People socialize on the showroom floor of the 2021 Space Tech Expo in Long Beach. Courtesy of Smarter Shows.

Next month, over 3,000 members of the aerospace industry are set to converge in Long Beach once again.

The Space Tech Expo is making its return to the Long Beach Convention Center for its 10th iteration on May 24 and 25, with an invite-only preview the evening of May 23.

Exhibitors and speakers from the biggest names in the aerospace industry—from SpaceX and Lockheed Martin to NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration—will gather at the Long Beach Convention Center to connect and discuss new technologies and potential partnerships.

While many space conferences focus on niches within the broader industry, event director Gordon McHattie said that the Space Tech Expo is meant to be a conference with wide-ranging topics to address the needs of any and all attendees.

“We would like to be all things to all people in the supply chain,” McHattie said over Zoom. “We’ve always had this goal to be a very broad supply chain show, where engineers or a technical lead can come and discuss various aspects of a program with completely different types of companies under one roof.”

One way the conference plans to achieve that is through the B2B Matchmaking program, which was brought over from the show’s European counterpart, Space Tech Expo Europe. In the program, companies submit a summary of what they are buying or selling, and folks from other companies can sign up to hold a 20-minute meeting to potentially arrange to do business.

At its heart, though, McHattie said the Space Tech Expo is a trade show—a place where engineers and teams can come together to imagine new projects.

“Our job is to get the small companies exhibiting and get the large companies walking the show and discussing program opportunities,” he said, “and hopefully, purchasing products and services.”

New technologies will be on display, and smaller companies will be given the opportunity to advertise their work to the biggest players in the industry. Products will include satellite laser communications systems, custom hydraulic power units, tables built for running vibration tests and more.

“Where I think this industry is the most exciting at the moment is this huge number of small startup companies that are coming along with new technologies, and the older and bigger guys are interested to see this new stuff,” McHattie said.

Led by Smarter Shows co-founder James Reeder—who McHattie said has a personal interest in the aerospace industry—the first Space Tech Expo was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in 2011.

Unfortunately, the event did not go quite as smoothly as planned, mostly due to inexperience.

“It wasn’t without challenges in the early days,” McHattie said.

One of the biggest issues was the location, which was far too large for the small conference. So the event organizers set out to find a better spot—but staying in the Los Angeles area was also important.

“When you’re looking at El Segundo, you’re looking at proximity for SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon, so following them obviously seemed to make sense,” McHattie said.

In weighing both needs, Long Beach emerged as the perfect fit. The Space Tech Expo moved there the following year.

Aside from a brief stint in Pasadena, the expo has called Long Beach its home ever since.

While COVID derailed plans for the conference in 2020, McHattie and his team were able to host a conference with mandates in October.

“It was interesting because it went well,” McHattie said. “It was a good show, but we were down on numbers. I think we were around at least 25% down on numbers.”

It’s unclear whether attendance this year will match its pre-COVID level, but organizers expect significantly more interest this time around.

“People want to do trade shows again,” McHattie said. “They want to meet and shake hands and talk business.”

The invite-only preview, held in the evening to accommodate folks with busy work schedules, will likely help.

“This is an initiative to be able to bring some of these engineering and manufacturing teams to just preview the exhibits,” McHattie said. “We get feedback from a lot of the engineering groups that they would like to attend the event but can’t necessarily always do it in office hours.”

For those interested in attending the expo, registration is free. Event organizers first decided to eliminate the admission fee last year, which McHattie said was done in an effort to attract the desired audience.

“What we found over the years is that there’s been a bit of a disparity between who pays for conference passes and who exhibitors want to meet,” McHattie said. “The people who pay for a conference pass quite often are business development or C-level executives, not necessarily the technical type.”

McHattie said that the conference learned it would still able to function without that revenue after an initial test run at the European show, mostly because exhibitors still pay to be featured. Because of that, organizers agreed keeping attendance free was the best approach.

“We got huge numbers of engineers attending that show,” McHattie said, “and it was so successful, we stuck with it and we figured out how to do it in the U.S. show as well.”

Christian May-Suzuki

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.