Tuesday, October 24, 2017

International Astronautical Congress


I've returned after spending some time Down Under!

This dish is 70 m across, and received the
final data from Cassini
I am very fortunate to have received a grant to attend the Space Generation Congress (SGC) and 2017 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia. The grant was a Student Participation Initiative from the Canadian Space Agency. I love them so much.

Before arriving in Adelaide, I took a little detour into Canberra. SGC had organized an optional tour of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. I knew very little about the Deep Space Network (DSN) prior to the tour, and didn't even know this site existed beforehand. The extent of my past knowledge sometimes Cassini data were lost if it was "raining in Madrid".  Now I know that the NASA operates the DSN out of three facilities: Canberra, Madrid, and Goldstone (California).

I was amazed to see the satellite dish that downlinked the final data from Cassini only days after the her final maneuver. There were also dishes that were actively downlinking from MRO and MSL while we were visiting – I thought that was really cool and inspiring. My first project in planetary geology used Magellan images of Venus, and I learned that 98% of Magellan data were downlinked in Canberra. I would like to be involved with planetary mission work in the future, so understanding the data downlink process is useful to understanding the data limitations faced by scientists in this field.

The Deep Space Communications Complex is located between
granitic foothills southwest of Canberra
       The SGC was an new experience for me. Instead of being a standard conference, we chose focus groups to address pressing issues in space exploration. Having a geology background, I picked the "Space Diplomacy" group, as the emphasis was on space resource mining. It was the first time I’ve been at an conference in which I've been the only geoscientist present. This was cool, because I was able to provide real-world examples of terrestrial resource extracting to the discussion. It was great for me to meet people from business, engineering and law who are all interested in space-related topics. These are aspects of the space industry that I have had little to no contact with in my studies, but I think might be important to know about for future career plans. SGC also hosted a cultural night, which was also a great opportunity to meet other delegates and learn about their countries’ backgrounds and interests in space exploration. Naturally, I was thrilled that the South Korean delegates performed "Gangnam Style". We, as Canadians, brought maple cookies, maple candies, and coffee crisps to share.
Matt, one of my group mates, sketches a flowchart showing
the influences of international policy on industrial liability
and accountability.

The SGC international night was at the Adelaide
Zoo. This woman is holding a bilby.
I do love any reason to dress up nice.

Moving on to IAC. I absolutely loved the international networking opportunities and having a chance to see what space agencies around the world are working on. The heads of agencies plenary session was particularly great for this because they provided an overview of the priorities and future goals of each country. ESA gave a plenary session about setting up Moon/Mars Villages, and the vast range of challenges associated with manned planetary exploration. I found this session interesting because many of the infrastructural problems associated with constructing Moon/Mars Villages and in accessing Space Resources are relevant to planetary geology.
In the exhibit hall I learned a lot about the activities of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), and ESA through the various displays and presentations. For example, the JAXA booth hosted presentations on the status of Hayabusa-2, its target, asteroid 162173 Ryugu, and what they learned from Hayabusa-1. Mentioned in a previous post, I worked at the Pheasant Memorial Laboratory in 2015 which was privileged to obtain some of the samples from the first Hayabusa mission, so I was curious about the fate of samples from the next mission. The KARI booth hosted a cultural event where they provided beverages and Korean snacks while talking about their recent innovations in satellite technology. I was delighted that they played K-Pop music videos while esteemed members of the aerospace industry discussed the engineering specifications of the satellites.

I think the girl group on the screen is "Twice" but I decided it wouldn't be a
good use of my time at work to scour their music videos to confirm that.
KARI's booth was beautifully decorated, and displayed some cutting edge tech.
Curiosity's twin hanging out in the
exhibition hall
The CSA sponsored students were invited to take part in events hosted by the International Student Education Board (ISEB). At these activities, we met sponsored students from around the world. I made a bunch of friends among the KARI and JAXA sponsored students, whom I hope to stay in contact with. One of the ISEB networking events took place in the South Australian Museum, coincidentally in the fossil/mineral/meteorite area.  This was fantastic because I was able to apply my geo-knowledge and excitedly chat about minerals to anyone who was interested. 

I admit that there weren’t very many technical sessions relevant to planetary geology.  I attended a few sessions on planetary surface exploration and on remote sensing technologies, but many of the presentations provided information outside of my area of expertise. Most of the technical sessions I attended were aimed at an engineering audience, and even though I want to learn more about the cutting edges of space technologies, this wasn’t the best platform for me to do so.

That being said, I really appreciated the multidisciplinary nature of the conferences. At IAC, I was able to see the diversity of disciplines that contribute to space exploration, from rocket and satellite engineering, space life sciences, government policy, astronomy and astrophysics, Earth observation, communications, business, and public education. I had little experience in many of these fields prior to the congress. I feel that I now have a broader understanding of space-related fields and how they connect with one another, and this will definitely improve my perspective throughout my career. 

At the "Women in Aeronautics" breakfast, the Director General of ESA,
Jan Wörner, spoke about the importance having all types of diversity in a
work place

Thesis update: I'm drying out my samples from our Axel Heiberg Island field trip. Some of the salts and soils are still a bit wet, and need to be a dry powder for doing XRD analysis.

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