Back at SATELLITE: The Industry Emerges from Quarantine

This year marks a milestone anniversary for the annual SATELLITE conference and exhibition. What started as a modest gathering of satellite professionals in a parking garage 40 years ago has transformed into one of the world’s largest commercial space events. SATELLITE’s 40th birthday comes 18 months into a pandemic that postponed the event twice, and at times, has literally felt like it was 40 years in the making.

A lot has changed since Elon Musk headlined SATELLITE 2020 a year and a half ago. In addition to three privately-owned U.S. launch companies sending crewed missions to space, and more satellites into orbit in one year than ever before, more than a dozen massive new satellite constellations were announced. One of those constellations, OneWeb, was saved from bankruptcy by the largest and most diverse public/private investment group the satellite industry has ever seen. A new wave of space companies began the process of going public, a new wave of nations began the process of establishing civil space programs.

The SATELLITE 2021 conference program reflects that change, and the exciting, but unfamiliar terrain of this new commercial space landscape. Here is a preview of some of the notable features of the four-day event starting on Tuesday, Sept. 7, at the Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

SATELLITE 2021’s opening day is bookended by two industry keynote presentations. Maxar CEO Dan Jablonsky will provide attendees with new insights on the future of Maxar’s satellite data business, driven by the launch of its upcoming WorldView Legion satellite constellation, in a fireside chat interview with Emily Calandrelli, the host of Netflix’s hit show “Emily’s Wonder Lab,” and the producer and host of “Xploration Outer Space.” Also, Simonetta Di Pippo, director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs will deliver the opening day luncheon keynote.

The opening day program also includes a complete remake of the conference’s once traditional Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellite operator CEO session. “Satcom Growth Strategies: The Operators Speak,” which begins at 9:30 a.m., includes: Hadi Alhassani, vice president and chief strategy officer of Arabsat; Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications; Bret Johnsen, CFO of SpaceX; and Neil Masterson, CEO of OneWeb, in a must-attend debate on the critical issues facing their businesses and the viability of their growth strategies.

“As 2020 challenged the industry in every portion of the ecosystem, satellite operators now are at a crossroads,” says Chris Baugh, president of NSR and moderator of the operator’s session. “What was once a straightforward selling proposition, offering only MHz in an increasingly competitive and value-add driven space makes the path forward murkier than ever. New applications, partnerships, strategies, acquisitions, and potential exits are all on the table as operators plot their road ahead.”

Opening day also sees the return of Space Generation Advisory Council’s popular SGx Young Professionals keynote series – comprising short, 10-minute speeches on space career development, mentorship, and professional inspiration. This year’s speakers include: Andrew Zolli, vice president of Global Impact at Planet; Lee Giat, founder of PASSAGE (Providing Aid in Science for South America's General Education); Tim Ellis, co-founder and CEO of Relativity Space; Dr. Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, assistant director for Space Policy, Office of Science and Technology Policy for the White House; Brian Barritt, engineering manager at Facebook; Michaelyn Thomas, head of affordability and project manager for Spaceport Development at Virgin Orbit; and Emily Calandrelli.

Day two of SATELLITE 2021 opens with the first of two general session keynote speakers – both of whom were among the commercial satellite industry’s biggest headline makers of the year. One of India’s most successful and iconic business leaders, Sunil Bharti Mittal, the founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises and now executive chairman of OneWeb following a massive $1 billion investment into the operator, will deliver SATELLITE 2021’s opening keynote address on Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 8:30 a.m.

Making his first ever appearance at SATELLITE, Bharti Mittal will discuss his cooperative investment with the United Kingdom government that led to the acquisition of OneWeb, as well his role as the company’s majority shareholder, alongside investors that include Eutelsat, SoftBank, Hughes Network Systems, and Hanwha.

Bharti Mittal’s keynote will be immediately followed by SATELLITE 2021’s Wednesday opening general session. SATELLITE’s new day-two opening general session now focuses on the entire satellite connectivity service chain, including satellite operators, ground systems developers, and service distributors.

The aptly-named panel “The Future of Global Satellite Connectivity,” brings together SES CEO Steve Collar, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell, Isotropic Systems Founder John Finney, ST Engineering iDirect CEO Kevin Steen, and Facebook‘s Connectivity lead Brian Barritt, for a discussion about how satellite service infrastructure has rapidly evolved into an integral piece of a larger telecoms network. The group will address the evolution of GEO and Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) networks, connecting new people and businesses, working with telcos/MNOs to provide 5G wireless, rebounding from COVID-19, and new software-defined technologies.

Both Bharti-Mittal's keynote and “The Future of Global Satellite Connectivity” are open to all SATELLITE 2021 attendees.

Shortly after the day two general session, executive leaders from seven of the world's largest and most exciting satellite manufacturers will gather at 11 a.m. to discuss how to meet the rapidly accelerating demand for multi-satellite systems. As satellites become smaller, and more software-defined and as customers demand a near instant production turnaround, do manufacturers believe that they can keep pace? Are manufacturers prepared for a potential supply chain crunch, similar to what is being seen in the software industry?

To answer these questions, SATELLITE 2021 put together its largest satellite manufacturers panel in show history. The session, “Supply Chain Challenges for Satellite Manufacturers” features a line-up of executives including Frank DeMauro of Northrop Grumman, Hervé Derrey of Thales Alenia Space, Jean-Marc Nasr of Airbus Defense and Space, Chris Johnson of Maxar Technologies, and newcomers to the panel — F. Brent Abbott, NanoAvionics U.S. CEO, and Ryan Reid, the new president of Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems.

Meanwhile, on SATELLITE 2021’s Government and Military Forum, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Robert Collins, program executive officer for Command Control Communications – Tactical, will appear as a speaker during session, “Network of Networks in 21st Century Warfighting,” on Wednesday, Sept. 8 at 11 a.m. He will join Clare Grason, chief of Commercial Satellite Communications Office (CSCO) for the U.S. Air Force Space Command; Dave Micha, president of Intelsat General; and Scott Scheimreif, executive vice president of Government Programs for Iridium Communications. The group will explain how 5G rollout and IoT and AI applications create new technologies that are ensuring critical warfighter connectivity. The session will cover software-defined networking, network function virtualization, and networking-as-a service.

The program also includes a keynote from Virgin Group founder, global entrepreneur, and recent suborbital space traveler Sir Richard Branson, who will appear in a fireside chat interview.

Branson is fresh off a major milestone of reaching space. On July 11, he joined the crew of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity mission in a successful pre-commercial, test flight — the company’s first launch with a full crew. VSS Unity reached space at an altitude of 53.5 miles and then returned to land at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

At SATELLITE 2021, Branson will outline his vision for the future of human space exploration, the future of Virgin Orbit and Virgin Galactic operations, and the development of a global commercial space ecosystem.

SATELLITE 2021’s day three keynote luncheon on Thursday, Sept. 9 brings “Cultivating Diversity in Corporate Culture and Entrepreneurship” into focus. This powerful group discussion features a lineup of influential speakers including: Debra Facktor, head of U.S. Space Systems for Airbus Defence and Space; Josephine Millward, head of Research for Seraphim Capital; Giselle Stewart, senior manager of Diversity and Inclusion at Boeing; Lori Garver, CEO of Earthrise Alliance; Dr. Meredith LaBeau, CTO of Calumet Electronics; Karina Perez Molina, co-founder of the Zed Factor Fellowship; and panel moderator Erin Weber, general counsel of ABL Space Systems.

Beginning at 12:00 p.m., the panel explains the benefits of achieving broader gender, race, wealth, and geographical diversity in classrooms and boardrooms. Speakers will also address the need for greater diversity in space entrepreneurship and what investors can do to open the doors to potentially overlooked space tech startups.

SATELLITE 2021 closes on Friday, Sept. 10 with a closing roundtable, “Forecasting the Future of Commercial Space,” with Antonio Abad Martín of Hispasat, Yahsat CEO Ali Al Hashemi, Airspace Internet Exchange Chair Thomas Choi, and Intelsat CCO Samer Halawi in a discussion about how satellite providers and end-users will engage in the 5G-era, post-COVID economy. VS

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