The 18th Annual Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference (AMOS), was held on September 19-22 at the Wailea Beach Resort—Marriott. Organized and presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB), this year’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program featured a rich line-up of keynotes, thought-provoking technical sessions, and exciting interactive poster presentations and exhibits.

AMOS Conference

The 18th AMOS Conference featured 26 exhibitors including Po’okela Sponsor, the Boeing Company

Nearly 740 participants — including 100 people from 15 countries besides the U.S.—represented government, industry, and academia, and provided cutting-edge technology, policy challenges and a future roadmap of space.  Presentations on topics in the fields of astrodynamics, telescope optics, adaptive imaging, and orbital debris explored ways to protect the space environment and avoid costly collisions.

“The 2017 AMOS Conference reflected the global significance of tracking space objects and debris to guard commercial and military satellites,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “The program, centering on Space Traffic Management (STM), successfully wove together strands of policy panels and technical presentations, assuring a balance and understanding of the interconnection between the two perspectives.”


Five technical short courses on Space Debris, Satellite Conjunction Assessment, and others, preceded the conference on Tuesday September 19 with morning and afternoon sessions. Course topics discussed how SSA and STM must be a collaborative effort in the space operations environment. Space debris is now a global challenge requiring rapid response in order to avoid collisions.

“There is a key message that I want to stress when facing the steep change in how we are using space as a resource,” said Dr. Tim Flohrer, Space Debris Analyst at the European Space Agency (ESA) in Germany, who taught a short course on the subject. “We are not necessarily lacking more guidelines, but we need means to better adhere to existing guidelines. Several studies have shown that the reliability of post-mission disposal is the key driver for the sustainable use of the environment.”

Flohrer continued, “ESA’s space debris mitigation policy includes prevention of uncontrolled growth of abandoned spacecraft, and prevention of orbital collisions. It is our hope that through new disposal maneuvers we can prevent debris from residing for long times in the protected regions and limit casualty risk to human population due to re-entry of space systems.”

Lauri Newman, NASA Conjunction Assessment Risk Analysis program manager, Goddard Space Center; Matt Hejduk, Astrorum Consulting; and Francois Laporte and Monique Moury from CNES, the French National Center for Space Studies, offered a technical short course on Collision Avoidance Risk Assessment  discussing how conjunction assessment fits the big picture of the STM environment.

“With the space environment rapidly evolving, many companies are proposing mega-constellations and cubesats which are making space accessible to non-traditional space operators,” said Newman. “The concept of STM is coming to the forefront as the need is growing for agency regulatory authority to make the space environment safe for everyone to operate in.”


DAY 1: Evolution of the Commercial SSA Industry

Celebrating the recent 50th anniversary of the United Nations Outer Space Treaty, Doug Loverro, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, U.S. Department of Defense, kicked off the conference by calling for the revival of U. S. leadership in space.

AMOS Conference Space Policy

Doug Loverro, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Space Policy, U.S. Department of Defense, presents Day 1 keynote. 

“Space has a risk of becoming weaponized due to the actions of some stakeholders,” Loverro said. “The international community needs to redouble efforts to pass legally-binding restrictions on the placement of weapons in outer space. The U.S. needs to be clear and lay out the concepts and philosophies that should guide us and the world for the next half century.”

Loverro’s keynote was followed by a STM panel discussion moderated by Dr. Brian Weeden, director of Program Planning at Secure World Foundation. The panel summarized the current debate in the U.S. Government on assigning responsibility for civil SSA and the potential role of commercial satellite operators in establishing norms and standards for working in space.

“More than 60 countries currently operate at least one satellite, and an estimated 16,000 new satellites are planned for launch in the next decade,” said Weeden. “At least 1,500 active satellites orbiting Earth right now provide a wide array of data and services that are critical to human societies. They contribute information that is vital for the environment, education, food production, security, public health, water resource management, human rights, disaster relief and nuclear security. The Global Positioning System (GPS), for example, is estimated to have benefited the U. S. economy by more than $55 billion in 2013 alone.”

At the same time, the field of space is experiencing rapid changes. Growing numbers of governments, companies, and other entities are starting to get involved in space, and some are exploring new types of activities and capabilities that could in the future bring massive new benefits. One of the big unanswered policy questions in SSA is the future relationship between the government and private sector.

“Clearly both will have a role,” said Weeden. “But how to figure out the division of labor and how they can work together is a big question. The elephant in the room for commercial SSA is secrecy. It’s becoming harder and harder for governments to keep their defense activities in space as hidden as they once were. At some point soon, the cost of restricting SSA innovation and data-sharing is going to outweigh the national security benefits.”

The real concern is that if the U. S. Government doesn’t relax their restrictive policies and allow commercial space activities to flourish in the U. S., then technology and innovation will move to foreign countries, as happened in the remote-sensing industry. The increased availability of space technology and capabilities has both advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, it leads to greater innovation, lower costs and greater access to beneficial satellite services for everyone.

“However, the growth and diversification of space activities and the influx of new actors have the potential to exacerbate many of the current challenges to the long-term sustainable use of space,” Weeden explained. “These challenges include on-orbit crowding, radio-frequency interference, the proliferation of space debris and the chances of an incident in space sparking or escalating geopolitical tensions and conflict on Earth.”

Panelist Tom Kubancik, Vice President for Advanced Programs at Applied Defense Solutions, Inc., added, “A cross-industry global initiative is needed, either led by an existing entity or spearheaded by a new collective force. We must establish a systematic approach that works for users, operators, and overseers while keeping the need for order and maintaining the pace of investment and innovation in the space economy. Industry must lead the way with STM and allow the politicians to focus on the extensive regulatory and enforcement functions that will ultimately be required.”

The discussion throughout the conference, also examined potential future scenarios for STM. The deployment of large numbers of active satellites in space is driving the need to protect the space environment.

“Time is critical to figure it out,” said Paul Welsh, Vice President for Business Development at Analytical Graphics, Inc. “Thousands of satellites are being planned for launch into mega-constellations, which will eventually constitute a huge traffic hazard. Governments and commercial satellite operators must work together to define rules to maximize the safety of flight and to protect space systems that are essential for our daily lives.”

Click here to watch a short introductory video clip demonstrating some of the commercial SSA capabilities being developed:

DAY 2: Challenges and Opportunities from Large Commercial Constellations

Keynote speaker Colonel Shinichiro Tsui, councellor in the National Space Policy Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, kicked-off the second day.

“Japan is increasing its participation in the use of outer space for both civil and security applications,” said Tsui. “Due to the rapid advances in technologies, and increased congestion, our dialogue and guidelines are key to the importance of promoting international cooperation.”

AMOS Conference Large Commericial Constellations

The Space Policy Panel Day 2 from left to right: Andrew D’Uva, Providence Access Co.; Diana McKissock, 18th Space Control Squadron; Tim Flohrer, European Space Agency; Cyrus Foster, Planet; Gary Henry, Boeing

Moderated by Andrew D’Uva, Providence Access Company, this panel discussed the commoditization of satellite hardware and increased private sector investment in space, which have led to dramatic growth in the number of commercial satellites planned for launch.

“With the estimated 16,000 satellites planned for launch over the next decade, multiple companies are planning constellations of several hundred to thousands of satellites each,” D’Uva explained. “These new missions mark the beginning of a new era in satellite technologies and the initiative is making it easier than ever for space researchers outside of NASA to get involved in small satellite projects. Our panel of experts discussed the capabilities these new constellations could provide for commercial and national security users and also the steps industry and governments can take to mitigate potential sustainability challenges.”

Panelist Tim Flohrer from ESA said, “As of January 2017, a long history of successful launches has resulted in numerous objects that have been tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network during almost 60 years of operation. As a result, today’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) region contains almost 74% of the on-orbit cataloged population.”

Flohrer’s view is that the reliability of satellite disposal at the end of mission needs to be very high, at least 90% or higher. This is not what we see today with current missions. Although by current guidelines, satellite operators are supposed to remove defunct satellites within 25 years of end of mission, this often does not happen. The causes include satellite system failures, insufficient fuel remaining and many other factors.  “Due to the time it takes for internationally binding rules to be agreed on, a self-commitment of the operators should be discussed,” he said.

DAY 3: International Perspectives on the Future of Space Traffic Management
AMOS Conference Space Traffic Control

Dr. Stuart Eves, lead Mission Concepts engineer for Surrey Satellite Technology Limited in the UK, presents his Day 3 keynote on space traffic control. 

An expert on space security, Day 3 keynote speaker Dr. Stuart Eves, Lead Mission Concepts engineer for Surrey Satellite Technology Limited in the UK, spoke directly about controlling traffic in space.

Eves said, “We need new techniques involving Earth-based lasers, radar and ground-based telescopes, to change orbits to avoid collisions. Additionally, we must have complete international cooperation because tracking space items is more than one country can do.”

Moderated by Victoria Samson from Secure World Foundation, the panel discussed the accelerating growth in commercial and military uses of space, the number of space actors, and innovative uses of space, all of which have sparked the continued discussion on STM.

“However, there is still wide debate over how to define STM, and what the goals of a STM regime should be, let alone what policies, regulations, and mechanisms should be put in place to enable it,” said Samson. “The discussion must continue on multiple potential future scenarios for STM, the implications for commercial, civil, and national security uses of space, and what policy steps can be taken to move towards a pragmatic STM regime.”

Panelist Pawel Chodosiewicz, Lieutenant Colonel and Acting Director of the Defense Projects Department of the Polish Space Agency, said, “Poland’s goal is to find new space technologies which can be developed to share data in order to create and feed a national space catalog.  Poland looks forward to greater international SSA data-sharing and partnership with the United States, NATO partners, and commercial industry. ”

Uwe Wirt, Director of Operations at the German Aerospace Center (DLR)/German SSA Center, agreed, “More effective international cooperation, and improvements in sharing data are norms for strengthening international relationships. In space, we need partnerships with all nations to ensure peaceful and lasting capabilities.”

The AMOS 2017 SSA Policy Forum concluded with the realization that as space becomes an increasingly normalized domain of human activity, like air, land, and maritime domains, a crucial part of the discussion must be the involvement of the military, industry, and international stakeholders helping to establish and enforce future governance principles. Resolving technological problems, regulatory policy, and industry challenges are key to establishing a comprehensive STM system and the frameworks for generating the peaceful use of outer space and its economic growth.


Each day of the conference, the policy discussions were followed by at least six hours of technical presentations on every aspect of SSA. Researchers from universities and government agencies figured most prominently in these sessions, although a number of advanced ideas were also offered to the community by engineers and scientists from companies directly involved in the commercialization of space.

Day 1 featured reports of new work in the areas of orbital debris and astrodynamics. which included recent efforts to survey and model the space debris environment, and advanced techniques to estimate satellite orbital motion.

Day 2 featured extensive discussions of new optical systems and telescope instrumentation, methods for characterizing space objects that are too small or too far away to image in the traditional sense, and the problems of tasking and controlling large networks of sensor systems in order to maintain a complete catalog of space objects.

Technical sessions on Day 3 discussed the important and highly specialized topics of adaptive optics and advanced telescopic imaging systems. The day concluded with a set of presentations on the interdisciplinary aspects of SSA. The full text of all technical papers presented at the conference will be available on the website in coming weeks.


AMOS conference Dr Kavandi

Former Astronaut, Dr. Janet Kavandi, inspires the next generation during the Student Space Exploration Day.

While scientists and engineers discussed how to enable our future in space, and policy experts discussed how to shape that future, the next generation was already being introduced to it. On the last day of the conference, MEDB held its 8th Annual Student Space Exploration Day. One hundred and sixty Maui County students—some of our future engineers, scientists and space leaders—met with former astronaut Dr. Janet Kavandi for a first-hand discussion of living and working in space. Additionally, the students experienced hands-on science and witnessed industry presentations of advanced technology.

“Each year we see students’ creativity blossom as they solve engineering problems in this fast- paced, high-energy atmosphere,” said Mapu Quitazol, MEDB program director. “The event provides our students with the opportunity to learn about space and the different careers and technologies available in the space field. The day consists of hands-on demonstrations provided by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Company, National Space Observatory and the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. The students also visited various company exhibit booths such as Lockheed Martin, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI), and more. This year, we were especially excited to welcome Dr. Kavandi, who provided additional lessons in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.”

Currently, Kavandi is Director of the NASA Glenn Research Center, which leads the nation’s civil space program in space propulsion, power, and communications; leads the nation’s aeronautics program in aircraft propulsion research; and develops cutting-edge research and technology in microgravity sciences and materials for extreme environments. Selected as a NASA astronaut in December 1994, Kavandi is a veteran of three space flights. As mission specialist on STS-91, STS-00, and STS-105, she logged more than 33 days in space, traveling more than 13.1 million miles in 535 Earth orbits.

Recalling her time in space, Kavandi shared a video of her experiences and answered student questions. “Being in space has made me more aware of the impact of humanity on the earth,” she explained. “Because you can see things like pollution and deforestation from space it makes you more responsible and caring about the sustainability of our planet.”

Additionally, Kavandi told the students how being an astronaut was her lifelong dream that came true. “I had wanted to be an astronaut since I was a child,” she said. “Probably about five years old. I could see the stars and space at night and it was always so intriguing. My dad and I would talk about what it was like to be up there, looking back at the planet.”

During her presentation, Kavandi noted the incredible views from space, such as looking down on Africa and seeing a lightning storm travel hundreds of miles across the relatively dark continent. She was also able to confidently answer a question about the possibility of building permanent settlements on the Moon or Mars.

“Technically, we can do it right now,” Kavandi said. “We have the technology. It just depends how many politicians get behind it.”

Diane Campbell, Lahaina Intermediate School earth/space science teacher, said, “AMOS provided a great opportunity for our students to engage with an astronaut, astronomers and other space experts. With today’s technology-driven society, students need to experience the world of STEM. My students are currently studying the solar system and they were so excited to attend this conference.”

Campbell added, “I’m so thankful to MEDB for allowing this chance for my class to connect what they’re learning in the classroom with real-world experiences. Gaining first-hand knowledge about what science applications are needed for the next century will drive students the most.”

Lahaina Intermediate 8th grader Rochelle Joy Simon exclaimed, “Today is a rare experience! I’m so grateful to meet former astronaut Dr. Kavandi and all the industry professionals who made me aware of a whole new world of space exploration that I want to learn about.”

AMOS Conference Exhibit

Students photograph themselves with a thermal infrared camera at the Lockheed Martin booth. 

Simon continued, “My favorite exhibit was the thermal infrared imaging exhibit at Lockheed Martin. We experimented with a camera to learn how heat transfer works. The visual impact was huge and fun. We saw how the change of energy is indicated by an increased temperature.”

Jayson Yap, Lahaina Intermediate 8th grader, agreed, “I loved the whole day! Meeting Dr. Kavandi was so informative about life on the International Space Station. All the exhibits were educational. For example, AGI showed us an animated cartoon version of the complicated math that’s needed to track satellites in orbit. Now I better understand what the importance of doing well in school means for my future.”

Renzo Gaoiran, Maui Waena Intermediate School 8th grader, commented, “Space is full of unlimited adventure, and meeting Dr. Kavandi, the former astronaut, made me see the opportunities there are for careers in space.”

Sixth grader Chloe Virgino, Maui Waena, said, “I never realized how important light was and how flexible it is. During Space Exploration Day, we manipulated the refraction of light and learned how infrared light is used.”

Maui Waena Technology Club Advisor Jennifer Suzuki concluded,” I so appreciate having opportunities like the AMOS Conference so that my students can see how big the universe is, and how their passion can become their career.”

Photo Credit: Jose Morales