Space Summit DC’s

By: Ronit Kapur

“And… lift-off! After gathering 90+ registrants, 6 guest speakers, and 4 student projects, Space Summit DC’s inaugural event occurred on September 23rd, 2023 at UMD College Park. On an especially stormy Saturday, it was a place of refuge for all of the attendees, who had a wonderful time learning about space with each other.

The event kicked off with an introduction and icebreaker with Ronit Kapur, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and the Founder of Space Summit DC. Attendees answered polling questions ranging from what their high schools are to how optimistic they are about space exploration.

The first talk was a Keynote by Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi (Dr. O) from George Mason University. Dr. O recounted his inspiring story detailing his journey to where he is today, starting from humble beginnings in rural Mississippi. With several stories from his childhood and career, Dr. O inspired high schoolers with an interest in space and astrophysics. “My advice to you is to stay on your path, they’ll make it tough, don’t let that dissuade you, build your grit and resilience, that’s what matters, follow your dreams, come into this world and it’s going to be a much more amazing ride than you can imagine”, he said in closing his inspiring keynote speech.

The Cutting-Edge of Astrophysics

Dr. Rachel Osten from the Space Telescope Science Institute’s, was an excellent primer on the latest advances in astrophysics brought by cutting-edge space telescopes, including the recently-launched James Webb Space Telescope and the upcoming Roman Space Telescope. “You can definitely expect there will be a robust Astrophysics field in the next 10-20 years,” she quoted as one of the key takeaways. She also inspired students to be creative and suggested: “astrophysics is driven by imagination as much as it is by the laws of nature.”

Electronically-Assisted Astronomy

 Love stargazing? Paul Derby of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club took to the stage at Space Summit DC to discuss how to beat the light pollution here in the DC area with electronically-assisted astronomy. He was able to set up a Unistellar eVScope in front of the audience in a mere 4 minutes and 36 seconds, taking it out from a backpack and setting it up using a phone app without any complicated wires. It was magical to see how electronic techniques filter out light pollution to give rise to amazing raw astronomical images.

What Does the Future Hold for Space?

The event concluded with a captivating panel on what the future holds for space — especially in the domains of national security, space policy, and astrophysics. Space Summit DC’s respective panelists in those domains were the U.S. Space Force’s Lt. Col. Erin G. Salinas, George Washington University’s Dr. Scott Pace, and UMD’s Dr. Tad Komacek. Moderated by Ronit Kapur, the panel discussed — among other topics — the importance of national leadership in space, ways to harbor diversity in space activities, and crucial advice for young people as they consider possible careers in space.

Lt. Col. Salinas’s hope for space “is that it’s peaceful, and that it’s available for the people of our nation and our allies to use, and that we can create a productive environment. There is so much in space which is beneficial to everyone and that’s what I hope is the focus of the future.”

Speaking on the future of space, Dr. Scott Pace stated that “it’s not just machines and astronauts that we will be sending to space, it’s also our cultural and national values that will guide what the future of space holds.” He further encouraged students to “push as hard as you can in the areas of math and science. Get as much technical knowledge as you can early in your career.”

In addition to the talks by local experts across all aspects of space, Space Summit DC featured projects by some of the DC Metro area’s young scientists and engineers. We got to learn of an improved way to characterize exoplanet atmospheres, a CubeSat project applying small satellites to large-scale NASA missions, a high school team taking a liquid-fuel rocket to space, and the engineering design of space debris-cleaning technology!

Ronit Kapur

“Gravity-Darkened Atmospheric Models of Exoplanets: Insights from KELT-9b”

Akesh Mallia

“SPEIDSat: Applying CubeSats to Larger NASA Missions”

Caelus Rocketry

“Designing, building, testing, and launching the first high schooler-built bipropellant liquid-fueled rocket to the Kármán Line”

Keira Overmann & Isaiah Green

“The Innovation and Animation of Orbital Debris Clearing Technology”

Overall, the event proved to be a success, with experts across all domains of space taking their time to speak at the event and inspire the next generation. Space Summit DC is looking to continue by becoming an annual event, and hopefully, as space exploration continues to grow in our cultural zeitgeist, this will create a consistent event for high schoolers to come together and learn as well as discuss their passion for all things space.

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