I went to the exhibition area where all major international space companies and agencies have large displays and representatives. SpaceX has the most impressive one in my view - they truly are unique among space engineering companies. Over the past few years, they have been quietly preparing a multi-billion dollar space vehicle that will shuttle seven astronauts to and from the ISS. At present, the Russian Soyuz is the only spacecraft that can accomplish this task. I had the opportunity to sit in a prototype of the seat of the SpaceX spacecraft that a future space commander will sit in - pretty cool stuff. A note to aspiring engineers: the average age of SpaceX engineers is just 28.
I moved around during the technical sessions. First, I attended a symposium on "Gravity and Fundamental Physics". The talks there were by and large about missions that aim to challenge the theory of general relativity. Very fine instrumentation, which can detect accelerations on the order of pm/s/s, is mounted aboard a satellite, and then, based on position, any slight deviations from theory can be deduced. A lot of talk about tolerances; not exactly my cup of tea, nor is it my area of expertise. That's the thing with technical talks - you almost need to be an expert in the field in order to follow along.
I switched to the symposium about Rocket Propulsion. One talk was about a new liquid propulsion system in development. The speaker said little about how the liquid combustion or turbo-pumps worked, but showed a number of nice pictures of in-test thrusters. I had never seen a test station for a thruster before. Spewing fuel every which way while a rocket is in flight is one thing, but is not desirable in your typical lab. A compressive force gauge senses how hard the thruster pushes, while the propellant is collected on the other end. One can imagine the precautions associated with collecting high temperature fuel being exhausted at extremely high speed (it would suck to melt the lab every time you want to test a propulsion device). The speaker said that his company's new liquid propulsion system will be ready by 2018.
The next speaker was from Russia, and was presenting some work that was done by a colleague who had a last-minute problem with her Visa, and could not attend the conference. This is not an isolated case at the conference. In fact, the heads of both the Chinese and Russian space agencies, who were slated to attend the conference, could not, due to Visa issues. It appears that this was actually a deliberate slight by the Canadian government.
See you on Day 2.