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  • The main stage at IAC 2021
  • Members of the Conex team around an IAC sign at the Gala Dinner
  • Greyscale photo of the Conex team with an award certificate

20 Mar 2022 // James McKevitt

Conex's visit to the IAC 2021

Presenting the Arcanum mission to members of the industry


As an international and virtual-working research group, Conex will always take advantage of any opportunity to meet in person. The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai presented just such an opportunity, and a perfect chance to show the latest progress the team has made on the Arcanum mission to the space community. The IAC is the largest space event in the calendar, bringing together engineers, scientists, policymakers, industry partners and other stakeholders around a nucleus of discussion about current and future developments in the space sector. Dubai provided a perfect venue for the conference this year, with the UAE currently taking successful and concrete steps on an ambitious roadmap of space exploration. A tour of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre taken by Conex showed their commitment to this programme of discovery, and it is clear that the country has long-term aspirations as a world leader in technology in general, as seen at the impressive Expo 2020.

Our experience at IAC

IAC is always a large bustling group of space professionals and enthusiasts, and 2021 was no different! With lots of different parallel activities, the Dubai World Trade Centre was a hive of activity all week: catch-ups, meetings, trade show stands, technical presentations and interactive poster sessions meant an action-packed day for all participants. The trade show provided a great opportunity to speak to high-level players in the industry. We enjoyed a thorough discussion with Dr Janet Kavandi about the just-announced Orbital Reef Station and the technical and geopolitical challenges of the endeavour, and a memorable interaction with Lockheed Martin representatives about our own project! The stands of such companies also offered countless promotional giveaways, all of which made it into at least one of our suitcases…

A full-scale model lander on displayConex members gathered in a conference roomOverhead photo of members working on various papers

After this, discussions about innumerable space topics began! Of increasing concern to all of us is the rise in space debris and the lack of mitigating technologies or initiatives. The Arcanum mission showcases how next-generation launch vehicles can be used to deliver large scientific payloads deep into the Solar System, but such rockets also harbour the potential to place large numbers of much smaller objects into orbit; something which is of concern to all stakeholders in space if more stringent regulation is not introduced. It was encouraging, therefore, that a number of parallel sessions were held with high-ranking industry players to discuss such issues. We can all hope that concrete steps will be taken in the near future.

Interactive Presentation

Obviously the main reason for our group’s attendance was to share the Arcanum mission with the space community, and this year we thought we would try an interactive presentation. This involved talking next to the trade show floor in front of a touchscreen presentation showing some graphic representations of the Arcanum spacecraft, the science goals of the mission, some details on Conex Research, and the Arcanum mission video. This presentation format gave us fantastic opportunities to interact with a large number of conference attendees and answer many more questions than usual. The presentation also received an award from the IAF and Northrop Grumman, a topic for another post.

James McKevitt being interviewed on cameraThe Burj Khalifa at nighttimeConex members gathered at the IAC 2022 Gala Dinner

Gala Dinner

A busy week gave us the opportunity to catch up with old friends from previous IAF conferences and answer more technical questions from interested individuals about our mission and analysis, but all good things must come to an end. A unique and memorable experience for all attending perfectly finished what had been a fantastic week; the Gala Dinner, this year taking place at the foot of the Burj Khalifa! Some of our team had taken the opportunity to travel to the top floor earlier in the day, and witness preparations for the evening, something that certainly didn’t disappoint. Alongside fantastic food and musical entertainment, it provided one last chance to congratulate friends, old and new, for a successful week, and to enjoy our last moments in the spectacular city that is Dubai.