COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado -- The 22nd National Space Symposium is underway here this week, bringing together leaders from around the globe to discuss issues of the day that face government, civilian, and university space endeavors.

There's plenty to talk about, from Earth observations, military endeavors in research and development to NASA's fledgling Moon, Mars and beyond work. 

"In terms of intellectual content, this Symposium is clearly our most exploration-focused and most commercial-entrepreneurial focused ever, said Elliot Pulham, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Space Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The group conducts the annual National Space Symposium (NSS), being held April 3-6 at The Broadmoor Hotel.

High "wow" factor

Of course military customers and topics will still be abundant, Pulham told SPACE.com, along with top tier officials from NASA, FAA, NOAA, and aerospace firms. He said that this year's NSS will have the highest "wow" factor to date. A huge exhibition hall is packed with the latest in updates on current and future space initiatives.

"Given the possibilities for peaceful international collaboration that come with exploration, it's also highly noteworthy that the most senior leaders of both the Chinese and Japanese space agencies are participating," Pulham explained.

The forecast for the number of participants is over 7,500 when all events and activities of the week are tallied, Pulham advised.

More than half of the event's speakers have never spoken at this event before, Pulham added, a fact that reflects the changes that are going on in the industry. "We're on the brink of the great age of space commerce and that's reflected in the program."

Traditional/non-traditional

Partnering, improving Department of Defense (DoD) acquisitions, and harnessing the power of synthesis are to be spotlighted by Alexis Livanos, President of the Space Technology sector for Northrop Grumman Corporation in Redondo Beach, California.

"I believe that partnering makes us greater than the whole," Livanos said. "It helps us deliver more innovative technologies, with greater benefits, to our customers than we would be able to do individually."

To do that, Livanos explained, there is need to scour both traditional and non-traditional sources, searching for partners with the ideas and capabilities to advance customer interests.

Room for improvement

In the arena of DoD acquisition, space systems are working magnificently, he said. "But cost overruns, technical difficulties and schedule delays associated with space systems have caused serious concern. There is a lot of room for improvement."

Government and industry are taking steps to improve the acquisition process, Livanos explained. For industry's part, he emphasized, prime contractors are strengthening their management of subcontractors by taking extra measures to understand the capabilities of the supply base and by proactively applying their own expertise when necessary.

"Most people think that knowledge is power. I disagree with that statement," Livanos said. "I think the synthesis of knowledge is power. This is the ability to bring the pieces together, to shape what you're going to do...that's what's important. The next generation of space exploration is here and how we approach that together -- as an industry -- will make all the difference."

Global space economy

How to sustain and fortify the business of space is a challenge.

"The space industry is often bad at understanding its own economic drivers and impacts. We lack shared, reliable data about the business of space," explained Carissa Bryce Christensen, Founder and Managing Partner of the Tauri Group in Alexandria, Virginia. She is moderator of a featured session at the Symposium: "Competitiveness - Maintaining an Edge in the Global Space Economy."

"The symposium session on competitiveness opens a rare window on leadership insights cutting across launch and service sectors, from speakers who are shaping the future of the industry," Christensen pointed out.

For decades, achieving low-cost access to space has been an issue and a bottleneck to progress.

At the forefront of today's run at low-cost space transportation is Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of El Segundo, California.

On tap as a featured speaker at the NSS gathering will be Elon Musk, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for SpaceX. Clearly, the entrepreneurial firm experienced a recent setback in the quest due to the loss of their Falcon 1 booster on its maiden flight.

Throwing in the towel?

Musk offered SPACE.com an early look at what he'll be talking about at the Symposium. "The biggest theme I will be emphasizing from a SpaceX standpoint is that we are in this for the long term," he said.

"In the past, I've said that I would accept three consecutive failures. However, I actually consider this first launch a partial success, because we were able to test so much hardware working together in flight," Musk said. In addition, his rocket team empirically verified the payload environment, that is, the vibration and acoustics that a rocket experiences during the liftoff phase. 

"That means we still have at least three failures to go before I would even consider throwing in the towel," Musk explained.

Musk said the Falcon 1 flight was also a partial success for the customer that paid for the ride, being the DARPA/AF Falcon program. "Although we did carry a $700,000 Air Force Academy satellite, the primary goal of this launch was to test and obtain flight data on our launch vehicle...and that was accomplished to a significant degree."

Onward to Falcon 9

By the way, as a courtesy, Musk added, SpaceX has extended an offer to the Academy to fly one of their student satellites at no charge on Falcon 9 as a piggyback.

The next most important theme that Musk will deliver is that work continues without pause on the SpaceX Falcon 9. "At most, I expect a two to three month delay due to the Falcon 1 detailed systems review, but we are still hoping for a flight 1st stage static fire at the end of this year and the maiden flight of Falcon 9 by late 2007."

Here at the National Space Symposium, the agenda is full in detailing civil, commercial, and national security space pursuits and the educational know-how to realize these activities.

Believe it or not, Elliot Pulham concluded, The Space Foundation has already seen a preliminary design from one of their consultants for the first National Space Symposium to be held on Mars. "Now wouldn't that be something?"