Agora track

5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

The Agora track of CERAWeek focuses on all things innovation in energy, from panels to pods and even "houses" like the one pictured. CERAWeek/Facebook

Hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more are descending upon Houston for the 2019 CERAWeek by IHS Markit. For the second year, the conference will have its Agora track, focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — will take place in various locations in the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

March 11: Oil & Gas: Realizing value from digital transformation

In oil and gas, money talks, but justifying the value of integrating new technology or devices can be tricky and hard to navigate. Houston-based Justin Rounce of TechnipFMC and Michelle Pfluger of Chevron Corp. are among the panelists who will attempt to shed light on best practices and new ways of thinking.

Catch the panel at 4:30 pm on Monday, March 11. Learn more.

March 12: Sea Change: Autonomy, automation, offshore & the ocean

Offshore oil and gas rigs are a hotbed for new innovations and technologies — especially when it comes to automation. Two Houstonians join the panel that will discuss emerging tech in offshore E&P — Diana Grauer, TechnipFMC director, External Technology Engagement – North America, and Nicolaus Radford, Houston Mechatronics chief technology officer.

The event takes place at 9:15 am on Tuesday, March 12. Learn more.

March 12: Digital Ledgers: Oil & gas supply chain

Let's talk blockchain integration in oil and gas. The technology has a lot of potential in several aspects of the supply chain, but this panel — which features Andrew Bruce of Houston-based Data Gumbo — will weigh the pros and cons of the technology as well as go over the initial results of early adaptors.

The discussion begins on Tuesday, March 12, at 2.45 pm. Learn more.

March 12: Models of Innovation: Today & tomorrow

Inarguably, the energy's innovation ecosystem differs from that of other industries, but to what end? A panel of professionals — including Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures President Barbara Burger — will debate the challenges within innovation in energy, innovative corporations, and the best strategies moving forward.

The panel is on Tuesday, March 12, at 2.45 pm. Learn more.

March 14: Urban Resilience in a Changing Climate

You can't have an energy-focused conference without addressing the elephant in the room that is climate change, and Houston-based Sunova CEO John Berger and City of Houston Chief Sustainability Officer Lara Cottingham are the right people to do it.

The panel will take place on Thursday, March 14, at 10:30 am. Learn more.

Can't-miss pods

While panels focus on a challenging topic of discussion, the Agora Pods are platforms for companies to showcase new tech or developments or present their successes. Here are some pods hosted by Houston companies you shouldn't miss.

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Building Houston

 
 

Axiom Space — along with Collins Aerospace — are teaming up with NASA to create the next generation of astronaut gear. Image via NASA

Two startups — including Houston-based Axiom Space — have been tasked with helping NASA gear up for human space exploration at the International Space Station and on the moon as part of a spacesuit deal potentially worth billions of dollars.

NASA recently picked Axiom and Collins Aerospace to help advance spacewalking capabilities in low-earth orbit and on the moon by outfitting astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. While headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Collins has a significant presence in the Houston Spaceport.

This deal will help support landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon as part of NASA’s return to our lunar neighbor. The equipment also will help NASA prepare for human missions to Mars.

Under this agreement, NASA, Axiom and Collins “will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

Axiom and Collins were chosen under an umbrella contract known as Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS). The contract carries a potential value of $3.5 billion.

Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom, says his company’s “innovative approach to xEVAS spacesuits provides NASA with an evolvable design that enables cost-efficient development, testing, training, deployment, and real-time operations to address a variety of EVA needs and operational scenarios for a range of customers, including NASA.”

Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, David Clark Co., Paragon Space Development, and A-P-T Research.

NASA says Axiom and Collins will own the spacesuits, and are being encouraged to explore non-NASA commercial applications for data and technology they co-develop with the space agency.

The EVA & Human Surface Mobility Program at the Johnson Space Center is managing the xEVAS contract.

NASA astronauts have needed updated spacesuits for years.

“The decades-old spacesuit designs currently in use on the International Space Station are well past their prime. NASA had been working on new suits and showed off a patriotic prototype of a moonwalking outfit — called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU — back in 2019,” according to CNET.

A 2021 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General called out delays in developing the spacesuits that would make a proposed 2024 human moon landing unfeasible, CNET says. Now, Axiom and Collins, instead of NASA, will create the spacesuits. Demonstration-ready spacesuits are supposed to be ready in 2025.

The spacesuit deal is the latest in a string of milestones for Axiom.

Axiom recently broke ground on its new headquarters at Houston Spaceport. There, the company will build Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station.

Axiom also recently welcomed home the crew of Axiom Mission 1 after their successful completion of the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The crew came back to earth in a SpaceX capsule. The company has signed agreements with several countries, including Italy, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates, for future space missions.

Axiom recently tapped Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei as its first international professional astronaut. He currently is being trained in Houston and will serve as a backup on Axiom Mission 2.

Founded in 2016, Axiom employs more than 500 people, most of whom work in Houston. The company expects its workforce to exceed 1,000 employees by 2023.

To date, Axiom has raised $150 million in venture capital.

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