The 10 Biggest Stories from IAC, Space's Biggest Conference of the Year

This year, it was all about the moon.


Earlier this month, members of the aerospace community gathered again for the 69th International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, and unless you zipped around the conference at the speed of light, you might have missed a few things. But not to worry, we have the highlights. This year, the industry seemed over the moon for — the moon.

With over 4,000 attendees, the event united professionals and the public in a celebration of reaching new heights as a collaborative, international community: There were over 2,000 oral presentations, 179 technical sessions and 480 interaction presentations.

The Moon Race

An international competition to build technology for sustainable lunar exploration in categories across manufacturing, energy, resources, and biology, The Moon Race made its debut on October 1. Backed by industry giants like Airbus and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, startups and small to medium enterprises aim to build sustainable technologies to help humankind establish a permanent lunar presence.

ESA Alexander Gerst is the second ESA astronaut and first German to take position as commander of the ISS.

DLR German Aerospace Center, Flickr

“Knowledge for Tomorrow”

Alexander Gerst, the first German commander of the International Space Station (ISS), took command on October 3 during IAC. Currently on the mission Horizons — Knowledge for Tomorrow to explore the history of mankind, Gerst called in from aboard the ISS to answer questions.

With all three stages, the orbital-class rocket New Glenn stands 99 meters tall. 

Blue Origin

Lunar Intentions

The OHB Group and MT Aerospace signed a Letter of Intent with Bezos’ Blue Origin on October 1 for a future mission to the moon. The mission will take advantage of Blue Origin’s reusable technologies Blue Moon, a lunar lander capable of carrying several metric tons of cargo and New Glenn, an orbital-class rocket, and may play a role in plans to build an international platform dubbed the Gateway, a midpoint for astronauts to travel to deep space.

Moon Express Founder and CEO Bob Richards (left) and CSA President Sylvain Laporte (right) signed an MOU on the third day of the conference, October 3. Moon Express aims to develop low cost access to the moon.  

Moon Express

Moon Express

The US-based company Moon Express, founded with the goal of low-cost lunar travel, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to support the Canadian space industry and academia taking cargo to the moon using Moon Express’s lunar orbiter and lander. Moon Express intends to begin regular flights to the Moon in 2020.

Crew of NASA's Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA), Campaign 4 Mission 2. UAESA and NASA will continue exploring the effect of space on humankind. 


The UAE Makes More Steps to Space

NASA signed an Implementing Arrangement (IA) with the UAE Space Agency (UAESA) on October 1. Building off a framework established in June 2016, UAE already collaborates with US universities to build an orbiter scheduled to launch for Mars in 2020, but the new agreement gives UAESA more opportunities to use ISS and NASA opportunities to study interplanetary human life at UAE’s Mars Scientific City.

Orion will be the first human spacecraft to travel to the moon or beyond since the last Apollo mission in 1972. 


Interplanetary Travel

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a partnership on October 5 to push the limits of interplanetary space exploration, aiming for the moon and beyond. No human spacecraft has traveled this far since Apollo 17 in 1972. NASA’s Orion, designed for deep space, will take a solo trip, Exploration Mission-1 in 2020 for three weeks before potentially taking astronauts in the early 2020s.

Moon Camp

Partnered with the Airbus and Autodesk, the ESA launched “Moon Camp” on October 4, an educational competition challenging students ages 8 to 19 years old to design a moon camp that can sustain 2 astronauts and allow them to perform research. The online competition closes on March 16, 2019, leaving plenty of time to rise to the challenge of using local resources and protecting the camp from meteorites for the final drafts in Tinkercad or Autodesk.

Moon Camp challenges children from 8 to 18 to design a moon camp in Autodesk or Tinkercad for prizes including a webinar with an ESA astronaut and a 3D printer. 


The Lunar Lander Competition Begins

The lunar lander competition has begun. Not only did Blue Origin announce Blue Moon, a reusable large lander currently in the design phase, but Lockheed Martin revealed as well. Blue Moon is slated to carry multiple tons of cargo and maybe land by 2023, while Lockheed Martin’s lander is designed for four passengers and 2,000 pounds of cargo, although launch date depends on SLS.

Lunar lander Blue Moon is reusable, a key characteristic in Jeff Bezos' goal to make space travel both cheaper and more regular. 

Blue Origin

Cameras to Find New Planets

The OHB Group signed a 288-million Euro contract with the ESA on October 4 as the main contractor of Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO). Scheduled for launch in 2026, PLATO is tasked with using 26 cameras to finding planetary systems outside our solar system.

Artist's rendition of the PLATO observatory designed by OHB Group and selected by the ESA. 

OHB System AG

Visiting an Asteroid

The morning of October 3, the Japan Space Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) probe Hayabusa2, in collaboration with MASCOT, a German-French lander, successfully touched down on asteroid Ryugu. MASCOT spent over 17 hours exploring, taking photos and collecting data regarding the composition of Ryugu to learn about the formation of the solar system.

The lander MASCOT took this image about 20 meters from the surface of Ryugu. 


IAC’s sessions span a wide range of topics, from educating the next generation of astronauts to integrating AI. See you next year IAC, in Washington D.C. — and at this rate, one day on the moon.

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