The president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the Austrian Pascale Ehrenfreund, has just confirmed that the 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2021) will be held as planned from 25 to 29 October in Dubai, Union of Arab Emirates.
Considered the largest and most important space event on a global scale, the Congress has chosen the theme "Inspire, Innovate and Discover for the Benefit of Humanity" to highlight the importance of space cooperation between countries to contribute to the strengthening and improvement of societies.
At a recent meeting to review the status of the event's organisation and, if necessary, confirm or modify the dates of the event, the IAF's top management and the senior Emirati officials in charge of getting the facilities in Dubai ready have decided to confirm their plans for the Congress to open its doors in just over five months' time.
And in light of the trend of declining infection rates in many countries around the world thanks to vaccinations, they have also decided to keep the Congress in person. Yusuf Hamad al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) is confident that the Dubai Congress will provide a "futuristic" vision for the sector in the UAE and globally, while acting as a "catalyst" for other nations in the region to "engage with international partners and create a new generation of space technicians".
Salem al-Marri, deputy director general of the MBRSC and chairman of the local IAC 2021 organisation, told IAF officials that he and the UAE government are committed to ensuring that the Congress runs "smoothly and, most importantly, safely". In Dubai, "all the necessary protocols" will be applied, with the advantage that "70% of the inhabitants of the host country have already been vaccinated against COVID-19".
However, despite the strict health precautions that are scheduled to be put in place, the limitations on movement that persist in many countries and the fear of contagion mean that the IAF has estimated that the attendance of space professionals will be smaller than in previous editions.
According to Pascale Ehrenfreund, Dubai is expected to attract between 3,000 and 4,000 participants from around 70 countries, a much smaller number than the 2019 event in Washington - the last one to be held in person - which was attended by more than 6,300 people.
In order to mitigate as far as possible the anticipated drop in the number of participants, the IAF's executive director, Christian Feichtinger, has announced that the structure of the event will be modified and new incentives and initiatives will be sought to try to attract as many interested parties as possible.
For example, the possible presence of celebrities is being studied, including entrepreneurs and billionaires such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, the former the CEO of the space transport company SpaceX, the latter the founder of the Virgin empire and the latter the founder of the giant Amazon. Even famous actors and actresses with space-related films to their credit, such as George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, who starred in 'Gravity' at the beginning of the decade, or Bruce Willis, lead actor in 'Argameddon', but only if their film commitments allow them to do so.
The Dubai International Astronautical Congress is intended to be the starting signal for a trend that seeks to revive face-to-face meetings in the space ecosystem. Like many other sectors, the global space industry as a whole was hit by COVID-19, which led to a total shutdown of trade shows as of March 2020. But the end of the tunnel is in sight, at least in some countries in terms of trade fairs and symposia.
Encouraged by the evolution of the vaccination process in the United States, forums such as the 36th Space Symposium, scheduled to take place in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 23-26 August, are aiming to be held in hybrid mode, both in person and online. Under both options, the important Satellite 2021 show will be held in Maryland from 7 to 10 September, bringing together commercial communications operators and related companies from around the world.
As for the Dubai Congress, the programme, which will take place over five intense days at the end of October, will include the usual round table bringing together the heads of the world's leading space agencies. This is a unique opportunity to hear from the protagonists themselves how they describe the major projects they have underway. Another major forum will bring together the space policy-makers of space-faring nations.
A unique opportunity to meet the engineers piloting solar system exploration projects, discuss the role of emerging space agencies, the unprecedented growth of nano and micro satellites, future Mars soil sample return missions, next-generation launchers and new technological developments. These will be joined by a large number of presentations selected by the International Programme Committee of the Congress.
The 72nd IAC was to be held in Dubai in October 2020. But the coronavirus pandemic forced a change of plans and in the end a much smaller, virtual event was held. The chosen alternative was implemented to avoid cancellation, as was the case with many similar events around the world.
The 2022 edition of the Congress will be hosted by Paris, the 2023 edition will be in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, while the 2024 edition is still in dispute between the five candidate cities that have applied, one of which is Seville, whose sponsor is the National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA).