NASA satellites, research posters and student space technology were showcased in what was "a record year" for attendance at Utah State University's 37th annual Small Satellite Conference in Logan, according to Marianne Sidwell, the conference's administrative director.

The conference began on Saturday, Aug. 5, and continues until Thursday. Each year, business professionals, military figures, government agencies and academics gather together to present new innovations to aerospace technology and network for future jobs, Sidwell said.

From its humble beginnings of hosting about 50 professors and students in 1987, USU now hosts close to 4,000 attendees from 40 different countries and 26 universities, Sidwell said.

Max Thibault, a student at the U.S. Naval Academy, noted that, compared to other satellite events he'd attended, USU's conference was "orders of magnitude bigger."

"It's good for Utah State University. It's good for Space Dynamics Lab, and it brings a lot of attention to our area," Sidwell said.

The Space Dynamics Lab is a nonprofit organization owned by USU that has existed for more than 60 years. It assists the military and scientific community by providing expertise in mission training and satellite technology, according to Emily Batig, the lab's senior communications manager.

“It’s a great show for us in that we can showcase everything we're doing in space — so civil space missions, and then also missions that are of national importance in terms of protection and defense,” Batig said.

As a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy, Thibault also noted how learning about satellites and other aerospace technology benefits the nation.

“It’s safe to say that space is a really, really important asset to our country. I mean, GPS alone provides navigation for not just the military, but everyone,” Thibault said. “Space is a really important area to work in, and I'm really excited to get to study it and learn more about it.”

Students like Thibault, many from universities across the world, don't just get to showcase their institution’s aerospace research, but many will have the chance to connect with businesses, other universities and even national agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA.

Attendees of the Small Satellite Conference walk around visiting the many booths set up at Utah State University in Logan on Monday.
Attendees of the Small Satellite Conference walk around visiting the many booths set up at Utah State University in Logan on Monday. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“It’s amazing how many companies are actually here. I really enjoy being able to present on our projects and how people from the industry look at it and ask us questions,” said Samatha Zerbel, a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder. “I also really enjoy that because there’s so many companies here, we can really get our names out there and potentially get a job later on.”

The conference caters to a specific niche in the satellite industry — which is all the more beneficial for students to find jobs, according to Paige McCullough, a director of business development at SpaceNews.

“The networking (at the conference) is excellent, so you get like-minded people, as well as companies that you've never heard of, and learn what they're doing,” McCullough said. “All of the events that surround the conference, as well as the technical sessions — it's a really great opportunity for sort of everyone to come together and have the opportunity to meet each other.”

Showcasing small satellites is especially beneficial for aerospace businesses, according to Abigail Eberts, an applications engineer with Renesas Electronics America, a company that provides technologies necessary for spacecraft and satellites.

“This conference has been an opportunity for us to interface with customers and kind of the industry, looking more towards lower costs, shorter missions,” Eberts said.

In recent years, Eberts added, the small satellite and aerospace industry "has just exploded."

“We went from having a couple of rocket launches a year to now one a week, so it's pretty crazy that rocket launchers have become common,” Eberts said. “It’s been really cool to see how much the industry has expanded and how much interest there is.”

Gerard Peltzer, left, with NOAH, and Sig Lokensgard, with the NASA Ames Research Center, talk while attending the Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University in Logan on Monday.
Gerard Peltzer, left, with NOAH, and Sig Lokensgard, with the NASA Ames Research Center, talk while attending the Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University in Logan on Monday. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

And for Canena Funes, an administrative specialist at NASA Ames Research Center, the conference has provided several opportunities to pique the public's interest in NASA missions.

“For NASA in general, it is nice to have all the centers in one area — that way, we can collaborate with what we've done project-wise,” said Funes. “What benefits NASA Ames is to showcase what we are currently doing or what projects we have coming up for folks to be aware of, just to spread that awareness and to be interested in what's out to be expected right now.”

However, one of the most important parts of the event is the fact that it is “an international conference” and is “very inclusive,” Sidwell stated.

For Kuan “Jess” Po, a student at Taiwan’s National Central University, it was the first time he had attended the conference and the first time he's been to the U.S. — noting that it was something he had always dreamed about. Now, he said that one of the best parts of working in the space engineering industry was meeting so many different types of people.

“It’s really important to our organizing committee that the conference is very inclusive, that the whole small satellite community is invited and able to participate,” Sidwell said. “I think they take very special care to do that, and I think they were very successful this year.”

Stefanie Tompkins, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, delivers the keynote address at the Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University in Loganon Monday, Aug. 7, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News