With registration for this year’s Small Satellite Conference starting next week, the chief organizer promises the event that typically brings thousands of people from all over the world to Utah State University will be “virtually amazing.”
The keyword is “virtually,” because the conference will not take place on campus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, content for industry officials will be uploaded online from Aug. 1-6, wrote Pat Patterson, the event’s chairman, in a message on the SmallSat website. Participants can register for access beginning June 1 and may do so right through the conference itself. Access and content will be free of charge.
Asked in an interview on Friday why SmallSat was not outright canceled like so many other events throughout the country, Patterson said the organizing committee thought of the people who have repeatedly attended the conference, which was founded in the mid-1980s.
“Everybody on the committee knew that we really had to do this for the community,” Patterson said. “The Small Satellite Conference has grown up right along with the entire small satellite community. They have supported this conference for 34 years.”
Patterson said the primary reason people from more than 40 countries have come to the conference is to network.
“Not having it in person … we wanted to come up with some sort of a way to continue to network,” Patterson said, “because there’s a total momentum right now across the entire small satellite industry and we wanted to do everything we could to make sure that we continue to help with that momentum.”
According to Patterson, conference attendees will create credentials to access the content that will be posted on the SmallSat website, smallsat.org.
Speakers’ talks will be prerecorded, while webinars will be live.
“You can pick and choose … just like you do when you go to a normal conference,” Patterson said.
The approach will make it less likely for technical glitches to occur during the conference, balancing that with the need for attendees to follow up and make comments or ask questions, Patterson said.
In addition, conference vendors will be able to upload information about themselves to substitute for the booths and displays that typically fill the Taggart Student Center and Fieldhouse during the conference, he said.
Patterson has no estimate as to how many people will register for a virtual Small Satellite Conference. However, he has received “dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls” from potential attendees expressing an interest to participate.
James Powell, co-founder of Dawn Aerospace, a Netherlands-based company, responded to an email that although SmallSat has “historically been a great event,” he understands the measures organizers are taking in light of the pandemic.
Asked if Powell thought a virtual conference could be just as beneficial as an on-site one, he responded, “How well it turns out will depend on the capability of the online infrastructure used.”
“My expectation is that it will not be as useful as in person meeting,” Powell added, “however, it is beneficial that more of our team can easily attend.”
Moataz AbdelAzim, an account executive with Maryland-based A.I. Solutions, said that conferences have “traditionally been about the in-person interactions.”
“That’s something that can’t be replaced and I look forward to safely being able to walk the exhibit floor once things are back to normal,” AbdelAzim wrote. “On the upside though, having a virtual segment to the conference might help attract an even larger audience, both domestically and abroad.”
Julie Hollist Terrill, director of the Cache Valley Visitors Bureau, said SmallSat going virtual this year is “just another blow to tourism in Cache Valley,” estimating that the impact will mean hundreds of thousands of dollars lost.
“The Small Satellite Conference fills every hotel room in Cache Valley, in Brigham City, in North Ogden for an entire week — that is, in itself, an enormous amount of money,” she said, adding that attendees also utilize caterers, event planners, florists and other businesses.
“It’s very discouraging, but we’re looking forward to having them back next year,” Hollist Terrill said.
Molly Maughan, front desk manager of the Baugh Motel on Logan’s Main Street, is aware that SmallSat has moved to all-virtual this year and said it will have a “very big impact” on her hotel and others.
“All I can say about the SmallSat is I hope they bring it back next year and everything’s good, because it’s … a really big thing for our economy,” she said.
Summer events like SmallSat and the theater season help the Baugh Motel sustain itself during the winter months, she added.
“I really don’t know what will happen,” Maughan said. “Hopefully, they will come up with some different events in the winter that will attract people to Logan.”
Responding to concerns over the economic impact of moving the conference online, Patterson said “it’s unfortunate, but the only thing we can do keep our attendees, our staff and our communities safe.”
“We will work diligently to make sure when we do, once again, bring people to Logan, we’ll do it in a safe way,” Patterson said.
AbdelAzim said the pandemic would not deter him from attending future SmallSat conference.
“It makes me think a few times before looking at any conferences in 2020, but I’m hopeful that things will normalize by next year and it would be safe for all employees to attend while following the CDC instructions,” he wrote.