more than 2,000 contributions. A host of other events will take place in parallel to this, including a conference on ‘space law’ hosted in one of Bremen’s courtrooms, a congress at the university for students and people looking to get into the industry, and a congress for schoolchildren. “We want to get more people, and especially girls, interested in the STEM subjects,” says Peter von Kampen. This chimes with the theme for this year’s event: ‘Involving everyone’.
The IAF has chosen its theme to signal that it is looking for greater diversity in the space industry. Peter von Kampen and his team are therefore encouraging not only young people to take part but also countries that are new to the space industry. Greater participation by women is also a focus, as they have traditionally been under-represented in the industry. Some 12,000 people are employed in the aerospace industry in Bremen, for example, but only 20 per cent of them are women. “For us, it’s about creating an environment that will get all those involved to think about these issues,” says von Kampen, summarising the idea.
On Public Day on 3 October, the exhibition halls will be open to the public. “Space travel is an exciting subject, but also a complicated one. It’s important for us to engage with people so that they know what is happening out there and down here,” says von Kampen. Between 12 noon and 6pm, interested members of the public can visit the IAC for free and watch the live link with Alexander Gerst. Some of his fellow astronauts will be there in person in Bremen to talk about their work. “It’ll be an opportunity to ask what you’ve always wanted to,” says Annika Teubner, who is helping to coordinate PR activities for the congress. In the 10,000 square metre exhibition area, space enthusiasts can satisfy their curiosity at stands runs by various businesses and organisations. “We are hoping for an additional 5,000 visitors on Public Day,” says Teubner.
First held in 1950, the IAC has been held in Germany five times and in Bremen once before, in 2003. Peter von Kampen was one those who attended back then. A lot has happened in the interim. The IAC has got bigger and Bremen has grown in importance as a space hub. But above all, space technology is now having an impact on our everyday lives, as Peter von Kampen explains: “We use findings from space research and earth observation without even thinking about it: satellite navigation is a prime example. The increasing accuracy of weather forecasts is also thanks to space technologies.”
In 2018, it became clear to the world that the industry also has a different, and more commercial, face. Space travel has long been an object of interest for entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk. The co-founder of US company Space X and electric car manufacturer Tesla has been causing a stir thanks to his missions and rocket developments and his exciting ideas for space colonisation and space tourism. Musk has attended the IAC in the past, and the closer we get to the opening day, the more the organisers are being asked the question: is Elon Musk coming?
Regardless of whether Musk makes an appearance, ZARM is confident that the programme will be packed with highlights. These will include updates from current space missions: the German Aerospace Center’s MASCOT lander, for example, which has been up in space for four years now, will reach its destination and land on an asteroid in the week that the congress is being held. A live ticker will broadcast its progress in the exhibition halls. The German Aerospace Center is one of the local supporters of the congress, along with the companies OHB, Airbus Defence and Space, ArianeGroup and MT Aerospace, as well as the Federal State of Bremen. “Bremen has an incredible breadth of expertise,” says von Kampen. “We want to show what Bremen has to offer in terms of space travel and to welcome the world to our city. One of our goals, of course, is to enter into new collaborations.”
Recent hosts of the IAC include cities such as Toronto and Jerusalem. Next year’s event will be held in Washington; in 2020 it will be the turn of Dubai. “In between, we have little old Bremen. It’s brilliant that we are able to hold our own in such distinguished company,” says von Kampen. “Bremen is the biggest hub for the space industry in Germany and is a major player at European level too. We want to build on this and tell the world what we’re about.”
Press contact: Annika Teubner, Tel.: +49 421-218 57821, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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