【Space Symposiums 2023】 Will the private sector lead space exploration?

Warpspace Inc.
6 min readMay 15


Space Symposium, one of the world’s largest satellite industry conferences, was held April 17–20, 2023, in Colorado Springs, CO, U.S.A. Space Symposium is the 38th annual conference organized by the Space Foundation, a non-profit organization that contains a wide range of information, education, and event management related to space utilization. Along with SATELLITE, held every March in Washington, DC, and the Smallsat Conference, held every August in Logan, Utah, it is regarded as one of the three huge events in the U.S. satellite field. The total number of attendees exceeds 10,000. The topics cover an extensive range, from satellite communications, observation satellites, and launch-related issues to large rovers in deep space and space stations. This article summarizes what Warpspace CSO Mori learned and saw at the event. (Please click here for the report on the 37th Space Symposium, which Mori attended last year)

New Trends in Lunar Roving Vehicle Development; What Lies Ahead in the Changing NASA/Private Sector Relationship?

One of the most prominent exhibits at this year’s Space Symposium was a display of rovers for deep space exploration, as companies are working hard to develop LTVs in preparation for NASA’s competition for the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), which will begin with the Artemis 5 mission in the late 2020s. The LTV, developed by Leidos, a company involved in defense, intelligence, and systems engineering, in collaboration with NASCAR, a developer of race cars, was the focus of particular attention at the event (*1). A new form of space exploration is being found through collaboration between engineering businesses extensively involved in space development and automobile manufacturers with expertise in developing high-performance vehicles. Meanwhile, Astrolab, a U.S. space startup, has released a prototype of the Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) rover, jointly developed with Intel Corporation and Hewlett-Packard (HP) for robotic and human missions. FLEX also meets the LTV requirements of NASA’s Artemis program, and as of last month, it was announced that it would be sent to the Moon on SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket (*2). In addition, the LTV-related articles presented at the Space Symposium suggest that Leidos and Astrolab are not designing such a lunar rover solely for NASA’s LTV competition.

In the SpaceNews and Business Wire articles presented as references (*1,*2), respectively,

(Industry (including Leidos) expects NASA to procure the rover as a service rather than contract to develop it as it has traditionally done for LTV projects. This would allow the rover to be offered to other users outside of NASA and to solicit sponsorships.

(*1 SpaceNews: Leidos working with NASCAR on Artemis lunar rover)

In the past, planetary probes have been custom designed for specific missions by NASA. Traditionally, such tasks have occurred about once every ten years, but the frequency of such launches has increased rapidly in recent years. Therefore, this tailor-made approach to rover design is no longer practical or efficient. Therefore, Astrolab has designed the FLEX rover to transport and deploy payloads in a “modular” fashion. Each module is designed individually, and the appropriate module is selected and combined for each mission.

(*2 Business Wire: Astrolab’s FLEX Rover to be Launched on Upcoming SpaceX Mission to the Moon)

This indicates that the customers of deep space exploration are no longer limited to NASA but also include a wide range of private companies. Even development methodologies being explored with this in mind indicate that this trend has already accelerated overseas.

(*1 [Reference: SpaceNews] Leidos working with NASCAR on Artemis lunar rover) (*2 [Reference: Business Wire] Astrolab’s FLEX Rover to be Launched on Upcoming SpaceX Mission to the Moon)

A prototype of the lunar rover being developed in collaboration with NASCAR, unveiled by Leidos.
Astrolab is developing a prototype lunar rover in collaboration with Intel and HP.

The private sector extends into both lunar exploration and the commercial space station, as seen in space suits

In addition to the lunar rover, Mori noted the impressive displays of space suits for lunar exploration by Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace at this year’s Space Symposium. In particular, Axiom, which is developing a commercial space station, presented its Axiom Space Access Program at the Space Symposium (*3). This provides countries with a phased approach to conducting research on the International Space Station or Axiom’s future commercial space station without needing each country to develop its space infrastructure. The first customer for such services would be government space agencies, the second would be individual private astronauts, and the third and largest customer would be corporations, which would benefit from education, tourism, and research and development in space. As a first step in this direction, at the Space Symposium, a letter of intent was signed between the Swedish Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and Axiom for Swedish astronauts to visit the International Space Station on a 10-day commercial mission by Axiom next year. This is the first time the Swedish Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and Axiom have signed a letter of intent for a Swedish astronaut to visit the International Space Station on a 10-day commercial mission by Axiom next year.

(*3 [Reference: SpaceNews] Axiom announces new government human spaceflight program)

A prototype space suit for lunar exploration is being developed by Collins Aerospace.
A prototype space suit for lunar exploration is being jointly developed by Axiom and KBR.

Meanwhile, Sierra Space has announced a collaboration with ILC Dover to develop a space station module and space suit (*4). The concept of the suit is to enable seamless integration with the suit worn by the crew of Dream Chaser, a winged space vehicle being developed by Sierra Space. This means that when an EVA astronaut boards the Dream Chaser, his or her space suit will automatically connect to the onboard systems, including life support. Although the suit’s design, which includes both in-spacecraft and spacewalking suits, was kept secret at the Space Symposium, there are high expectations for developing new space suit concepts. Sierra Space also announced at the end of last year that it would develop the Dream Chaser business in Japan and operate it at Oita Airport in collaboration with Oita Prefecture, Kanematsu Corporation, and JAL (*5).

(*4 [Reference: SpaceNews] Sierra Space and ILC Dover partner on inflatable modules and spacesuits)

(*5 [Reference: sorae] JAL enters into a three-way partnership including Oita Prefecture to utilize “Dream Chaser”)

Sierra Space is developing a prototype of the Dream Chaser. Mori is also a technical advisor for Oita Prefecture’s space program and is involved in the Oita spaceport concept and other projects.

Defense Accelerates Space Industry Development

Mori said that he was impressed by the number of security-related booths at this year’s Space Symposium compared to the previous years. In addition to the U.S. Space Command’s Space Systems Command, Space Operations Command, and Missile Defense Agency (MDA), there were 5–10 space forces booths, including NATO space forces. There were about 5–10 space forces booths. This was a significant change from previous Space Symposiums. On the other hand, the quality of the sponsors has also changed dramatically at this year’s Space Symposium. Aerospace companies such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have sponsored the event in previous decades. Still, this year the sponsors include McKinsey, Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting, Boston, sponsors include McKinsey, Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting, Boston Consulting Group, and Euroconsult, all of which specialize in the aerospace industry. This is because the space industry has become a market that is attracting a great deal of attention due to the large amount of money being spent by governments in relation to security.

In addition, especially in such space-based security, developing communication networks for missile detection and earth observation is an urgent necessity. For this reason, the most significant amount of money is being invested in inter-satellite communications. Among these, optical communication technology in space is attracting keen attention from the viewpoints of communication speed and security. From this Space Symposium, we were able to reconfirm the potential value of inter-satellite optical communications, which Warpspace is also working on.

(Written by Junichiro Nakazawa)



Warpspace Inc.

Warpspace develops “WarpHub InterSat”, an optical inter-satellite data relay service. We will realize this service for LEO Sat operators by 2025.