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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

The Private Space Industry Revolution

4-Session Evening Course presented in cooperation with George Mason University Observatory

Friday, September 9, 16, 23, and 30, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0198
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We are living through a revolution in the private space industry, with the successful launches of reusable first-stage rockets, 3-D printed rockets, and small rockets that can deliver small payloads to a low-earth orbit for the cost of a single Super Bowl ad. NASA is returning to the Moon after more than half a century and has launched American astronauts from native soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle era.

The potential for the transformational lowering of the costs of accessing space, space tourism, and future commercial space stations is driving a complete rethinking of the engineering and cost cycles of satellites and space exploration. 

But with the threat of increased light pollution to potential satellite collisions and “mega-constellations” formed out of the sheer volume of satellites in Earth’s orbit, do the pros outweigh the cons?

The opportunities and challenges of the private space industry revolution raise questions about legality and environmental impact. U.S. and international policy and laws have not caught up to the new "wild west" of the space frontier. Should low-earth orbit fall under environmental protection laws? What happens when multiple nations beyond the U.S, start launching their own satellite mega-constellations?

Expert astronomers and pioneers in the private space industry weigh in on the future in a series of talks and a panel discussion.

After the first three sessions, Peter Plavchan, director of the George Mason University Observatory, brings the skies into your living room with remote control of the GMU Observatory, weather permitting.

Please Note: Individual sessions are available for purchase.

September 9  Reusable Launch Vehicles and Space Policy Issues

Charles Miller, a serial space entrepreneur, explores the social, economic, and national security benefits of big low-Earth-orbit satellite constellations, and proposals to use or amend the National Environmental Protection Act to protect astronomy. He discusses the emergence of fully reusable launch vehicles, their role in the rapid growth of satellites orbiting Earth, and the long-term benefits of these new technologies for astronomical research.

September 16  Why Protect the Dark and Quiet Sky?

As skies fill with thousands of low-Earth-orbit satellites that reflect sunlight, the effect on observational astronomy is growing—as are impacts to the shared human experience of the night sky. Wide-field facilities such as Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile are particularly vulnerable to growing numbers of bright satellites. University of Washington research scientist Meredith Rawls discusses the threat these satellites pose, arguing that there is a growing need to treat orbital space as a human environment deserving of protection and regulation.

September 23  The Impact of Mega-constellations

Samantha Lawler, a professor of astronomy at the University of Regina, Canada, presents detailed simulations of light pollution at different locations and during different seasons on Earth from planned mega-constellations. She explains the effect this will have on research astronomers, backyard stargazers, and everyone who loves the night sky. She discusses other pollution issues raised by this technology and ways to pressure companies to make their satellites safer and less light-polluting. 

September 30  SpaceX and the Rise of the Commercial Space Industry

Eric Berger, senior space editor at Ars Technica, talks about how the commercial space industry is rapidly transforming space exploration and the consequences for astronomy and planetary science.

The session concludes with a panel discussion, moderated by Plavchan, including Miller, Rawls, Lawler, and Berger.

4 sessions

Photo caption (upper right): SpaceX CRS-1 Falcon 9 launches (Photo: Steve Jurvetson)

Patron Information

  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
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