The Satellite 2020 Conference brought aerospace entrepreneurs, executives, engineers, end-users, and enthusiasts to Washington, DC to discuss how satellites are shaping the future of the world. With session tracks offered for technology and engineering, small satcom, government and military, and finance, the conference sets the stage for industry developments we can expect in the next year.

The keynote of the conference was delivered by Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, in his “fireside chat.” Musk touched on a range of topics, from his take on “management by rhyming,” to updates on the LEO Starlink constellation and the Starship project. He dismissed the prospect of SpaceX spinning Starlink off for a potential IPO, and addressed concerns regarding Starlink’s impact on astronomical observations. Musk also talked about the importance of simplifying design and joked about focusing on making Starlink “not go bankrupt” given the tumultuous history of LEO constellations.

Satellite 2020 also featured a panel of representatives from three major global satellite operators: Michel Azibert from Eutelsat, Steve Collar from SES, and Pradman Kaul from Hughes. The panel discussion covered everything from 5G and the impact of the FCC’s recent C-band decision, to visions for integrated LEO, MEO, and GEO orbit constellations, and bridging the digital divide.

Other sessions showcased topics from spectrum management to smallsat regulations. Carlos Nalda, LMI Advisor’s Managing Principal, spoke on the “Global Spectrum Roundtable” panel with fellow satellite and spectrum experts Armand Musey (Summit Ridge), Audrey Allison (Boeing Corp), and Timothy L. Bransford (Morgan Lewis) regarding outcomes from the recent WRC-19 and FCC sharing decisions. In another session on smallsat regulation and licensing, representatives from OneWeb, AB5 Consulting, SSPI, and NOAA/US Department of Commerce discussed new regulatory initiatives, focusing on how agency practice can impact the growth of smallsats, and ultimately suggesting the creation of a “rulebook” to improve certainty in the smallsat market.

In addition to tackling challenges in the industry, the conference also highlighted its achievements in presenting the Stars of Satellite Awards for executive of the year, technology of the year, and the winner of the Startup Space Competition. This year, Steve Collar, CEO of SES, claimed the executive award. Antenna manufacturer ThinKom won the technology award for its multi-beam phased array gateway solution to replace large satellite dish farms. Finally, Traxyl won the Satshow Startup Competition with its innovative technology for installing fiber lines with a protective coating directly onto roadways. Many more companies from around the world also took to the exhibit hall to showcase exciting new technologies.

While the conference maintained a strong showing, the spread of the Novel Coronavirus muted an otherwise bustling Satellite 2020, as evidenced by lighter attendance at conference sessions and the exhibit hall, and the cancellation of the final day of Satellite 2020 following a Health Department recommendation limiting large gatherings. Undeterred, Access Intelligence, which runs the conference, is already looking to next year, posting a “Save the Date” for Satellite 2021 on March 15-18. This will be the 40th anniversary of the satellite show, the largest annual global satellite technology event. We look forward to seeing what new innovations come out of the next conference.