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This week in The Space Review…
A perennial struggle for space advocates has been developing rationales for human spaceflight that can be sustained over the long term. Cody Knipfer argues that now is the time to reexamine those arguments, particularly given the rise of commercial human spaceflight.
With a statement by the vice president at the National Space Council meeting, NASA is back in the business of returning humans to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports on what that means for agency plans, including potentially greater roles for international and commercial partners.
When NASA transitioned from the Skylab program to the space shuttle, once piece of Skylab hardware almost found new life. Dwayne Day describes studies on adapting instrument hardware for the shuttle, and how that hardware made its way instead to the National Air and Space Museum.
The first meeting of the National Space Council earlier this month is, to many, a good start for the administration’s focus on space policy. Mike Snead offers some recommendations for the council’s upcoming activities in the first of a two-part report.
It’s been 13 years since the last suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne, and Virgin Galactic is still at least months away from flying people into space on SpaceShipTwo. Jeff Foust examines what company founder Richard Branson had to say about the company’s progress and setbacks in his new autobiography.
Last week the National Space Council held the first meeting since being reestablished earlier this year. Jeff Foust reports on what the council discussed and whether this iteration of the council will be different from its predecessors.
NASA will select several finalists this fall in the competition for the next New Frontiers medium-class planetary science mission. Van Kane examines what is known about the dozen proposals submitted for missions from the Moon to Saturn.
In the conclusion of his two-part history of the first satellite, Asif Siddiqi discusses the events leading up to the launch of Sputnik and the aftermath of its successful mission.
When Elon Musk discussed his revised BFR launch system recently, he disclosed few details about its costs. Sam Dinkin estimates the capital costs and operating costs for the BFR for use for Mars or point-to-point Earth flights.
Throughout its history, NASA has relied on internal and external advisory groups to help direct its programs. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that offers a detailed history of how such groups shaped NASA’s science programs.
This week marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, an event whose impact has been well-chronicled, even though the details of the event itself are far less known. Asif Siddiqi examines the history of Sputnik’s development in the first of a two-part article.
On the same day last week at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, SpaceX and Lockheed Martin offered updates to Mars mission architectures unveiled last year. Jeff Foust reports on the changes, and the distinct differences between the two approaches.
One of the key messages from Elon Musk’s talk at the International Astronautical Congress was his plan to focus exclusively on his BFR rocket in the future. Dick Eagleson ponders some of the implications of that decision for NASA and other companies.
The United States, Luxembourg, and other nations are interested in developing space-based resources. Peter Garretson and Namrata Goswami examine whether India has similar interests and a willingness to back that interest with policy and law.
SpaceX is not the only company pursuing reusable launch vehicles. Antoine Meunier discusses updates Blue Origin and Virgin Orbit offered at a recent conference about their partially reusable, but very different, launch systems under development.
A common theme in space missions is that spacecraft are able to do so much with so little computing power on board. Dwayne Day reflects on what happens when the computing power, and intelligence, of those missions shifts from the ground to future, more capable spacecraft.
October marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Outer Space Treaty, but some are concerned about its long-term viability. Paul Meyer suggests some diplomatic steps that can be taken to support the treaty.
As the world’s space community meets in Australia this week for the International Astronautical Congress, the country’s government made news about plans for a national space agency. Jeff Foust reports on the agency and the limited details offered to date about what that agency will, or could, do.
Interest in redirecting NASA’s human spaceflight plans back to the Moon have some worried about another fight breaking out regarding the Moon versus Mars. Chris Carberry, Joe Cassady, and Rick Zucker argue that there’s room for both, using different approaches.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the preeminent science communicators in the world, but what more can he say on well-trodden subjects like astrophysics? Jeff Foust reviews a book where Tyson offers brief overviews of some key topics, while not ignoring the bigger picture.
Some in the US and allied nations are increasingly concerned by apparent efforts by the Chinese and Russian governments to engage in provocative actions that could endanger space assets. Jana Robinson proposes a means by which the US deter those attacks without risking an escalation of space warfare.
For the second time in two months, a company showed off a full-scale model of its commercial lunar lander in Washington last week. Jeff Foust reports this comes as companies, NASA, and politicians examine potential roles such efforts might play in a broader effort to return to the Moon and access its resources.
At this year’s EAA AirVenture show in Wisconsin, the past heroes of spaceflight met the future of space transportation. Eric Hedman describes the appear of Blue Origin’s New Shepard at a show that also features a reunion of Apollo astronauts.
The Space Race between the US and USSR provided a means for peaceful competition at a time when the Cold War threatened to turn hot. David Dunlop argues that, today, increased international tensions call for greater cooperation among spacefaring nations.
Programs to track satellites and other objects in Earth orbit using radars and telescopes can be traced back decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history, and underlying technology, of some of those efforts operated out of Lincoln Laboratory.
A key artifact from the Apollo program is not in a museum but instead on the ocean floor. Dwayne Day discusses the history of a famous helicopter used to recover astronauts from several Apollo missions, and why it’s time to retrieve it from the Pacific.
The new National Space Council will include representatives of many government agencies as well as an industry group. Mike Snead says that the council also needs input from citizens to ensure it adopts policies needed to make American a truly spacefaring nation.
As NASA prepares for the end of the Cassini mission, it also spent time last week marking the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager missions, still operating today. Jeff Foust reports on those looks back at the past, as well as planning for future missions for the outer solar system using new and existing spacecraft.
Although the first satellite was launched nearly 60 years ago, no one has emerged as a key strategist yet about military space operations. Joseph T. Page II argues that, for now, one could learn lessons about the NRO has made use of space over those decades.
The Canadian space community is awaiting what new directions, if any, the government might propose for the country’s space program in an upcoming strategy. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks back at the long history of Canadian space efforts, which involve more than just astronauts and robotic arms.
Russia’s development of new launch vehicles has taken a circuitous path in recent years. Bart Hendrickx provides an update on recent developments, including plans for a new rocket and accelerated development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle.
NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn will end later this month with a plunge into the giant planet’s atmosphere. Jeff Foust examines the mission’s final days and what the spacecraft has accomplished since its beginnings three decades ago.
For the first time in nearly four years, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser test vehicle took to the skies last week above Edwards Air Force Base. Jeff Foust reports on the flight and the company’s continued hopes to one day fly a crewed version of that spacecraft.
Long-duration space travel creates human factors requirements that drive up the size,cost, and complexity of interplanetary spacecraft. Steve Hoeser describes how a form of hibernation, dubbed “biolation,” could mitigate those problems.
At the dawn of the Space Age six decades ago, many Americans relied on a German immigrant for information about space travel—and that person wasn’t Wernher von Braun. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a biography of Willy Ley, whose books and articles were essential reading in the early years of spaceflight.
The revival of the National Space Council comes at a pivotal time for commercial space efforts in the US and elsewhere. In an open letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Vidvuds Beldavs offers ideas of how the council can support US companies and the broader commercial space industry on some key issues.
Getting frequent and affordable access to space for small satellites has long been a challenge for the space industry. Karl Hoose argues that air-breathing propulsion could provide the technological solution to this problem.
A total solar eclipse last week attracted both hardcore eclipse chasers as well as more casual tourists to a path that stretched across the US. Jeff Foust recounts a road trip to South Carolina to witness the eclipse in a distinctly American setting.
Missile tests by North Korea have generated new attention regarding missile defense capabilities and needs in the US. Taylor Dinerman argues that it means, among other things, developing new space-based systems to better track those missiles.
Astronauts are adventurers, but some are more adventurous than others. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former astronaut who has flown in space and helped repair the International Space Station, in addition to climbing Mount Everest.
Growing interest in small satellites continues to fuel development of small launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on two such efforts, one from a company that appeared all but dead several months ago, and another from a company still keeping a low profile.
Space exploration as religious experience: Evangelical astronauts and the perception of God’s worldview
A number of astronauts have strong religious views, often enhanced by the experience of spaceflight. Deana L. Weibel examines these views and how they compare with the pessimism about space exploration shared by many evangelicals.
One of the highlights of last month’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was a panel discussion involving several Apollo-era astronauts. Eric Hedman recounts what the astronauts said about their missions and their legacy.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have increasingly become known as photographers, taking and tweeting images of the Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a British astronaut that compiles the images he took during his stint on the station.
The new National Space Council will have many options for issues to tackle when it starts its work in the coming weeks. Douglas Loverro argues in an open letter to the council’s incoming executive secretary that it should focus on the policies the US should promote internationally that best serve national needs.
CubeSats have become very popular in recent years as a low-cost platform for many missions, but some have found difficulties using them for certain missions where high reliability is important. Jeff Foust reports on discussions at a recent conference on efforts to improve CubeSat reliability without losing their key benefits.
The best ideas for military tactics can come not from generals but from junior officers and enlisted personnel. Joseph T. Page II describes how tactical decision games, used elsewhere in the US military, could be applied to space.
Passage of space resources laws in the US and Luxembourg have raised questions about whether treaties grant rights for extracted resources to companies or countries. Will Gray argues that those laws can become the basis for an international regime for mining claims off Earth.
One of the most important figures in the history of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been Jill Tarter. Jeff Foust reviews a new biography of Tarter that traces her influence on both SETI and society.
In the late 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office examined potential roles the space shuttle could play in launching and servicing reconnaissance satellites, or serving as a reconnaissance platform itself. Dwayne Day examines how declassified documents have shed new light on those plans.
With an executive secretary selected, the National Space Council will soon be in operation, but what should it be focusing on? Jeff Foust reports from a recent event where a number of past space policy officials offered their views on the council and its priorities.
As the reconstituted National Space Council prepares to hold its first meeting, some wonder just what it can accomplish. Roger Handberg argues that fiscal constraints and the rise of military and commercial activities may limit its effectiveness.
This year’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, had more space-related events than usual. Eric Hedman provides an overview, from the appearance of Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos to an Apollo astronaut reunion.
The International Space Station is the culmination of half a century of space station projects by both the US and the former Soviet Union. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a history of those programs, from the cancellation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory to the completion of the ISS.
As researchers make increasing use of the International Space Station, some wonder what the long-term fate of the station is. Jeff Foust reports that as NASA studies options for a post-2024 ISS transition plan, commercial users want nearer-term certainty about the station’s future.
Space is often said to be inspirational, but what exactly does that mean? Dwayne Day examines how spaceflight, and space-themed science fiction, can inspire different people in different mediums.
Iran launched a rocket last week that it said was a test of a satellite launch vehicle, but which was condemned in the West as a missile test. Ajey Lele argues that Iran’s growing capabilities present the opportunity for peaceful space cooperation, perhaps as a way to dissuade further missile development.
In May, DARPA selected Boeing to develop its Phantom Express vehicle as part of the XS-1 reusable spaceplane project. John Hollaway is unimpressed with this latest effort to try and reduce the cost of getting into space.
Spaceflight in cislunar space as long been a topic of science fiction and other books. Ken Murphy updates an earlier review of such books with several dozen other novels, from the 1950s to the present day.
There has been growing interest in carrying out human lunar missions prior to going to Mars, thinking that will be an easier near-term step. Jeff Foust reports that, despite these discussions, governments and companies alike have found it difficult just getting robotic missions there.
An ongoing topic of discussion and debate at the international level regarding space is its long-term sustainability. Christopher D. Johnson and Victoria Samson provide an update on those discussions that have played out at United Nations meetings in recent months.
Could the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, intended to be a crewed reconnaissance satellite, have also played a role in spacebased astronomy? Joseph T. Page II finds some hints of such an alternative mission in declassified documents.
Advocates of the robotic exploration of Mars have warned of limited funding and plans for later missions needed to carry out Mars sample return. Louis Friedman argues that the focus on sample return, at the expense of other science, has also hurt the program.
The rationales supporting NASA human spaceflight efforts have changed over the decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines changing frameworks for supporting it during the shuttle and station programs, and implications for the future.
NASA’s ongoing program for exploring Mars with orbiters and rovers appears, at first glance, to be working well. Jason Callahan and Casey Dreier describe how the program is actually facing serious questions about its future because of funding challenges.
Elon Musk unveiled his plans last September for establishing a permanent human presence on Mars, with a focus on the technical issues of getting people to Mars. Michael Listner examines some of the legal obstacles that such an effort would have to overcome.
With NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission now cancelled, the agency is looking for other ways to demonstrate advanced propulsion technologies like high-power solar electric propulsion. Jeff Foust reports on what concepts NASA is working with industry on that could find eventual use on Mars exploration missions.
Those who remember the Apollo program may be disappointed by the lack of progress in human spaceflight in the decades since. Stephen Kostes sees promise in the growing capabilities available today to enable new, sustainable space applications.
In a little more than a month a total solar eclipse will take place on a path across the United States. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers background on the history of eclipse observations as well as some advice for seeing one yourself.
The House is scheduled to take up this week a defense authorization bill that includes language establishing a Space Corps within the US Air Force. Mike Snead discusses why it’s important to establish a Space Corps now, leading to a full-fledged Space Force, to protect national interests in space.
As private space capabilities grow, it opens up new possibilities for doing science missions outside of government agencies. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference that examined the prospects of, the challenges facing, privately-funded space science missions.
NASA announced its newest astronaut class last month with a considerable degree of fanfare. A.J. Mackenzie wonders if that was the case because won’t have much need for hiring more astronauts in the years to come.
Companies planning space resources ventures, and the countries backing them, are running into conflict with countries who see such resources as belonging to all humanity. Kamil Muzyka explores some possible solutions to this argument that can benefit companies and countries alike.
Can a space-themed textbook help students better learn elements of math and science? Steve Rokicki reviews a book that attempts to do just that over the course of a school year.
A month ago, a classified satellite made a series of close approaches to the International Space Station, sparking questions about whether it was coincidental or intentional. Marco Langbroek examines what is known about USA 276 and why it may have passed so close to the station.
Last Friday afternoon, President Trump signed the executive order formally creating the National Space Council. Jeff Foust reports that the establishment of the council still leaves many questions unanswered about what it will do and how it will affect space policy.
A Senate committee has held a series of hearings on commercial space policy issues. Peter Garretson offers some recommendations on what Congress should, and should not, do to promote the development of new space markets.
The idea of space settlement, some have argued, is reminiscent of religion in the idea that it may represent the salvation of humanity. Sylvia Engdahl argues that faith in space colonization isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As difficult as it is for someone to become a professional athlete, being selected as a NASA astronaut is far more difficult. Jeff Foust reviews the memoir of someone who managed to be both drafted by the NFL and selected as a NASA astronaut.
NASA’s focus on sending humans to Mars is widely seen as a driving goal for the agency, down to the mantra of “Mars or Bust” espoused by many Mars exploration advocates. Mark Craig warns that effort could succeed, yet not be sustainable in the long-run without tying it to more fundamental goals.
Activity in the nascent asteroid mining industry has surged again in the last year, thanks to interest, and funding, from one small country. Jeff Foust reports on the outsized role Luxembourg is playing in building up the space resources market.
The Skylab program of the 1970s is often overlooked between the end of Apollo and the beginning of the shuttle program. Dwayne Day examines the legacy of Skylab as seen through the lens of a series of books reprinting official documents about those missions.
In the concluding installment of his paper, Robert Zubrin examines some of the implications of the transmission of genetic material among solar systems, by nature or by intent, and the role Mars exploration would play to study that question.
As NASA prepares to mark 20 consecutive years of missions operating at Mars, one mission in particular stands out. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides some of the best images of the Red Planet taken by a camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Earlier this month, NASA unveiled a new class of 12 astronauts from a record-breaking pool of more than 18,000 applicants. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA carried out that selection process and the future of both new and current astronauts from the point of view of the agency’s former chief astronaut.
The decision by the White House to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord has been widely criticized. Peter Garretson believes, though, that it opens new opportunities for the United States to invest in alternative technologies, notably space-based solar power, that can address the climate change issue and more.
Most have assumed the best way to search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence is to look for radio or optical communications. However, in the first of a two-part paper, Robert Zubrin argues that other formats may be more effective, with implications both for SETI and astrobiology in general.
The decision to send humans to the Moon in the 1960s was in a very different geopolitical environment from the one that exists today when planning human missions to Mars. Mack A. Bradley discusses how to make human Mars exploration relevant when old arguments no longer apply.
While overshadowed by Apollo 11, Apollo 8 was, in many respects, one of the most audacious missions NASA has ever flown. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a new history of the mission.
Fifty years ago this month, the US Air Force selected the first African-American astronaut, Robert H. Lawrence, Jr. John Charles recalls Lawrence’s life and tragic death, and the gradual integration of the astronaut corps.
Last week, India successfully launched the first GSLV Mark III, the country’s most powerful launch vehicle to date. Ajey Lele explains the importance of this rocket in making the country increasingly self-sufficient in space.
Plans by both NASA and private ventures to send more ambitions missions, including eventually humans, to Mars create new challenges for protecting Earth life from Mars and vice versa. Jeff Foust reports on some of the issues being discussed by an ongoing committee review of planetary protection policies.
Official satellite catalogs do not include everything in Earth orbit. Charles Phillips discusses why that creates a safety issue for those unlisted objects whose orbits are low enough to pose a reentry risk.
The search for life on other worlds, intelligent or otherwise, has reached new peaks of interest in recent years thanks to discoveries and new initiatives. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of the topic and some of the hurdles for finding life beyond Earth.
A new wave of missions is bound for the Red Planet in the next several years. Cody Knipfer describes how those missions could face challenges returning their data due to limited infrastructure, notably aging relays in Mars orbit.
One key US senator has said it’s time to examine revising the 50-year-old Outer Space Treaty to reflect modern space activities. Jeff Foust reports that many legal experts and company executives are not eager to go down that path.
Current spacesuits used for space station spacewalks may be inadequate for future applications, particularly in the commercial sector. Steve Hoeser examines a past approach for developing an alternative spacesuit that could provide a model for future efforts.
One approach to combatting climate change is “albedo modification” through the use of a sunscreen at the Earth-Sun L-1 Lagrange point. John Hickman writes how spacefaring powers could win support for it from other nations in an approach like an auction.
Decades of efforts to resume human space exploration beyond Earth orbit have failed. Jeff Foust reviews a documentary that examines that history and tries to explain why it happened.
After years of development, and talking about launch plans, companies are now starting to launch new commercial small rockets. Jeff Foust reports on the recent progress made by those companies.
The European Space Agency released last week a summary of the final report investigating the crash of its Schiaparelli Mars lander last year. Svetoslav Alexandrov argues that the report shows that the mission should not be dismissed as a total failure.
In the concluding part of his examination of US national security space policy, Maximilian Betmann examines the technical and organizational issues that are driving a shift to a more aggressive military posture in space.
Roger Moore, an actor whose career included playing James Bond in several films, passed away last week. Dwayne Day examines the one Bond film featuring Moore with a space theme, Moonraker.
While it’s been barely half a century since Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space, the history of human spaceflight has seen its share of triumphs and setbacks. Jeff Foust reviews a book that encompasses that history, but one that focuses on the distant past than more recent accomplishments.
National security space policy in the United States has quietly shifted in the last few years. Maximilian Betmann, in the first of a two-part article, examines the factors that have led to that change in approach to defending space assets.
A recent Air University report recommends that the Air Force partner with industry to develop new, low-cost reusable launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on how effective such partnerships could be given the progress industry alone is making.
Is the National Reconnaissance Office preparing to declassify one of its biggest reconnaissance satellite programs? Joseph T. Page II discusses recent evidence that suggests major details may soon come about it.
In the second installment of his three-part series, Zach Miller describes how the Cold War origins of NASA influenced the nation’s space program to this day.
NASA’s race to the Moon in the 1960s took place while the United States was facing much broader issues, from civil rights to Vietnam, that are often overlooked in historical accounts of the Apollo program. Jeff Foust reviews a book and a documentary that try to place NASA’s efforts in a broader perspective.
A few weeks after President Trump suggested that NASA needed to accelerate plans to send humans to Mars, agency leadership said they’ve received no direction to do so from the White House. Jeff Foust reports this is a sign that neither the government nor most companies are in a particular hurry to send humans to Mars.
At last week’s Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, Buzz Aldrin was often the center of attention, even when he wasn’t on center stage. Dwayne Day examines the attention, and overexposure, of the famous astronaut.
Searches for signals from extraterrestrial intelligences, both in fact and fiction, have often presumed that any such radio signals detected could be understood, and be friendly. John Hickman and Koby Boatright argue that those assumptions may not be warranted.
Partial gravity could have benefits for both future human expeditions as well as those who plan to live and work in space over the long term. Bob Brodbeck offers one proposal for a commercial partial gravity facility that could attract both researchers and tourists.
India’s space program has made great strides since its origins a little more than half a century ago. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an insider’s account of the rise of the Indian space agency from someone who was there at the beginning.
Space is increasing being seen as a potential place of conflict should hostilities break out on Earth. Edward G. Ferguson and John J. Klein argue that, in that light, it’s time for the US think about preempting hostile actions in space rather than responding to an attack.
The National Academies hosted a symposium last week to revisit a report from 2009 about the future of the nation’s civil space efforts. Jeff Foust reports on what attendees thought had changed, and what had stayed the same.
Last month, Orbital ATK released new details about its planned EELV-class launch vehicle it proposes to develop, pending the award of Air Force contracts. Jeffrey Smith examines how the technical choices the company is making in its design could set it apart from competitors.
The launch of the first data relay satellite from the shuttle, more than 30 years ago, didn’t go as planned. Joseph T. Page II describes how, in the end, things turned out better than one might have ever expected.
Last week, India launched a communications satellite that the country offered as a “gift” to neighboring countries. Ajey Lele examines the significance of that project to building better relations, in space and on the Earth.
As a conference about the human exploration of Mars convenes in Washington this week, Jeff Foust takes a look both at last year’s Mars miniseries, now out on disc, and a new documentary about the desire of teenagers to be the first to walk on the Red Planet.
Despite decades of failed efforts, true believers of space settlement still believe in that vision. Dwayne Day explores why space enthusiasts cling to their dreams despite the lack of accomplishment.
As the space community waits to see what the Trump Administration might do in space policy, some are already developing proposals to support the commercial space industry. Jeff Foust reports on a recent Senate hearing that examined a range of proposals, from modest to wide-ranging.
In the conclusion of his two-part history of the Soyuz-1 mission, Asif Siddiqi examines the tragic landing and investigation that followed, while debunking a number of myths associated with the mission.
The “treasure map” that Gordon Cooper reportedly made during his Mercury flight might not have any substance to it, but it’s hardly the first time the late astronaut was linked to a questionable project. James Oberg discusses how Cooper was associated with a string of such ventures later in his life.
For as much as we’ve learned about the universe in the last century, there is even more that remains a mystery. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines seven different frontiers in science, from cosmology to consciousness.
This week is the 50th anniversary of the flight of Soyuz-1, which ended in the death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Asif Siddiqi reexamines the historical record to better understand exactly what happened on that flight.
The television series The Expanse is perhaps the best representation of space settlement available in any form of entertainment today. Yet, Dwayne Day argues, it is hardly the utopian vision of human expansion into space often promoted by space advocates.
A new series on the Discovery Channel follows a treasure hunter following a map purported to be created by Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper during his spaceflight. James Oberg explains why there’s little reason to believe there’s any substance behind that map.
NASA’s plans for a potential return to the Moon remain up in the air, but that is not deterring others interested in lunar activities. Jeff Foust reports on discussions about human missions to the Moon by space agencies and companies at a recent conference.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of Los Angeles in one of more than 500 “March for Science” events worldwide. David Clow describes how concerns about climate change, and NASA’s role studying it, were among the key issues for marchers there.
The current wave of billionaires putting their money into space ventures appears to be a new trend in spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that it is instead a return to the models used to fund past space-related activities long before the launch of the first satellite.
NASA has started to disclose more details about how the Space Launch System and Orion can be used in the 2020s to develop a “gateway” in cislunar space to support operations of a transport vehicle for missions eventually to Mars. Ari Allyn-Feuer explains some issues with that architecture and proposes an alternative, and potentially more effective, approach.
An updated version of a recent book about the first shuttle mission provides new details about efforts to collect images of the shuttle in orbit by a reconnaissance satellite. Dwayne Day examines those revelations as part of a broader effort to use spysats to spy on other satellites.
There’s been considerable speculation about Russia’s plans for the future of the ISS as well as potential participation in missions to the Moon and Mars. Jeff Foust reports on what the head of Roscosmos recently said about those issues in a rare press conference with Western reporters.
As the Trump Administration continues to show interest in reestablishing the National Space Council, many wonder what such an entity can achieve. Roger Handberg argues that it will depend if the council is preceded by an overarching vision for the country’s space policy.
Those who worked in Mission Control have never received the same amount of fame as the astronauts whose missions they supervised. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that puts those who worked there at the height of the Space Race into the limelight.
While the US Air Force provides the most detailed satellite catalog officially available, some objects are either missing or not updated. Charles Phillips discusses why that catalog should be made more complete, and how it could be done.
The highlight of last week’s Space Symposium conference in Colorado was arguably the display of Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle and an appearance by company founder Jeff Bezos. Jeff Foust reports on the status update Bezos provided on the company’s plans to send people on suborbital spaceflights, perhaps in 2018.
At a media event last week about Blue Origin’s plans, Jeff Bezos suggested the company could get into the small launch vehicle business as well. A.J. Mackenzie argues that if that happens, it spells trouble for the various other small launcher ventures out there today.
SpaceX is talking about not only increasing their flight rates, but attempting to recover the Falcon 9 payload fairing and second stage as well. Dick Eagleson examines how efforts to prove out second stage and payload fairing recovery might proceed and looks at related logistic challenges for SpaceX as it moves to greatly increase its launch cadence.
The threat of asteroid impacts is real, but often overhyped. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a thoughtful examination of asteroid impact risks and how astronomers are keeping tabs on the skies.
SpaceX achieved a major milestone last week with it successfully launched a satellite using a Falcon 9 first stage that had previously flown. Jeff Foust discusses how the question is now not whether such reusability is technically feasible, but rather if it can make economic sense.
Even recent efforts to make reusable launch vehicles have often resulted in vehicles that don’t look that dissimilar to rockets developed decades ago. John Hollaway argued that has created a tunnel vision that ignores alternative approaches to reducing the cost of space access.
As NASA presses ahead with a mission to study Jupiter’s potentially habitable moon Europa from orbit, it’s also beginning planning for a follow-up lander mission. Jeff Foust reports on the state of both proposed missions, and the fiscal hurdles now facing the lander.
As the space community changes, should NASA also change? Zach Miller starts a three-part series by looking at the origins and fiscal constrains of the agency.
NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory has been in orbit since 1999, but is far less well known than other space telescopes like Hubble. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a review of the science that Chandra has achieved by observing the universe at x-ray wavelengths.
As the new administration weighs its options for NASA’s human space exploration program, NASA is moving ahead with plans to develop an outpost in cislunar space to support its current Journey to Mars. Jeff Foust reports on recent developments, and how a return to the Moon might affect those plans.
The legal subcommittee of the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is meeting this week, with space resources one of the issues on the agenda. Anne-Sophie Martin examines the current state of efforts to establish space resource legal regimes at national and international levels.
One launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has been preserved, turning it into a time capsule from the early days of the Space Age. Joseph T. Page II pays a visit to Space Launch Complex Ten.
If settlements are to survive and thrive beyond Earth, they will have to operate very differently from terrestrial cities. Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi argues that the consumerism found in modern-day society is inconsistent with the philosophy required for future settlements.
Quantum mechanics can seem baffling to many, but it’s essential to our understanding of the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to demystify the physics of the subatomic realm.
If NASA and other space agencies press ahead with plans for a cislunar gateway outpost, how would it be most effectively developed? John Strickland proposes a design that emphasizes cargo and propellant storage that can support, and be supported by, a lunar base.
In the White House budget proposal released last week, the Trump Administration mentioned in passing that NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission would be cancelled. Jeff Foust reports on what’s known about those plans, and the limbo that statement puts ARM into.
The concept of salvaging spacecraft in outer space has long been a part of science fiction, but faces legal challenges if attempted in real life. Michael Listner discusses how salvage could be applied to satellites or other space assets.
The movie The Space Between Us, about a teenager returning to Earth from Mars, flopped at the box office earlier this year. Dwayne Day examines what went wrong with the film and if it indicates popular interest in Mars is waning.
Can a novel about a human mission to Mars be more than just a science-fiction epic? Jeff Foust review a “literary fiction” approach to a novel about a crew preparing for the first human mission to the Red Planet.
Last month, NASA issued a request for ideas of payloads that could fly on a mysterious satellite the agency was getting from elsewhere in the government. Dwayne Day traces that satellite back to a National Reconnaissance Office program that briefly exited the black world nearly two decades ago.
By some accounts, this week marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of SpaceX. Jeff Foust examines the company’s legacy to date in shaking up the space industry, for better or for worse.
Military space programs have suffered from the perception they are considered less important by the US Air Force than aircraft. M.V. “Coyote” Smith argues that, to elevate the importance of space, it needs its own independent service within the military.
All eyes are on Washington to see what the Trump Administration might propose for NASA’s budget in 2018 and what new initiatives it might offer. Roger Handberg says that history suggests we should treat such proposals skeptically.
The site of a classified military space facility known as the “Blue Cube” is now home to a college and a government building. Joseph T. Page II visits the former Blue Cube site to see how its legacy has been preserved there.
As discoveries of exoplanets mount, both the variety of known worlds and the prospects that some could harbor life continue to mount. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two scientists that examines what some of these worlds might be like and how hospitable they may be to life in one form or another.
Last week, SpaceX announced plans for a commercial human mission around the Moon, while Blue Origin said it’s working on a lunar cargo lander concept. Jeff Foust reports on these developments, and examines if these developments are shaped by, or instead are shaping, space policy.
Gerald Black revisits last week’s commentary about human lunar missions with a call for NASA and SpaceX to work together on their proposed circumlunar missions, rather than compete with one another.
In the final part of his examination of Russian human spaceflight efforts, Bart Hendrickx discusses efforts by Russia, in cooperation with other space agencies, to develop a cislunar outpost that could support future exploration.
For decades, space advocates have been trying to recreate the factors that allowed the dramatic success of Apollo. Jack Kiraly identifies the key factors in the “formula” that enabled Apollo and why they may be a product of that era.
While new commercial space ventures have gotten a lot of attention recently, the business is still dominated by traditional satellite communications and related companies. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the current state of the industry and how it can transition to a new state of growth.
In the second part of his comprehensive assessment of the state of Russia’s human spaceflight program, Bart Hendrickx explores efforts in recent years by Russia to develop new crewed spacecraft and launch vehicles to support missions beyond Earth orbit.
NASA announced earlier this month it is studying the possibility of putting astronauts on the first SLS/Orion mission, which currently is set to fly without a crew. Jeff Foust reports on the details of the study and some of the issues NASA will likely to encounter.
If sending people back to the Moon is a good idea, should it be done with SLS and Orion? Gerald Black argues that it makes more sense to send humans back to the Moon using commercial vehicles arguably further along in their development.
The promise of space settlements has remained just that because of the extremely high costs of establishing these outposts beyond Earth orbit. Al Globus offers an alternative approach that he believes could be much more feasible by sticking closer to home.
As the debate continues about whether NASA should redirect its human space exploration program back to the Moon, another question is how to carry out such missions. Ajay Kothari says that such missions make sense provided they involve reusable launch vehicles.
Changing programs and restricted budgets often force NASA to make tough decisions about what older historic launch pads and other buildings it should maintain. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines some of the issues associated with “space archeology” of NASA facilities, on Earth or on the Moon.
On Sunday, a Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, the first launch from the historic pad since the end of the shuttle program. Jeff Foust reports on the significance of the launch both for SpaceX’s near- and long-term plans, and for KSC’s efforts to work with industry.
Russia’s human spaceflight program is suffering from the country’s broader economic downturn. In the first part of a series, Bart Hendrickx examines the effects those problems are having on Russia’s participation on the ISS and plans for a future space station.
In the concluding part of his examination of presidential leadership in space policy, Matt Chessen uses the lessons of history to examine whether a Trump Administration could provide strong leadership for space, and whether such leadership is even desirable.
Satellite operators seek to extend the lives of their spacecraft as long as possible, but run the risk of failures that could lead to in-orbit breakups. Charles Phillips offers a couple of case studies where operators face tough decisions about when to shut down their satellites.
An Indian rocket last week launched more than 100 satellites, the vast majority of which came from US companies. Ajey Lele warns that, despite the technical success of that mission, policy changes could make it harder for India to maintain its position in the smallsat launch market.
Fifty years ago, aerospace engineer Max Hunter published a book about the technical issues with launching spacecraft into Earth orbit and beyond. Jeff Foust reviews a reissue of that book to see how those assessments have stood the test of time.
Black ops and the shuttle (part 1): On-orbit servicing and recovery of the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite
During the development of the space shuttle in the 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office examined how it could use the shuttle to do more than simply launch its satellites. Dwayne Day examines what is known about proposals to adapt the HEXAGON satellites for the shuttle, including servicing.
NASA has grappled with the risks associated with human spaceflight for decades. Jeff Foust reports on how one top NASA official wants to reexamine how NASA calculates and communicates risk for crewed spacecraft.
For a while, it appeared that engineers had found all the ways a launch vehicle could fail. But, as Wayne Eleazer explains, new vehicles have created new failure modes, and even new categories of launch failures.
Space advocates continue to look back at President Kennedy as a model of presidential leadership in space policy. In the first of a two-part essay, Matt Chessen discusses what factors made Kennedy effective, and how they translated—or didn’t translate—to later administrations.
President Trump’s preferred method of communication seems to be Twitter. Sam Dinkin provides ten tweet-sized recommendations on how to make space great again.
It’s been a year since scientists announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves, opening a new window on the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a look behind the scenes as the LIGO team works to interpret the discovery and make the historic announcement.
Last month, Eugene Cernan, the last human to date to walk on the Moon, passed away. Anthony Young recounts Cernan’s spaceflight career, including the missions leading up to Apollo 17.
Space advocates often talk about opening the space frontier, but is NASA really working to do so? Steve Hoeser argues that US space policy should be revamped to emphasize not just exploration of space, but establishing a growing economic presence there.
North Korea’s space program, interconnected to its missile development efforts,remains cloaked in secrecy. Jim Oberg, one of the few Westerners to get a glimpse of that effort, warns that the US should be cautious of any future satellite launch attempts.
In a little more than six months, a total solar eclipse will stretch across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. Jeff Foust reports on some of the planning to deal with the logistical issues of such an event, as well as the science some hope to get out of the eclipse.
The actions of the Trump administration led some to wonder if the US will turn away from international partnerships, in space and elsewhere. Vidvuds Beldavs suggests that space cooperation be a topic for this summer’s G20 summit.
Decades of spaceflight have created plenty of headlines in the history books, but also many other lesser-known tales. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a grab bag of those more obscure, but still interesting, stories.
In the 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office considered developing an imaging payload that would fly on space shuttle missions. Dwayne Day reveals what is known about that effort thanks to newly-declassified documents.
The first week of the Trump Administration has been hectic, and a cause for concern among many scientists. Jeff Foust reports on the changes that have been made, what’s stayed the same, and the underlying concerns about science in the new administration.
Sometimes space history research can involve tracking down a long-forgotten object. John Charles describes his quest to find a piece of hardware from the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program.
How should the Trump Administration develop a space policy that can effectively deal with China? Michael Listner offers three principles that he believes should guide the new administration’s space policy.
Relations between the US and Russia have been contentious in recent years, although space has been mostly free of those tensions. Al Anzaldua and Dave Dunlop argue that a means of improving relations between the countries, and solving a key space-related problem, is to cooperate in space debris cleanup.
Fifty years ago this week, the Outer Space Treaty was formally opened for signature. Christopher Johnson discusses how the treaty took shape despite the US and USSR having sharply differing views on issues, like the role private actors should play in space.
Certain families of spacecraft in sun-synchronous orbit appear susceptible to in-orbit breakups. Charles D. Phillips examines the record of those groups of spacecraft and what could be causing those problems.
When NASA announced its selections of the next Discovery missions earlier this month, many were surprised that the agency chose two asteroid missions. Jeff Foust reports on the missions that were selected and what NASA is saying about why it chose those missions.
While companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are making steps towards low-cost reusable launch vehicles, they fall short of what’s been done in other modes of transportation, such as aviation. Mike Snead describes what space transportation attributes should be pursued in federal policy to make society truly spacefaring.
A controversial provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, passed in 2015, gives US companies rights to resources they extract from asteroids and other celestial bodies. Justin Rostoff argues that the law, as written, is in violation of international treaty.
Richard Garriott is known to the space community as the private citizen who flew to the ISS in 2008, but to computer gamers he is a legendary pioneer. Jeff Foust reviews his memoir that touches on both aspects of his life, including details of his long effort to get to space.
Four and a half months after a pad explosion, SpaceX returned the Falcon 9 to flight with the successful launch of a batch of Iridium satellites Saturday. Jeff Foust reports on the effort to resume Falcon 9 launches, and the other issues and upcoming milestones for SpaceX in the coming year.
The success of the National Geographic Channel series about Mars exploration has been enough to warrant a second season. Dwayne Day takes another look at that series and the overall interest in the Red Planet, in both fact and fiction.
There’s no shortage of advice about what the incoming Trump administration should do about space policy. A white paper from a space advocacy group argues that it should closely tie human spaceflight to commercial efforts.
US law grants rights to commercial asteroid miners for the resources they harvest, but how can that law be enforced? Thomas Simmons examines one issue with the law, dealing with the fact that such mining is likely to be done by robots, not humans.
Should be space exploration efforts be driven by a quest for science, or the expansion of humanity beyond Earth? Shalina Chatlani warns of the consequences of overlooking “scientific reality” in favor of realizing human visions.
Some space advocates believe that the public would offer greater support for space exploration if they only knew more about what’s going on in space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to provide such an education, but is ultimately flawed.
After Apollo 11 went to the Moon, US spy satellites collected images of a failed Soviet launch of its N-1 rocket. Charles Vick and Dwayne Day describe how the US intelligence community knew about the failure even before those images were returned.
There’s a recent, renewed push for developing space infrastructure, including a recent commentary endorsed by Jeff Bezos. Mike Snead supports that idea, but doesn’t believe it should be the responsibility of NASA to do so.
The future of NASA’s human spaceflight program is one of the key concerns of the space community as Donald Trump prepares to take office. Roger Handberg describes why that future will likely require greater cooperation with other nations.
Construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes atop a Hawaiian mountain has been stalled by protests and legal disputes. Jeff Foust reports that the observatory’s partners may soon have to make a decision about staying in Hawaii or moving to an alternate site.
Mars is widely seen as the long-term destination for human spaceflight, but is it the best place for people to go? J. Morgan Qualls that there’s much more to be done in cislunar space and elsewhere before thinking about going to Mars.
NASA’s fleet of space science missions is familiar to many space enthusiasts, although the people who work on them often are not. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of a number of those missions and profiles the people working on them.
The incoming Trump Administration is considering re-establishing the National Space Council, based on campaign statements. John Logsdon recounts the checkered history of the council and examines if it is the best mechanism for coordinating space policy
In February 1969, US analysts were expecting the Soviets to launch a circumlunar mission of some kind in a last-minute bid to beat the Americans to the moon. Charles Vick and Dwayne Day describe the intelligence that went into that assessment, and also what they missed.
What the incoming Trump Administration will do in space policy remains a topic of speculation in the space community. Andrew Gasser describes how the new administration should focus on public-private partnerships to create a more effective space program.
Last month, the Chinese navy seized a US Navy robotic submersible and held it for a brief time. David Chen argues that episode could provide a precedent for China to do something similar with a satellite.
A new Star Wars movie has attracted large audiences since its debut last month. Dwayne Day, though, suggests that it’s Star Trek that offer the stronger connections to spaceflight, and a much-needed optimistic philosophy about the future.
Among the Apollo-era astronauts, among the least well known is Donn Eisele, who flew only one mission and passed away before he could publish his memoirs. Jeff Foust reviews a book that pieces together at least a partial story about his life and flying on Apollo 7, based on drafts of a book he started decades ago.
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