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This week in The Space Review…
Last week, ESA’s Schiaparelli spacecraft attempted to land on the surface of Mars and, based on the available evidence, crashed. Svetoslav Alexandrov argues that, despite the failure of the landing itself, the overall mission can still be considered a success in preparing for future Mars missions.
One reason that ESA’s recently-concluded Rosetta comet mission got so much public attention was a carefully crafted outreach effort. Chris Petty examines how ESA used cartoons and social media to explain a complex comet mission.
While the US Air Force has long shouldered the role of issuing warnings of potential satellite collisions in orbit, there are efforts to hand over at least some of that work to the FAA. Jeff Foust reports on those efforts and the issues they raise, including what exactly “space traffic management” should mean.
Elon Musk announced last month an Interplanetary Spaceship that he aims to produce for $200 million each in the 2040s. Sam Dinkin considers what the financing options are.
Mike Massimino is better known than many former astronauts thanks to his social media presence and sitcom cameos. Jeff Foust reviews his new book where he recounts his life before and after becoming an astronaut.
NASA’s current plans for human Mars missions don’t involve reusable spacecraft, but such systems may be essential to long-term exploration and settlement. John Strickland explains how one concept for a reusable Mars lander could make human Mars missions more sustainable.
As Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic make progress on their suborbital spacecraft, some wonder who will be the first to enter commercial service. Jeff Foust reports that neither company appears to be in a race with the either for that achievement.
Advances in technologies can have effects far beyond their original field. Steve Hoeser discusses how certain technologies can have great leverage, and explores one potential technology that could affect spaceflight.
Spaceflight has been the subject of episodes of several contemporary TV series, usually not coming off very well. Dwayne Day, though, examines one such episode that may be the worst of them all.
There’s been a strong link throughout history between real spaceships and those imagined in science fiction tales. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an illustrated history of both classes of vehicles.
SpaceX is the latest venture to propose sending humans to Mars as some kind of private effort. Chris Carberry and Rick Zucker explore if there is, in fact, a commercial case for human Mars missions.
One key element missing from Elon Musk’s announcement of his Mars settlement plans is how people will live once they get to the planet. Sam Dinkin looks at some options for those considering buying a ticket to the Red Planet.
Companies are proposing the deploy networks of hundreds or even thousands of satellites in the next several years. Jeff Foust reports that these systems pose new concerns about the growing orbital debris environment in low Earth orbit.
A technology called the blockchain promises to revolutionize electronic commerce on Earth. Vidvuds Beldavs describes how the blockchain and related technologies can advance the development of a true space economy.
Efforts to search for signals from extraterrestrial civilizations entered a new chapter last year with a $100-million private donation. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines both the long, and sometimes difficult, history of SETI projects as well as the motivation for scanning the skies.
Last week, at long last, Elon Musk offered details about the rockets and spacecraft he sees SpaceX developing to send large numbers of people to Mars. Jeff Foust reports on the details of his plan, the spectacle of the speech itself, and questions yet to be answered about his proposed effort.
From time to time, someone proposes that the Pentagon and NASA more closely cooperate in various areas of spaceflight. Wayne Eleazer notes that this idea is hardly new, and had rarely resulted in any real savings for either military or civil space efforts.
The launch of an Indian PSLV rocket last week featured one twist from previous missions, by placing its payload of satellites into two different orbits. Ajey Lele argues this is another step in making India competitive in the global launch market.
The end of the Rosetta mission last week marked the beginning of something else: the release of a new album by composer Vangelis inspired by the comet mission. Dwayne Day examines the long-running links between Vangelis and other electronic music composers and spaceflight.
This week marks the 12th anniversary of the final flight of SpaceShipOne, capturing the $10-million Ansari X PRIZE. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of that effort, as seen by many of its key players, leading up to that final flight.
Elon Musk will unveil his plans for human missions to Mars this week, but he’s not the only person talking about Mars exploration. Jeff Foust reports there’s a new emphasis on Mars mission planning, as other companies and organizations propose alternative approaches for getting humans to the Red Planet.
Getting space settlement put into law as a goal for US space policy has been a long-running goal of space advocates. Cody Knipfer argues that there are encouraging signs of progress.
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, among others are developing the technical capabilities to establish private enterprise space settlements. Alan Wasser points out that actually establishing space settlements would be infinitely easier to fund if they could be as potentially profitable as their other businesses.
An upcoming movie highlights the lives of African American women who worked as “computers” for NASA and its predecessor at the dawn of the Space Age. Jeff Foust reviews the book the movie is based on, which examines the many challenges these women faced and overcame.
In the conclusion to his series about the development of signals intelligence satellites by the US during the Cold War, Dwayne Day looks at one class of spacecraft that provided key data on Soviet activities for decades.
Last week, Blue Origin unveiled its planned orbital launch vehicle, New Glenn, that likely will be able to place payloads weighing dozens of metric tons into low Earth orbit. Jeff Foust notes it’s the latest development in heavy-lift vehicles that include programs by NASA and SpaceX.
The pad accident that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket early this month during preparations for a static fire test was rare, but not unprecedented. Wayne Eleazer examines some of the previous pad mishaps in the history of the Space Age.
Last week marked the second anniversary of NASA’s award of commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Jeff Foust reports that, despite initial hopes that one or both vehicles would be ready by the end of 2017, delays until late 2018 are looking increasingly likely for both.
As SpaceX continued to investigate a mysterious pad accident that destroyed a Falcon 9, United Launch Alliance flawlessly launched another NASA mission last week. Jeff Foust reports on those developments and their implications for both companies.
Formerly the head of Arianespace, Jean-Yves Le Gall currently runs the French space agency CNES and soon will take over the presidency of the International Astronautical Federation. Théo Pirard interviews Le Gall about his priorities at both CNES and the IAF.
An aerospace flight demonstrator can help prove technologies and business cases for full-scale vehicles, if they’re selected properly. Steve Hoeser describes the various types of flight demonstrators and how they should best be used to further a vehicle development effort.
The search for life beyond Earth has attracted a lot of public interest, but where is the best place to look for such life? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an astrobiological survey of the solar system and beyond.
An explosion during a test last week destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and its satellite payload, and damaged its launch pad. Jeff Foust examines the implications of the accident for SpaceX and other companies and organizations.
Much of the discussion about human missions to Mars has focused on the technical challenges of such missions. Joelle Renstrom argues that the various ethical considerations of such missions should not be ignored.
On Thursday, a NASA mission to collect samples from an asteroid is scheduled to lift off. Jeff Foust reports on goals of the OSIRIS-REx mission, which range from understanding the origins of the solar system to paving the way for future asteroid mining efforts.
There are no shortage of reasons why humans should travel to Mars. Eric Hedman describes how the effort needed for such an expedition could catalyze technological development and education, helping improve conditions for people around the world.
Even after the US won the race to the Moon, American intelligence monitored Soviet development of the N-1, and reported on it to President Nixon. Dwayne Day discusses what Nixon learned about the N-1 based on recently declassified intelligence briefings.
Christine Anderson originally signed on to run New Mexico’s Spaceport America for a year; she stepped down earlier this month after five and a half years on the job. Jeff Foust examines the state of the spaceport, including efforts she led to diversify the spaceport’s customer base.
While some planetary missions readily share the images they take with the public, others are more reticent to do so. Svetoslav Alexandrov argues that, in an era of instant access to information, all missions should be more open in releasing images.
A small museum in Albuquerque contains a collection of meteorites, including some from Mars. Joseph Page provides an overview of the museum and its exhibits.
NASA is trying to promote commercial activities in low Earth orbit to help build demand for commercial facilties once the ISS is retired. Jeff Foust reviews a free ebook published by the agency with papers examining the economic issues with that effort.
After the Pentagon cancelled the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1969, it faced the question of what to do with the hardware already built for it. Dwayne Day examines what’s known from declassified documents about that effort, including the transfer of mirrors for use in an observatory.
Part of the effort by NASA to develop commercial crew transportation systems involves human-rating the Atlas V rocket that will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Anthony Young discusses that effort to prepare both the rocket and the launch site for missions to fly astronauts to the space station.
There’s growing interest in using CubeSats for a variety of scientific, commercial, and other applications. However, Jeff Foust reports that CubeSat developers are grappling with the issue of reliability of such satellites, which suffer higher failure rates than larger spacecraft.
Some in the Middle East are concerned that Iran, now free of sanctions linked to nuclear weapons development, might become more aggressive in the region. Michael Listner argues that this should provide an impetus for other nations there to develop comprehensive, coherent space policies.
Europe has been a major partner on the International Space Station program, even though it’s the last to formally endorse an extension of station operations through 2024. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recaps the first decade of European expeditions to the ISS, with many details but few deeper insights about the overall effort.
As the number of smallsats under development grows, so does the number of options for getting those satellites into space. Jeff Foust reports on efforts to both develop dedicated small launch vehicles as well as make greater use of rideshares on larger rockets.
New technologies are allowing high altitude balloons to perform applications once reserved for satellites. Alan Stern describes the new capabilities such balloons offer and how they are augment or replace space capabilities.
In these turbulent times, can space exploration help unite society? Zach Miller argues that lessons from the Apollo era, combined with the growth of commercial space ventures, show what is possible.
Gus Grissom was the second American in space, but most people’s perceptions of him are shaped by the negative portrayal of him in The Right Stuff and his death on Apollo 1. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to offer a more complete biography of the man and his contributions to NASA.
There is an ongoing debate about whether humans should first return to the Moon before setting out on expeditions to Mars. Chris Carberry and Rick Zucker argue that human lunar missions should stand or fall on their own merits, rather than be justified as Mars precursors.
Germany will hold the presidency for the G20 nations in 2017. In an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the International Lunar Decade Working Group suggests she include space development, including a “Moon Village,” on the agenda of issues the G20 will take up in 2017.
Regardless of who wins the election, the next administration is likely to take a close look at NASA’s major exploration programs. Jeff Foust reports that while NASA says those efforts are making good progress, GAO reports found potential cost and schedule issues with them.
An article a space website reprinted from a Russian news service appears to have extensively borrowed, without attribution, from another article. Dwayne Day examines this latest case of space plagiarism and why this is a serious problem.
Who will be the customers of commercial space stations that companies, and NASA, envision being developed within the next decade? Jeff Foust reports that there are a number of potential markets for them, including an interesting new effort in space manufacturing.
If you could get the presidential candidates to answer one question about their prospective space policies, what should it be? Jeff Foust argues that it might to get them to explain why they believe NASA should have a human spaceflight program.
Forty-five years ago this week, the Apollo 15 astronauts held a brief, private ceremony to memorialize the astronauts and cosmonauts who had died in the last decade. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the lives of those men and the circumstances of their deaths.
NASA hopes that, by the time it’s ready to retire the International Space Station in the 2020s, one or commercial space stations will be ready to support researchers and others using the ISS today. Jeff Foust reports that one step towards a commercial station may be a commercial module on the ISS.
In the second and final part of his examination of literature set in cislunar space, Ken Murphy reviews novels from the 1990s to the present, and looks at some overall trends in literature.
A recent study suggests that the Moon has played a bigger role than previously thought in making the Earth habitable. Peter Kokh says this, plus the Moon’s role in our future, should influence what we consider to be “Earth-like” worlds.
The concept of mission control is one that has been an essential part of spaceflight since the beginning of the Space Age, but not all mission controls are alike. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines differences in mission controls based on country and types of missions.
Scott Kelly returned to Earth earlier this year after spending nearly a year on the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports on what he said his experience there was like, and how a study involving his twin brother may provide new insights into the effects of long-duration spaceflight.
One of the fundamental questions of human spaceflight is why humans should go beyond Earth at all. Eric Hedman examines human spaceflight from the perspective of the survival imperative, and what research needs to be done to ensure that humans can, in fact, survive on other worlds.
Stories about activities in cislunar space have been staples of science fiction for decades. In the first of a two-part review, Ken Murphy examines some of the cislunar science-fiction novels in the first few decades of the Space Age.
The National Air and Space Museum reopened their Milestones of Flight gallery at the beginning of this month to mark the museum’s 40th anniversary. Jeff Foust explores what is new about the gallery, and what’s missing.
Two SLS to Jupiter: The motivations and ramifications of the Europa mission’s launch vehicle mandate
At the direction of Congress, NASA is not only working on a mission to send an orbiter and lander to Jupiter's moon Europa, it's also planning to launch them on the Space Launch System heavy-lift rockets. Cody Knipfer examines both the benefits and drawbacks to this approach.
Venture capital investment, once a rarity for entrepreneurial space companies, is becoming increasingly commonplace. Jeff Foust reports on some of trends that both investors and companies see in the market, and how long that surge of investment might last.
One year ago this week, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, providing our first close-up views of that distant world. Dwayne Day examines what's changed, and what hasn't, in the year since the spacecraft encounter.
As Iridium prepares to launch its next-generation satellite system, it's worth remembering that, 16 years ago, the original satellite constellation was on the verge of being deorbited. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts how one retired businessman led the effort that eventually saved the system.
Seattle is working to make a name for itself as a hub for the entrepreneurial space industry. Jeff Foust reports on what companies and local officials think make the region stand out, and what obstacles it faces.
During the 1960s, the United States ramped up its development of signals intelligence satellites, and found new uses for them as well. Dwayne Day describes how satellites developed for identifying radars in the Soviet Union also played a role in the Vietnam War.
A new white paper by the Atlantic Council offers proposals to revise the current US national security space policy. Christopher Stone argues that the new proposal is in many ways similar to the current policy, and has the same flaws.
The International Space Station is an outpost for research and preparation for future exploration, but is it also an architectural landmark? Jeff Foust reviews a book that makes that argument as it provides a history of the station’s development.
As the US signals intelligence satellite effort ramped up in the 1960s, agencies developed a wide range of payloads to fly on spacecraft to study radar signals and communications. In the second part of his history on the subject, Dwayne Day explores what is known about some of those efforts through declassified documents.
While many Americans will spend next Monday celebrating Independence Day, NASA will be busy with the arrival of the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter. Jeff Foust reviews the goals of the mission and the challenges it faces dealing with the harsh radiation environment around the giant planet.
The US military has examined space-based solar power in the past, but has taken little action beyond studies. Nathan Kitzke argues that developing even small-scale systems could have benefits for both military operations and national leadership.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force recently opened a new building with some space exhibits. Dwayne Day visits the museum to see what’s on display and got a pleasant surprise.
At last week’s NewSpace conference in Seattle, attendees were advised about the importance of storytelling to sell their businesses and visions to wide audiences. Jeff Foust checks out a couple of nearby museum exhibits that offer their own takes on the interplay between space fact and fiction.
Stratolaunch Systems, the company backed by Paul Allen working on an air-launch system, opened the doors to its Mojave hangar to the media last week. Jeff Foust reports on the status of the company’s large aircraft and its plans to enter the smallsat launch market.
Thanks to declassified documents, we’re learning more about early American efforts to develop signals intelligence satellites. In the first of a four-part series, Dwayne Day discusses how these new sources show how diverse and prolific those efforts were.
Entrepreneurs in India hope to join the NewSpace movement with space ventures of their own, following in the footsteps of SpaceX. Narayan Prasad argues that, without support from government and investors in India, those ventures won’t be able to pursue their dreams.
Albuquerque’s Space Age jewels: Launch exhibits at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
A nuclear weapons museum in Albuquerque has several space related artifacts tucked away among the exhibits. Joseph Page discusses the museum and its space connections.
Satellite navigation services, primarily provided by GPS, have become ubiquitous in our society in recent years. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores the history of GPS and the various effects, good and bad, it’s brought to out modern-day life.
China has announced an ambitious series of robotic space missions, including future lunar sample return and Mars missions. Cody Knipfer examines how the missions fit into Chinese efforts to establish greater international power, while also stimulating a space race among other spacefaring Asian nations.
The X PRIZE Foundation held a screening of parts of a documentary about the Google Lunar X PRIZE last week in Washington. Dwayne Day describes what the film tells us about the prize, and also the significant details it leaves out.
Astrobotic and Moon Express are two of the leading companies involved in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and each is dealing with a variety of technical and regulatory issues. Jeff Foust reports on their progress, and how feasible it is for either company to be ready to fly by the end of next year.
A new wing at the National Museum of the US Air Force includes, among other items, the last remaining HEXAGON spy satellite. Dwayne Day discusses some key aspects of that spacecraft and of the person who designed its camera.
Last week, Patti Grace Smith, former associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the FAA, unexpectedly passed away. Jeff Foust describes the effect she had on the commercial spaceflight industry in the unusual dual roles as advocate and regulator.
Several years ago, interest was high among researchers in flying payloads on commercial suborbital vehicles, only to see development of those vehicles continually delayed. Jeff Foust reports that now, as some of these vehicles begin test flights, the research community is taking a second look.
Many media reports compared the recent test of an Indian technology demonstrator for a future reusable launch vehicle with the US space shuttle. Dwayne Day discusses how a better comparison is with two Air Force programs of the 1960s.
Last week, Elon Musk reiterated his plans to mount human missions to Mars as soon as 2024, using an architecture he will unveil later this year. John Hollaway wonders if these plans will be threatened by a shift in demand for launches that will hurt the large vehicles Musk needs to carry out his Mars plans.
In recent years military space policy has received heightened attention, particularly given concerns about the vulnerability of US national security satellites. Dwayne Day recaps a recent panel discussion about the US policy and what changes, if any, are needed.
IMAX space documentaries have generally followed a certain structure, and the latest one is no exception. Jeff Foust reviews the movie to see of, even with that formulaic approach, what it shows of life on the International Space Station and observations of Earth is worth watching.
The recent Humans to Mars Summit in Washington was only the latest in a series of conferences about human exploration of Mars. Dwayne Day compares this conference with some other ones, and discusses what was said, and overlooked, there about getting humans to Mars.
Last week, DARPA released a request for proposals for the next phase of its experimental reusable launch vehicle program, XS-1. Jeff Foust reports on how the competition stacks up for XS-1 and whether the program can retain its relevance as private ventures make progress on their own reusable vehicles.
Advocates of artificial intelligence can be as devoted to their belief that it will positively benefit society as space advocates are of the benefits of space settlement. Dwayne Day describes a recent interview with a science fiction author who has a more cautionary view of both subjects.
Denmark is the latest country to develop a national space law. Michael Listner reviews the provisions of the new law and how they compare with other nations and with international treaties.
Advocates of space-based solar power have launched petitions seeking to win attention and support for the concept within the federal government. Mike Snead makes the case for why readers should sign those petitions.
Thanks to documents declassified after the end of the Cold War, CORONA is now widely recognized as the first US reconnaissance satellite program. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines an earlier, and largely unknown, effort by the Air Force to develop a spysat called WS-117L.
NASA has general plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but that schedule is not fast enough for some. Jeff Foust reports on a debate among Mars exploration advocates on the schedule of such missions, and the role the private sector can play.
Apples and oranges: Why comparing India’s reusable launch vehicle with the space shuttle is totally out of place
On Monday, the Indian space agency ISRO flew its first reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator vehicle on a brief suborbital flight. Kiran Krishnan Nair argues that while the flight is a step forwards towards an RLV, its importance has been overhyped, particularly in the Indian media.
As more organizations get involved in human spaceflight, there will be a greater need for facilities to monitor and control those missions. Greg Anderson argues for the creation of a consolidated mission control organization to meet that need.
In recent months, the launch industry has debated whether to revise existing policy limiting the commercial use of retired ICBM motors. Michael Turner offers an alternative use for those missiles that could stimulate lunar development.
Fred Taylor may not be a household name outside the space sciences field, but he had a long career working on a variety of Earth and planetary missions. Jeff Foust reviews Taylor’s memoir about his career developing instruments that helped explore the solar system.
Investment in government and commercial space systems have followed similar trends for much of the Space Age. Gary Oleson explores those trends and examines the possibilities offered by both very small and very large space systems to change them.
While the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program was cancelled, one payload intended to fly on the military space station did find an alternative route to space. Dwayne Day examines the story of a signals intelligence payload codenamed DONKEY.
As interest in CubeSats continues to grow, some are wondering what even smaller spacecraft can do. Jeff Foust reports on one initiative to develop satellites the fraction of the size of CubeSats that could support education, technology development, and even science.
Forty-seven years ago this week, Apollo 10 lifted off on a “dress rehearsal” mission for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Anthony Young recounts the mission and the achievements that paved the way for a successful landing on the Moon.
Last month marked the 35th anniversary of the first shuttle mission, STS-1, one that began a new era in human spaceflight, but not without difficulties. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a new, and comprehensive, look at the development of the shuttle and the challenges faced leading up to, and during, that first flight.
Legislation passed by the US Congress last year appeared to clear the way for space mining ventures. Jeff Foust reports that there are still policy issues these and other companies have to overcome both at a national and an international level.
In his final installment examining a wide-ranging space policy bill, Michael Listner examines the sections of the bill dealing with commercial space law and regulations.
For decades, Pluto was largely ignored in science fiction, with too little known about the distant world to stimulate the imaginations of authors. Dwayne Day wonders, with New Horizons now revealing Pluto to be a far more dynamic place than expected, whether it will become fodder for more works of fiction.
Many still assume that human presence and activity in space will always have government in the lead. Dick Eagleson makes the case that this view ignores fundamental limits on government involvement in space activities and sketches out how human expansion into space must be increasingly driven by private entrepreneurship if it is to happen at all.
In the last few decades, astronomers have discovered that the universe’s galaxies trace out intricate patterns, rather than be randomly distributed. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an astrophysicist who helped understand why those structures, in some cases spanning more than a billion light-years, came to be.
The International Space Station has demonstrated how the US and Russia can cooperate in space even when terrestrial relations are strained. Ajey Lele argues that this can serve as a model for cooperation in space between China and India.
Jeff Greason and two other co-founders of XCOR Aerospace have left the company in recent months and started a new venture, Agile Aero. Jeff Foust reports on Agile’s vision for the future of space vehicle development, as well as where XCOR stands on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane.
In the second part of his comprehensive review of a new space policy bill, Michael Listner examines the civil space portion of the act, including changes to how a NASA administrator is chosen.
As ESA seeks to drum up support for its “Moon Village” concept, the US appears content to focus instead on missions to Mars. Vid Beldavs, in an open letter to the president, argues that the US should push Europe to take the lead on lunar development and take on a supporting role that can help support its own Mars ambitions.
The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is widely considered a leading center for planetary science research, a remarkable accomplishment for a facility barely half a century old. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the origin and development of that center.
United Launch Alliance found itself on the hot seat last month after a executive made controversial comments at a university seminar that leaked out. Jeff Foust reports that behind the controversy are insights into the transformation that company, and the broader launch industry, are undergoing.
Earlier this month, Congressman Jim Bridenstine introduced a wide-ranging space policy bill. Michael Listner begins a three-part examination of its contents by looking at the section discussing military space issues.
Developers of small launch vehicles in the US have recently raised two policy concerns: easier access by American satellite to Indian rockets, and the potential commercial use of excess ICBM motors. Cody Knipfer explores those issues and how they could influence the development of a new generation of commercial launchers.
ESA’s “Moon Village” concept is just the latest proposal in long-running efforts to develop viable, sustainable plans for a human return to the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a leading American lunar exploration advocate who argues that a return to the Moon should be rooted in efforts to make use of its resources to expand human presence beyond Earth.
A prototype expandable module, delivered on the latest ISS cargo flight, is now installed on the station. Jeff Foust reports that the company that developed it, Bigelow Aerospace, now has interest in adding a much larger module to the station by 2020.
In the 1980s, the CIA used satellites to try and monitor the development of a new class of Soviet submarines, but were often stymied by clouds. Dwayne Day describes how one naval analyst used satellite imagery to argue the Soviets would have their next submarine ready earlier than expected.
Last week, a Russian billionaire announced plans to invest $100 million into an effort to develop tiny spacecraft that could travel to the near stars within a few decades. Jeff Foust examines the Starshot concept and the numerous challenges it faces.
The discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO instruments is likely to be one of the biggest astronomy stories not just of the year, but of the decade. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a very human history of the development of LIGO, right up to the point of that discovery.
A successful first stage landing by SpaceX Friday on a ship at sea is the latest evidence that we are entering a new era of reusable launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports that concerns about the viability of reusable rockets may be shifting from technical obstacles to economic ones.
Did CIA intelligence about Soviet lunar plans influence NASA’s decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon in 1968? Dwayne Day reexamines that historical question based on evidence in a declassified document.
There’s some interest in developing an international lunar base of some kind, despite the fact that NASA has made it clear it has no desire to take the lead. A group of authors describe why the European Union should lead this project and the benefits it will gain from doing so.
Last December marked the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Thor missile, the ancestor of the Delta 2. Joseph T. Page II reviews a book that examines one aspect of the Thor’s history, when the rocket was based in England.
Buzz Aldrin may be known for being a somewhat eccentric former astronaut, but he has lived a full life as a fighter pilot, astronaut, and space advocate. Jeff Foust reviews a book where Aldrin uses anecdotes to help illustrate a set of life lessons.
Much of the infrastructure needed for fully commercial research in low Earth orbit is either in place or will be ready in a few years, but the business case is still uncertain. Jeff Foust reports on a recent discussion at the National Academies that examined the issue from the point of view of suppliers, customers, and NASA.
An ongoing effort by the US Defense Department seeks make closer ties with innovation taking place in private companies, but does not have specific, big goals. Brian Chow argues for using that effort to develop technologies to deter an attack on critical satellites.
If the United States needs to transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, like space-based solar power, in the coming decades, how can the federal government enable that shift? Mike Snead offers a concept for legislation that would establish a range of projects and responsibilities across the government.
The first technical jobs available to women in the early history of the space age were largely as “computers”, performing calculations for male scientists and engineers. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at some of those early computers at JPL, and how they responded to changes in both society and technology.
Big Bird and the Big Mother: US intelligence community monitoring of the Soviet lunar program after Apollo
Even after Apollo 11 successfully landed men on the Moon, ending the Moon race, the Soviet Union continued to develop its N-1 rocket for several years. Dwayne Day examines how the US monitored those activities using a new generation of reconnaissance satellites.
A NASA mission to land on Mars was supposed to launch this month, but problems with an instrument cancelled those plans. Jeff Foust reports on plans to fix the problem and launch the mission in 2018, although with cost impacts that could affect other missions.
Earlier this month, a Russian Proton rocket launched the ExoMars mission, a joint venture with Europe. Svetoslav Alexandrov discusses how ExoMars is revitalizing Russia’s Mars exploration plans, although not in a way all Russian space enthusiasts support.
Pakistan recently rejected a proposal by India to provide a communications satellite to help a group of South Asian nations. Vidya Sagar Reddy examines what India should do to better promote space cooperation among its neighbors in the region.
What might have happened if the Air Force had continued its manned space program in the 1960s? David Johnston reviews a novel that offers a credible alternative history of those efforts.
Earlier this month, Blue Origin opened the doors of its headquarters for the first time to the media, showing off their work on suborbital vehicles and rocket engines. Jeff Foust reports on the tour and the vision for the future of humanity in space that company founder Jeff Bezos wants to enable.
Next year will bring a new President and Congress, and perhaps another reexamination of NASA’s human spaceflight plans. Eric Hedman proposes that any such effort focus on developing infrastructure in cislunar space to make voyages to Mars and beyond more affordable.
Originally developed as an initial step in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has become a valuable mission for planetary scientists in understanding the Moon. Dwayne Day describes how its images, some of which are on display in a museum, are also works of art.
There’s been a heightened awareness in recent years of the threat posed by near Earth objects and the importance to take steps to protect the Earth from that threat. Vid Beldavs argues that such investments can have a positive influence on the global economy as well.
The Google Lunar X PRIZE is entering a critical time, with the prize deadline at the end of next year. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that provides brief profiles of some the teams remaining in the competition.
Some in the West have suggested that China join the International Space Station program in some way. Chen Lan argues that while it’s too late to expect China to abandon its plans for its own space station, there may be ways to cooperate by using both stations on joint efforts.
The entry of SpaceX into the commercial launch market has put pressure on other companies to reduce their prices, even through many customers have traditionally not been price-sensitive. Jeff Foust reports that changes in the market are making customers more eager to spend less on launch, even as some launch providers seek to emphasize schedule performance and reliability.
An exhibition of Soviet space artifacts closed in London on Sunday after a six-month run. Dwayne Day discusses one of the key items in that exhibition, an engineering model of a lunar lander.
In the final essay in his three-part examination of the importance of space solar power, Mike Snead explains why only space-based solar power can meet the growing energy needs of the US as fossil fuels are phased out in the decades to come.
Although it hasn’t attracted the same degree of public attention in the last year that it has previously, Mars One is still working on its controversial plans to send humans to Mars on one-way private missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book edited by some Mars One advisors that examines how they plan to handle a number of issues associated with those plans.
NASA’s human spaceflight program faces uncertainty with a change in administrations and potentially a change in direction, putting more pressure on NASA to carry out its ongoing programs. Roger Handberg warns that, like in the agency’s past, this could set the stage for tragedy.
Modern society is particularly vulnerable to the effects of massive solar storms that could bring down power grids and disrupt communications. Jeff Foust reports on a new effort by the federal government to coordinate work to better understand, and prepare for, that threat.
Many Americans today do not worry much about energy security, given what appears to be plentiful supplies of fossil fuels. In the second installment of his three-part essay on space solar power, Mike Snead explains why now is the time to begin the transition from fossil fuels to, ideally, space solar power.
Since December 1972, Gene Cernan has been the last man to walk on the Moon, a distinction he’s held far longer that he expected, or hoped. Jeff Foust reviews a documentary about his life and astronaut career.
Space has not been an issue during the presidential campaign to date, creating uncertainty about what the next President will do with NASA after taking office. Jeff Foust reports on one Congressional effort to provide more stability for NASA by, in effect, stripping the White House of some control over the agency.
The recent climate agreement signed in Paris seeks to lower greenhouse gas emissions to curtail global temperature increases, but says little about what should replace the energy sources that create such gases. Mike Snead, in the first of a three-part article, sees the agreement as an opportunity for space-based solar power.
Is there a better way to get to space using vertically-launched rockets? John Hollaway describes his concept for a reusable vehicle, launched from a moving platform and using ramjets to help get to orbit.
Recent hearings have suggested that some in Congress would like the next administration to choose another direction for the nation’s human spaceflight program. Louis Friedman argues that NASA’s “Journey to Mars” strategy remains the best option given likely budgets.
The fate of many space artifacts from the early Space Age, in particular decommissioned launch sites, has been a topic of debate recently. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a photographic review of launch pads and other facilities that, in many cases, have been “abandoned in place” over the years.
Last Friday, Virgin Galactic unveiled the second SpaceShipTwo, replacing the vehicle lost in a test flight accident more than a year ago. Jeff Foust reports on the rollout, what’s changed about this suborbital vehicle, and the company’s test flight plans.
A recent essay argued that society, particularly in the United States, wasn’t doing enough to preserve space history artifacts. Dwayne Day explains why, in fact, the US does a good job deciding what to preserve, and then keeping it safe for future generations.
Recent milestones by Blue Origin and SpaceX have raised the prospects for reusable launch vehicles and low-cost space access. Bob Clarebrough looks to aviation history for guidance on how those companies might change the space industry.
The Joint Space Operations Center is largely a space monitoring center, keeping track of satellites and debris in orbit but doing little in the way of command and control. Joseph Page argues for a revision of the role of that center to ensure space superiority in the event of a crisis.
When NASA assigned the Lunar Orbiter program to NASA’s Langley Research Center a half-century ago, one Nobel laureate criticized the move, calling Langley a “bunch of plumbers.” Jeff Foust reviews a book where one of those “plumbers” recalls his work on both Lunar Orbiter and another Langley-led mission, Viking.
Space advocates have long desired a realistic portrayal of space settlement to build support for their cause. Dwayne Day says the TV series The Expanse may be the most realistic such show to date, but one that is hardly going to get viewers to embrace advocates’ space settlement vision.
Last week, physicists announced success in the decades-long search for gravitational waves, another vindication of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Jeff Foust reports on its discovery and its implications for astronomy and future space missions.
Space security is closely tied to cyberspace security, given the reliance space systems have on computer technology. Jana Robinson discusses the links between the two issues and how to address those security concerns at an international level.
Some have argued that landing humans on Mars could contaminate the planet, making it potentially impossible to determine if life once existed, or still exists, there. Chris Carberry and Rick Zucker argue that sending humans to Mars will actually help the study of the planet and its habitability.
While the Space Age may have formally begun with the launch of Sputnik, there were activities in various aspects of rocketry in the decades leading up to that milestone. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a history of that work, but one that is not particularly original or compelling.
Passage of a new commercial space bill last year marked the end of one effort, but the beginning of another. Jeff Foust reports on the various reports required by the bill and its implications for future commercial space legislation, either this year or beyond.
For decades, military space programs were controlled out of a California facility later renamed after an astronaut killed in the Challenger accident. Joseph T. Page recalls the development, and ultimate demise, of Onizuka Air Force Station.
Given the growing reliance on, and growing threats to, satellites, some argue that the US government should take a different approach to safeguarding their security. Christopher Stone discusses why the current deterrence approach should be replaced with an alternative.
While some lament the destruction of archeological artifacts during conflicts in the Middle East, most are unaware of how more recent space-related artifacts are falling apart elsewhere. Anthony French argues that those space relics, on Earth and in space, should be treated with the same respect as more ancient ones.
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, designed to carry cargo and eventually people, is perhaps just as important to the company as its launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers what turns out to be a disappointing history of the vehicle’s development.
A recent commentary argued that, for a variety of reasons, humans will never settle Mars or other destinations beyond Earth. Dale Skran counters that settlement is ultimately the only reason for humans to be in space.
Last month, Arizona officials approved a plan to develop a spaceport for a company that, technically speaking, won’t be flying to space. Jeff Foust reports on the development of a new headquarters and launch site for World View, and its plans for high-altitude balloons for space tourism and other applications.
The promise of accessing space resources on the Moon or asteroids brings with it the potential of massive wealth. Greg Anderson discusses how that can be used to benefit not just the companies involved but also those on Earth less well off.
There’s no single holiday in the United States devoted to space exploration. J. David Baxter discusses the history of his efforts to create one, and the importance of having one.
Do you have a “bucket list” of space activities you want to do at some point in your life? If not, Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a wide-ranging list of 100 such activities for devoted space enthusiasts.
The commercial space bill enacted late last year provides rights for US companies to resources extracted form asteroids or other celestial bodies. Thomas Simmons discusses how the bill is a missed opportunity, though, since it doesn’t address resource rights internationally.
Elon Musk has long made clear his long-term ambitions to establish a human presence on Mars, but that effort faces both opposition and competition. Tim Reyes argues that SpaceX needs to accelerate its efforts to make a reusable launch vehicle to maintain momentum for sending humans to Mars.
At a recent astronomy conference, much of the discussion was about future space telescopes planned for launch over the next two decades. However, Jeff Foust reports there was also talk about existing and planned telescopes in space and on the ground that, in some cases, face uncertain futures.
New Mexico isn’t always considered a space state, but it has a diverse heritage in spaceflight and astronomy. Joseph Page describes an effort to tie that history together through the New Mexico Space Trail.
Last week, astronomers announced evidence for the existence of a planet in the far outer solar system. Dwayne Day notes that the search for “Planet X” has inspired many works of fiction, including a Japanese manga from the 1980s.
Last week NASA awarded follow-on contracts for transporting cargo to and from the station to the two companies with existing contracts, plus one newcomer. Jeff Foust reports on the cargo contracts and the new life one contract offers to Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser.
As NASA pursues long-term plans to send humans to Mars, the leadership of ESA appears more interested in an international lunar base. A team of authors explain why the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.
New developments by China have raised concerns in the US about new anti-satellite capabilities. Brian Chow argues that the US should be prepared to take pre-emptive actions to protect its satellites in the event of a potential conflict.
CubeSat proximity operations: The natural evolution of defensive space control into a deterrence initiative
The increasing reliance by the American military on space assets brings with it increased vulnerability if those satellites are attacked. Michael Nayak describes how cubesats could pose a threat to those spacecraft, and how cubesats could also be part of the solution to deal with that threat.
Achieving milestones like landing rovers on Mars requires not just technical expertise, but also ingenuity and the ability to deal with management issues and other obstacles. Jeff Foust reviews a book by the person who led the development of the Curiosity rover’s landing system on how he conquered those challenges.
Dwayne Day concludes his review of US intelligence of Soviet lunar mission plans with monitoring of the failed N-1 launches of 1969, and how that overall intelligence affected NASA’s own plans for going to the Moon.
As NASA works to complete the James Webb Space Telescope for launch in less than three years, it’s also beginning work on the next major space observatory after it. Jeff Foust reports on the accelerated start of the WFIRST mission.
Recently declassified documents have provided new insights into the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program that was cancelled in 1969. John Charles examines what those documents tell us about the management and structure of the program.
One of the challenges for the space community is outreach to the general public. Ken Murphy describes the successes and setbacks he’s encountered in one such effort, a “Moon Day” event in Dallas.
As NASA develops its long-term plan to send humans to Mars, some argue for precursor missions to the Moon not currently in NASA’s roadmap. Anthony Young reviews a recent book that lays out some of the arguments for going to the Moon first.
SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket last month, an accomplishment widely heralded as ushering in a new era of reusable launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on the landing and the steps SpaceX still must take to make reusability a reality.
Did the threat of a Soviet manned circumlunar mission weigh on NASA’s decision to fly Apollo 8? Dwayne Day examines what role, if any, intelligence on Soviet plans affected NASA’s planning.
SpaceX recovered its first stage from a successful orbital launch. Sam Dinkin assesses progress of SpaceX toward its goal of reducing the cost of launch by two orders of magnitude.
Jurisdiction of the federal courts: An under-appreciated provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act
Much of the attention the recently enacted Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act received focused on provisions ranging from asteroid mining to launch indemnification. Michael Listner discusses another provision in the act that may be just as important as the others.
The last Delta II rocket will launch next year from Vandenberg Air Force Base, ending an era that dates back to the early days of the Space Age. Joseph Page argues that the launch facilities Delta and its predecessors used there should be preserved as a historic site.
Flight controllers play an essential role on NASA human spaceflight missions, but the individuals themselves are rarely known by name. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a history of the early years of Mission Control and the people who helped create and staff it.
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