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Interview with Pascale Ehrenfreund, IAF

“Today a large proportion of our global economy relies upon space-based infrastructures.”

Pascale Ehrenfreund

Pascale Ehrenfreund is the President of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and the Chancellor of the International Space University (ISU)


The global health crisis is having a high impact in our lives and all economy sectors. What is the role of International Astronautical Federation in these challenging times for the space industry and the upcoming objectives to face?

The COVID-19 pandemic has boosted Science and Technology. Today a large proportion of our global economy relies upon space-based infrastructures. Through elements like Earth observation, telemedicine, and spin-off technologies, space can support both national and global policies tremendously when addressing a global health crisis such as the one we are currently facing. In a Special Sessions at the 71st International Astronautical Congress – The CyberSpace Edition, the COVID-19 pandemic and especially its influence on major space projects and on the space sector was discussed. Also, the IAF Secretariat has been working from home and it has taken all precautions to make sure the space community keeps being connected – through a daily dialogue on IAF social media channels and through the launch of a new initiative the IAF GNF Space Conversation Series. A fortnightly, free-of-charge registration, live online webinars touching upon the most recent developments in space, organized within the frame of the IAF Global Networking Forum (IAF GNF). During this global health crisis, these conversations are offering the opportunity to come together, connect, be inspired and informed by leaders and experts in multiple fields of space. The role of the Federation during the COVID-19 is to keep the dialogue open by ensuring the connection among all space people.


The 71st International Astronautical Congress 2020 was held in a CyberSpace Edition from 12 to 14 October. What were the main topics discussed during the event, and the outcomes and conclusions of the congress?

The 71st International Astronautical Congress – The CyberSpace Edition held virtually for the first time marked a historic moment for the entire space community. This CyberSpace IAC 2020 broke the previous record in terms of participation with more than 13.600 delegates connecting from 135 countries! The IAC offered several live sessions, including plenaries, highlight lectures and IAF Global Network Forums covering exciting topics like space exploration, space commercialization, artificial intelligence in space, debris removal and climate change among many others.

In the Heads of Space Agencies panel space leaders discussed their ambitious plans and missions and the importance of international cooperations. The international spirit of the space community was also reflected by a conversation with astronauts on the International Space Station during the Opening Ceremony. Furthermore, the space community presented more than 1.300 video lectures at the Technical Programme Gallery that covered all space areas and a virtual exhibition with more than 30 booths accessible 24 hours a day from everywhere around the globe. In summary, it was very interesting to hear despite the COVID-19 pandemic from the leaders and experts of the space community that the space sector has ambitious plans, fosters international cooperation and gathers around common goals.


In your opinion, what will be the space technologies that will be driving the sector in the coming years? Despite the active involvement of private firms in New Space, do you think space agencies should have to reinvent themselves?

In the coming years we will continue to observe how space becomes more accessible and see a dramatic change in many areas of the commercial space industry, associated with lower costs in satellite manufacturing and launch vehicles, proliferation of ride-share launches, new business models from new space companies and start-ups. Recent studies show that the downstream space sector including communications, Earth observations and navigations will see growing demand to monitor planet Earth. There will be new satellite applications and services and an increased number of non-space actors that will get involved in the space sector through public private partnerships. Complementary partnerships between public actors like space agencies and commercial players must be increasingly established to exploit the great spin-in and spin-off potential. We also anticipate that the next decade will focus on LEO internet constellations, commercial space tourism and probably bring back humanity to the Moon and prepare for human exploration on Mars.

The IAF also has the ambition to play the role of a catalyst in stimulating and propelling the global space economy. As part of the current IAF Space Advocacy Agenda, the IAF announced the new initiative: the “IAF Space Economic Platform (ISEP) – Bringing Space Down to Earth/Bringing Earth Up to Space”. Through this platform, the IAF aims to integrate new entrants in the domain of space and new users into the global space economic landscape. The initiative fosters cross-sector synergies and reflects on the new markets space activity is entering and creating.


Part of IAF’s work is adressed to students and young professionals, the next generation of tomorrow. What are the IAF ongoing activities and programmes in this regard?

For many years, the IAF has demonstrated its strong involvement in encouraging young professionals. Through networking events, promotional materials, grant programmes and the dedicated IAF “3G” International Platform for diversity and equality in astronautics (IDEA) we have enormously increased the number of students and young professionals involved in the IAF or attending IAF events. In accordance with its mission to prepare the workforce of tomorrow, the IAF through the work of its committees actively supports and has a growing number of activities targeted at students and young professionals. I invite everyone to visit to find out how to get involved in the Federation. For instance, there is the “Emerging Space Leaders Grant Program” enabling 25 students and young professionals to participate in the International Astronautical Congress, the UN/IAF Workshop and the Space Generations Congress every year. The IAF Young Space Leaders Recognition Programme awards exceptional students and young professionals who contribute to astronautics in their academic or early careers and reach out to other young people and their communities to share knowledge and experiences. And the Luigi G. Napolitano Award presented annually to a young scientist who has significantly contributed to the advancement of the aerospace science and has presented a paper at the IAC. There is so much more, especially at the IAC we have a full programme dedicated to young professionals. Recently, the IAF announced at the 71st IAC  the launch of a new initiative, “the IAF Launchpad Mentorship Programme”, focused on mentorship and career development. This program pairs early- to mid-career professionals with experienced senior professionals in the space industry. The IAF Launchpad Mentorship Programme aims to facilitate career development and leadership capabilities of the Mentee and provide a platform for enhanced communication between the generations represented within the IAF.


In 2021 IAF will celebrate its 70 anniversary since its creation. What are the main milestones achieved during these decades as unifying organisation for the space community?

Since its creation in 1951, the International Astronautical Federation has become the world’s leading space advocacy body with more than 400 member organizations from 71 countries. The strength of the Federation lies in its unity and its members, including all leading space agencies, aerospace companies, research institutions, universities, societies, associations, institutes and museums worldwide.The IAF has been united for 70 years now reaching incredible milestones like its International Astronautical Congress, travelling to different countries and cities every year for the past 71 years, bringing together the most diverse people. Another milestone is the organization of its “International Space Forum” and its “Global Conferences” to reach out to new communities. In the next 70 years I see the IAF including an even wider range of communities, diverse background, various geographies, all generations, more gender balance, new space actors and non-space actors. And this will make us even stronger as we engage toward a common path of science and technology innovation, reaching new space destinations and at the same time deliver benefits for our society on Earth. The Federation will provide key elements to support and foster current and future space activities and evolve with the developing trends in the space sector.



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