“Embracing the idea of space for all”

Student dispatch from the International Astronautical Congress
Sophia Warner poses on the exhibition floor at the International Astronautical Congress.

This September, Sophia Warner (MALD 23) attended the International Astronautical Congress in Paris. Here, she shares her reflections on the conference, emerging space technologies, and space policy.

Attending the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, France was an instrumental and inspirational part of my academic enrichment at The Fletcher School. The IAC is where all the world’s space actors convene for a week of deliberation and debate. This year, the theme of the Congress was “Space for All,” giving voice to actors in the space community that are often ignored and highlighting various emerging civil space programs.

The main exhibition hall featured commercial and civil space programs from around the world. I reconnected with Lockheed Martin, Blue Origin, and RedWire Space—all companies that I worked with through my summer government affairs internship with Velos in Washington, DC. It was fascinating to see the connections that these companies have to other international space programs; RedWire works closely with the Luxembourg government on developing their space capabilities. Civil space agencies, like NASA and the European Space Agency, had very intricate booths that highlighted the success of the Artemis Accords, photos taken by the James Webb Telescope, and emerging satellite technologies. I even connected with a variety of engineers who explained to me how satellite and rocket technologies work. Their knowledge is vital to the success of the space policy field.

In small group sessions, experts convened to discuss the future of space policy. My favorite session was on national security and space, a conversation between members from the Space Policy Institute, The Secure World Foundation, and government officials from the UK, France, and Germany. An ambassador from Latin America Zoomed in and spoke about the role of UNOOSA and COSPAR in the UN. This was a fascinating discussion, and it was great to see collaboration from international partners on the importance of making sure that space resources are protected for national security purposes.

I was also able to attend a panel on the future of China’s space program. While some people note that the US and China will be competing in space, it was interesting to hear the Chinese perspective and to learn more about their future moon missions. From their presentation, it seems like cooperation is on the table—no one spoke about the future militarization of the moon or a war in space—which is often highlighted by the media.

I was impressed by the inclusionary nature of the event. There were panels highlighting work from researchers in the global south and Africa. Many of these countries are using satellites for earth observation purposes, which allows them to track global issues like famine, climate change, and digital connectivity.

The IAC was a great networking opportunity. I was able to speak about my interests with a variety of companies that I follow on LinkedIn but have never engaged with in person. Meeting engineers and lawyers from Bulgaria—where my family is from—who are trying to implement satellite technology in the country made me happy and proud to see that Bulgaria is also embracing the idea of space for all!

Read more about Fletcher's MALD degree program.