5 must-see pieces of technology at Space Symposium 2023 in Colorado Springs

Apr. 20—Inside the exhibit halls of the Space Symposium, a six-day space-centric conference at The Broadmoor hotel where commercial, military and governmental partners flock, attendees can peruse some of the cutting-edge innovators and technology in the space industry.

Here are five eye-catching, interactive pieces of technology at the symposium that help further the exploration, defense, commerce and education of space.

1. Spot

Spot, a four-legged Boston Dynamics robot available for commercial purchase, was prancing around an exhibit hall booth.

Booz Allen Hamilton computer engineers built a system into the robot that teaches it to recognize specific objects, find them and send the location of the object to the robot operator, using cameras, sensors and computing logic.

The robot can operate autonomously or be operated using a Wi-Fi remote control tablet.

"So if you have a launch platform and you're concerned about something like a liquid oxygen leak, or a fuel leak, or people being in unauthorized areas, or a broken pipe, you could have one or more systems like this searching constantly looking for problems," said Lenbert Shropshire, a lead technologist for Booz Allen Hamilton. " (And) a robot can go into places where people can't safely travel."

2. Hawk

Laser communication company Mynaric showcased how lasers can be used to send information instead of radio frequency.

Propped on a display table, a digital camera capturing live video was connected to an air terminal called Hawk (which appeared to be a white box with a glass bulb on top and hardware inside) and sent the data of the video stream to a second terminal via laser that then projected the video on a TV screen.

"You can interrupt when needed," said Dries Agten, a solutions sales engineer for Mynaric, raising his hand between the two air terminals, cutting off the laser's pathway.

"And then you'll see it comes back," he said, dropping his hand.

Lasers have the benefit of being faster, more secure and unregulated, Agten said.

3. Vast

Lockheed Martin, an aerospace and defense company, demonstrated the use of Vast, a system that visualizes big data.

In the showcase, a screen operated by a wireless VIVE controller depicted every object in the solar system that is six miles or larger as a dot of light.The screen shows the increase of objects in the solar system and around the Earth, such as asteroids and satellites, from 22,000 objects in 2013 to 46,000 in 2021.

"You hear those numbers and you're like, 'Yeah, that's a big number,'" said Sheena Beck, an analyst for the company. "But then you get to the end and you're like, 'Wow ...,' and you just see it all and you just feel it."

Vast is meant to be a learning tool for people to understand the solar system, Beck said.

4. SpeedMixer

Expanding the horizons to space isn't just about high-tech developments. Sometimes it requires precision tools like FlackTek's SpeedMixer, a centrifugal mixer that spins liquids and powders at a high speed to blend them.

Inside a small microwave-sized machine, James Earle, engineering manager for FlackTek, put liquid silicon, blue dye and a rust-colored chalk powder inside a cup in the machine. He hit start and the machine spun the cup at 3,000 rpm for several seconds. When he removed the cup, all three materials were mixed into one inseparable material.

"For any company here ... whatever they're making, we can do really repeatedly and effectively in this machine a lot better than anything ... you could mix something right now," Earle said. "So a lot of things we're replacing is literally somebody sitting there with a Dixie cup and a popsicle stick mixing materials together."

For companies sending rockets, satellites and other machines in space, a tool such as this is key for making adhesives, epoxies or other mixtures because it blends particles of the materials evenly and removes any air bubbles encapsulated in the material that could expand if sent to space

5. Resiliency

At LinQuest, a national security space company in IT management, scientists are using augmented reality as a training tool to solve complex problems.

LinQuest developed a resiliency video game that requires users to wear an augmented reality headset to help them understand the challenges of maintaining a network, such as cybersecurity of a network of laptops and phones, manually.In the game, users are given nodes and links, or spheres connected by lines, that create a web and the user must try to maintain the web as problems arise.

"Users are virtually interacting with a network of nodes and links (and) trying to keep it up for as long as possible," said Kyle Spittle, an industrial designer and research engineer for LinQuest. "They're receiving random attacks to the network. ... They're spinning around, turning around, freaking out — the whole point is trying to understand this is really complicated."