Last week was the second UK Space Conference, so along with a couple of colleagues from the Astronautics Research Group, we headed up to steely Glasgow to put up and run the University of Southampton exhibfaition stand at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC) for the 16th-17th of July. All things considered, everything went pretty well and we put on a good show; nonetheless, here’s a few of my thoughts about the experience and what happened at #UKSC2013.
Having sorted out shipping all of our exhibition materials up to Glasgow via DHL the preceding Friday, Ben, Rhys and I hopped onto a plane from Southampton Airport at Monday lunchtime to arrive in Glasgow in the afternoon. Grateful that our exhibition kit had all arrived at the on time (and in one piece), we set to work on fitting it all into our 2 m x 3 m display area. We set up the big stand, a couple of pull-up banners, the display counter and a table-top touchscreen PC, and hung the neon-coloured Southampton High Altitude Re-Usable Platform (SHARP) cubesat from the roof of our display (and its parachute) to attract the eye of potential visitors. With almost ruthless efficiency we erected everything in (unofficial) record time, ensuring that everything that could be duct-taped down was duct-taped down – either for the safety of passing hobbits/children who are in constant danger of the main stand collapsing and falling on them, or to avoid expensive pieces of equipment going AWOL during a busy conference. At this stage, I’m fairly sure that stock prices of duct-tape go through the roof every time we organise an outreach event, so we should probably look into some sort of sponsorship deal.
The conference began in earnest at 0900 on Tuesday, where I was immediately required to abandon the stand in order to deliver a talk in the opening session the conference, which was the ‘Have Your Say’ Soapbox session: a couple of months back, delegates were invited to submit a 140-character abstract for a 5-minute presentation slot, with those selected to give the presentation then required to finalise a 140-word summary and a set of 5 presentation slides that did not exceed 5 minutes but which fit into the main topics of the session covering “current industry and academic projects, new results, proposals for new work and availability of support and funding.” Taking my recent work on the ACCORD project, I submitted (with the help of Ben) an abstract entitled ‘A Web Tool for Spacecraft Manufacturers & Operators to Promote Sustainable Space Operations’, with the aim of introducing our new ACCORD environmental impact rating for spacecraft which measures future, prospective spacecraft designs for their potential impact(s) on the space debris environment in Earth orbit.
The talk went fairly well, though I can categorically say that the strict five-minute slot was indeed very restrictive (but in a good way), and that the sight of your presentation slides slowly filling up with a red border as you approached the five-minute limit (and the threat of the microphone being cut off) was certainly an effective way to get speakers to conform to the time restrictions. Sadly, I didn’t win the prize of an iPad that was being toted for the ‘best presentation’ of the session, but I think I pulled things off fairly well – it was certainly the only space debris-related talk across the whole conference and, looking past the blinding stage lights, I could see a few members of the audience photographing my slides for future reference, so hopefully I raised some very valid awareness about our work on ACCORD. I definitely stressed out far more about the talk than I honestly needed to, but I always tend to get butterflies at these sorts of things.
[if you would like to download, or view, my presentation slides from the Soapbox session, you can find them by clicking here]
Returning from the stand after my talk, it was immediately obvious that we’d made the right choice to exhibit at the conference: despite the expense, hassle and energy required to purchase a slot and fill it with attractive marketing gear (and three post-grads), we were the only major UK ‘space’ university (aside from the Open University) to properly exhibit at the conference, and I think that this was good certainly from the point of view of ‘reaching out’ to industry and also trying to talk to students prospectively looking at careers in the space industry. It also helps that the space industry is scattered with graduates from the University; in particular, the current Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, Dr. David Parker, and the Chief Engineer, Dr. Richard Crowther – it was certainly nice to hear so many ex-students talking about their time here with some fondness. That being said, following a thorough survey of all the free pens we could steal from other stands, the generic University of Southampton pens we borrowed from the Faculty were by far the cheapest-looking ones at the conference and to blame, in no small part, for how few got picked up by visitors and how many we had to bring back to Southampton. For next time, I’d definitely be interested in getting some proper (and classy-looking) Astronautics Research Group ones, or at least Aero/Astro department ones.
Our stand was positioned fairly well (an end slot near an aisle, and visible all the way down the main aisle) and nestled between the stands for the National Physical Laboratory and Thales Alenia Space, so we ended up getting some pretty good footfall from people either walking through or passing by, and certainly plenty of questions. In retrospect, it would have been really handy to have one of the actual academics there (and not just three post-grads), but I think we fielded most of the queries pretty well in the most part. In our shipment, we’d send up a heckload of University prospectuses, leaflets and flyers (on everything from the whole Uni down to Faculty information) and a lot of this stuff came back – I guess we just overestimated the demand for paper materials, but it was better to have plenty left over than risk running out of publicity material. The same happened with ACCORD flyers, as we kind of over-estimated how many people would test/check out the new spacecraft rating system (head over here if you’d like to find out more), so we have plenty of ACCORD flyers to take to other events, or distribute by hand to spacecraft designers & manufacturers. In retrospect, it might have been worth going round some of the other stands when the exhibition hall was quiet and asking if they’d like to take a few minutes to test the rating system, but alas, we didn’t. Oh well.
And on that bombshell I shall end this post, but before I do, here are a few more of my photos from the conference. Enjoy: