Fifty years after the launch of Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, the world's space industry is to gather at Hyderabad, in India, from 24 to 28 September, to find new ways to benefit humanity, and make money from space.
The 2,000-odd delegates will discuss new manned and unmanned missions to the moon and Mars, the completion of an international space station, as well as how to ward off earth-threatening asteroids and natural disasters through space technology.
But there's a strong commercial angle to the summit too, as delegates will also debate how to profit from the expected strong growth in the space industry over the next decade. There are multi-billion-dollar business opportunities in satellite launches, broadcasting and telemedicine.
KR Sridhara Murthi, head of Antrix Corporation, the marketing arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), says the congress will bring together all the stakeholders in the growing global space industry.
Paris-based market research firm Euroconsult estimates the sector will grow to $145 billion over the next 10 years, from the $116 billion it has clocked up from 1997 to 2006. Some 960 satellites are expected to be launched into space in the next decade, by both governments and commercial customers.
For India, the Hyderabad event will "open India's capability to the world", says ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair. Especially in the context of increasing international competition and China's space ambitions, it is important for India to bring the minds of researchers and marketers together if it does not want to be left behind.
Space scientists, satellite operators, manufacturers and launch service providers will attend the event, whose theme is 'Touching humanity: Space for improving the quality of life'.
The space age was ushered in by the beep-beep-beep radio signal transmitted by the Sputnik-1 satellite, launched on 4 October 1957, by the then Soviet Union. The Soviet lead in space technology spurred the United States to establish the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) the following year, and set off a cold war space race.
Lunar exploration and Mars expeditions will be an international endeavour, says International Astronautical Federation executive director Philippe Willekens. He said the congress would also discuss the completion by 2010 of the international space station, an orbiting residential research facility being jointly built by the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and some European countries.
Sunita Williams, an American NASA astronaut of Indian origin, who spent over six months on board the station this year and set a record for the longest stay in space by a woman astronaut, will talk about her experiences.
Business is not the only topic on the agenda; experts will also discuss how space technology can help farmers through the establishment of rural resource centres connected by satellite to provide advice, weather data, disaster alerts and market trends. "If there is a nation particularly concerned with the improvement of the quality of life, it is India," said Willekens.
India, whose space programme dates back to 1963, has already launched satellites to map natural resources, to predict the weather and to boost telecommunications in rural areas. It has also launched a string of highly successful geo-stationary communications satellites.