Accelerating a New ERA in Space: Efficiency, Reliability and Autonomy

May 13 – 15, 2024 // Long Beach, California, USA

*May 13: Exhibitor and VIP Networking Reception May 14-15: Exhibits and Conference

May 13 – 15, 2024 // Long Beach, California, USA

*May 13: Invite only Preview May 14-15: Exhibits and Conference



Accelerating a New ERA in Space: Efficiency, Reliability and Autonomy

Efficiency, reliability, autonomy – three words that are of tremendous importance in 2024’s space industry. Having continuous access to funding and investment, a talented workforce, and reliable materials, components and parts, is imperative for successful missions and to retain a strong, sovereign position in space.

The sector is taking leaps and bounds: while we are only three months into 2024, we have been lucky to witness three lunar lander launches – two US-based commercial companies, Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, as well as a mission by Japanese space agency JAXA. 

While a lot went incredibly well for these missions and many lessons can be drawn, there was the ultimate challenge of landing on the Moon for all of them. Still, being able to develop these systems and launch, is a majestic feat for any commercial and government organization. 

Meanwhile, there is a growing reliance on space-based assets for national security – from communication systems to geospatial intelligence – to provide an answer to the challenges that arise from the current geopolitical situation. 

It doesn’t come as a surprise that doing anything in space remains – and will likely always be – difficult. However, to continue achieving big and bold missions while also guaranteeing national security, increased efficiency, reliability and autonomy become more and more important for the space industry – and the time to accelerate is now. 

Let’s zoom in on key areas of development that the 2024 Space Tech Expo conferences will address.

Efficiency – reducing test times and EEE-component delivery

Many areas of the space industry require a different approach to production and delivery times, to stay ahead of competition and, in the case of national security, threats.

The United States Space Force’s Space Systems Command recently adopted a ‘buy-before-build’ approach – changing its way on how it procures systems, components and services.

Many organizations are looking to adopt high-volume manufacturing or faster lead times and have moved or will soon move into developing mass production of satellites, components and parts, different avenues of procuring systems, alongside continuing to develop and procure the more traditional custom-made systems.

However, a lot of time is put into the meticulous testing of spacecraft components. Simultaneously, like many other industries, the space industry experienced challenges sourcing electrical, electronic and electro-mechanical (EEE) components. Factors that do not necessarily aide well in speeding up the process.

Looking at testing in particular, a lot of time is used for writing test cases and testing each bit of the system. While meticulous testing is of tremendous importance to space missions, high-volume manufacturing and reduced lead times have certainly put existing testing processes under scrutiny. Innovations such as digital twins, increasingly testing one part of a batch, as well as modelling simulation all add to making this a more efficient and effective process. However, this will likely not become the case for large, custom-made system testing.

Meanwhile, as satellites and missions become more software-defined and data-driven, the reliance on electrical, electronic and electro-mechanical (EEE) components is increasing. These technologies allow for onboard processing of data, as well as faster, higher-data rate transmission and capabilities such as onboard software updates.

Like in many industries since the pandemic years, getting hold of such components proves to be difficult. Organizations are looking at buying EEE-components in higher volumes – however, these are not always available and as such companies may have to be creative and look at different industries in order to use the right components – an example of this is the recent ‘up-qualification’ of automotive electronics for the space environment as well as ‘scalable assurance’ of radiation-hardened space electronics. 

Reliability – from workforce to investment

Reliability remains a huge term in space. We must have continuous access to reliable assets: our launch vehicles, satellites, exploration spacecraft, ground systems – there is a lot that we need to be able to count upon. There are key factors that make the development of reliable assets happen, including continuous funding and a strong workforce.

Having access to a talented, reliable workforce is paramount. As put in an interview with SpaceNews, Scott Erwin, Chief Scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico says: “If we don’t hire the best and brightest, it’s going to definitely impact our ability to do science and technology research, and keep up with competitors around the globe.”

The growing demand of talent in the industry due to increased missions, alongside an aging population, is putting pressure on hiring a skilled, diverse workforce. The space industry is competing with many other industries, including deep tech, automotive and advanced electronics, who all require the brightest minds in the country. Job opportunities within the US space industry had grown by 18% between 2018-2023, while a decline in engineering students in college was taking place during the same period.

AFRL is actively recruiting and promoting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education, through various programmes, internships and fellowships. Initiatives to encourage recruitment and STEM education are expanding elsewhere too, as is evident with NASA’s STEM partnership with the Department of Education to inspire the next generation of scientists. 

Meanwhile, having continuous access to funding is a key part of securing reliable next-generation assets. The industry recorded a record-breaking $15.3bn private investment in 2021, making it a glorious year for space. However, in 2022 private investment slowed down to $9.3bn, before reliving another surge to $12.5bn private investment in 2023. While there have been challenges, with some organizations crumbing during these years, funding remains ongoing with private investment coming through venture capital firms, private equity, foundations and sovereign wealth funds. 2024 continues to have a positive outlook so far, according to Seraphim Capital.

Funding also continues in the public sphere, as NASA was recently granted its $24.9bn budget – representing a two percent cut from its budget the previous year. Looking at its proposed budget for 2025, the agency is expecting caps in spending over the next few years due to the debt-ceiling agreement in place. These constraints are also felt by the US Space Force.

Looking more locally at Space Tech Expo’s Long Beach area, there are continuous efforts ongoing to put the aerospace industry at the forefront of the city’s economy. Recently, it was announced that it is looking to expand aerospace organization presence, bolstering the development of the space industry and supply chain in this part of Los Angeles.

Autonomy – making data-driven decisions through actionable insights

Autonomy can have a variety of meanings, and for the purpose of this feature we will look at term through the lens of autonomous systems and their ability to operate (fairly) independently to aide manufacturing and mission operations. With many industries introducing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), this technology has been utilized in the space industry for quite some time. However, given the buzz and technological advancements, AI and ML are increasingly applied in different areas of the industry.

Digital twins and model-based system engineering are some of the technologies that have really taken off, and allow for predictive analysis in the design, engineering and testing process – solutions that can ultimately help the manufacturing of many space components.

Sensors included in the set-up of testing, manufacturing and design process can give us tremendous information on how a systems, component or part behaves. Collecting this data and allowing machines to aide in our decision making could save time – and money.

To meet all the demands that the US-based space industry is facing right now, the Space Tech Expo USA Industry Conference and Technology Conference will host sessions on topics such as investment, sustainable supply chain development, diverse workforce enhancement and manufacturing operations to help accelerate Efficiency, Reliability and Autonomy.

Keen to join us on May 14-15 in Long Beach, CA? Make sure to register your seat here. See you in California!