I wasn't there the first day, but on the second and fourth days (when I visited the Exhibit Hall a lot: attendance to the main sessions is pricey) I saw zero protesters, which was odd. The groups nervous about increased military presence in space group (whose concerns I understand but whose targeted train may have left the station already) is a fixture. There's usually a dedicated handful of die-hards sticking it out the whole way through, sometimes with a guitar-bearer doing 1960s and 1970s protest songs. (Side note: My dad, who is in his 80s but has never stopped singing Pete Seeger-style music in Seattle, feels no one has written a really good protest song since the 70s.) Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who will FINALLY be replaced with President Trump's choice after a one-vote Senate confirmation, was there of course.
The person most prominently NOT there was SpaceX's Elon Musk. Indeed, SpaceX had no exhibit space, no meeting rooms, nothing. That is, in a sense, the kind of prominence SpaceX has achieved: if you want to talk, you go to them. We can't all be Tony Stark and run into him in a restaurant. I wonder if Musk feels he can't really be productive at these things because his celebrity status warps the time and space around him to create his own gravity field, the way Stan Lee (alas, it seems, no more traveling) did at a ComiCon.
The exhibit space was stuffed with everyone else, though, from giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin to startups, some of them just making a better cable or release bolt and some with eye-opening stories, like small-booster makers Rocket Lab and Firefly and Earth-i's newest video observation microsatellites.
It was an eventful, event-filled symposium, and next year is already being organized. See y'all then.
Photographic high points
The Naval Research Laboratory showed off their Poppy electronic intelligence microsatellite from the early 1960s. This was a classified program for decades, and this is the first time I've ever seen one.
Gil Moore, still going strong at 90, was on the Viking booster and Vanguard satellite programs in the 1950s and continues his work on the student built Project Starshine.
The Vanguard satellite, launched in 1958 (the original remains in orbit). Its contribution to the larger Poppy satellite above is obvious.