There will be no Space Symposium this year. Originally planned to open March 30 and postponed until Oct. 31, the Space Symposium has now been rescheduled a second time and set for August 2021, with organizers saying the COVID-19 pandemic has made staging the largest convention in Colorado Springs "not possible."
"Following our postponement of this year’s Symposium in the spring, we worked with our partners, corporate members, and many others in hopes of bringing the space community together this coming fall, Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor said in a news release released Wednesday. "Despite all of those efforts, it is clear to everyone that an in-person gathering will not be possible in 2020.”
The Colorado Springs-based Space Foundation said on its website that it postponed the symposium as a result of "the unprecedented conditions that have been part of the Coronavirus pandemic, including the recent resurgence of the virus; ongoing travel and meeting size restrictions; and public health concerns for the fall." Those registered can use their registration for the August 2021 symposium, donate the cost to the foundation or get a refund minus a $150 processing fee, according to the website.
“Colorado Springs is proud to have been the home of the Space Symposium for 35 years and while we are disappointed that the global impacts of COVID-19 have forced its cancellation this year, we look forward to a successful event in 2021,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said in an email statement. “The Space Symposium and The Broadmoor hotel alike bring significant tourism dollars to our economy and losing a major event like this will have an impact on our revenues."
The event, which typically draws 14,000 participants from the military, civilian space agencies, contractors and academics worldwide annually to Colorado Springs, is now scheduled for Aug. 22–26, 2021, at The Broadmoor. Rich Cooper, a foundation spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the nonprofit selected the August dates based on The Broadmoor's availability, the potential availability of a coronavirus vaccine, availability of more information next summer about the pandemic and "the logistical challenges of assembling several thousand people," including speakers and attendees.
Doug Price, CEO of Visit Colorado Springs, said the symposium is "a major event that supports both the global space economy and benefits our local economy. Given the state of the pandemic across the globe, it’s understandable that an event of this magnitude is being rescheduled to the summer of 2021. While it is disappointing to reschedule or cancel numerous events this year, we remain hopeful that Space Symposium in 2021 will bring economic vitality back to the region."
In place of this year's symposium, the Space Foundation plans to offer "Space Symposium 365," a year-round online series of events starting in the fall that will offer "presentations by top global leaders, executive panels, world-class awards, activities for young space leaders and other multimedia components," the nonprofit said in the news release. Those programs are scheduled to begin in October, though the frequency of events hasn't been determined and will depend on developments such as space launches and major business deals, Cooper said.
"While COVID has interrupted a lot of things, the space economy has continued to grow, expand and be very active. There are more than 80 countries and hundreds, if not thousands, of companies operating in space," Cooper said. "Not everyone can come to the symposium, so we want to be able to share symposium programming and share what is happening in the space universe with companies, the government, investors, educators and the public."
The symposium, which generates $200 million a year in economic impact, typically features dozens of speeches, panel discussions, luncheons and banquets, hundreds of exhibits and many parties and networking gatherings that produce deals between space businesses and government agencies.
Kevin O'Neil, president of Colorado Springs-based aerospace company Braxton Technologies, which hosts a 700-person reception during the symposium, said the postponement is "sad for small businesses. This is the one time we get to see the customer, both current and potential, where we can actively discuss our current products, services and value proposition. You can have virtual meetings with customers, but you lose the personal touch and that hurts us because space is still a trust-based business, and without an in-person meeting that is difficult to build."
O'Neil hopes his Catalyst Campus development just east of downtown Colorado Springs can offer small businesses an alternative way to meet and get to know government officials who are potential customers. The complex includes more than 170,000 square feet of labs used by small businesses and government agencies and hosts small events where they can establish a more personal connection.
The symposium has grown so much in recent years that The Broadmoor constructed a new exhibit hall to hold it. The nearly 170,000-square-foot addition is next to Broadmoor Hall along Lake Circle on Colorado Springs’ southwest side. The new venue opened in March and provides about 93,500 square feet of exhibition space.
“We look forward to welcoming back the Space Foundation and again hosting the annual Space Symposium as we have done for the past 35 years," said Broadmoor President and CEO Jack Damioli. "Next year’s event will be the first time this group utilizes our new Exhibit Hall allowing for additional room and experiences for 2021."
The symposium is the foundation’s most important source of revenue. In 2018 tax filings, the most recent year available, the event generated nearly 60% of the foundation’s more than $11 million in revenue. Postponement of the event will hurt the foundation, but the 70-employee nonprofit has other sources of revenue, including a Payroll Protection Program loan, and is "adapting and pivoting in this challenging environment," Cooper said.