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Last Friday marked the 15th anniversary of the first flight to space by SpaceShipOne, a mission that was supposed to open a new era in commercial human spaceflight. Jeff Foust digs into some video archives to examine the predictions from that time to what's happening today.
A helicopter company proposed to NASA during the height of the Apollo program to develop a giant helicopter that could not only ferry Saturn V first stages, but also retrieve them in midair. Dwayne Day explores a concept that bordered on the insane.
Some recent analyses have suggested the absolute floor for launching people into orbit could be quite low. Sam Dinkin reviews that work and remembers that launch costs are not the same as launch prices.
William C. Brown was one of the pioneers of wireless power transmission, an essential technology is space-based solar power is ever to become a reality. Paul Jaffe examines the insights offered by Brown’s journals.
Whether you consider Apollo a success or a failure depends on how you define the short- and long-term goals of the program. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to review Apollo’s accomplishments from another perspective.
As NASA embarks on another effort to return humans to the Moon, it’s worth reexamining how much it cost to get them there the first time, 50 years ago. Casey Dreier presents a new detailed analysis of those costs, which approach $300 billion in tolday’s dollars.
Doomed from the start: The Manned Orbiting Laboratory and the search for a military role for astronauts
Fifty years ago this month, President Nixon formally cancelled the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. Dwayne Day notes that, years earlier, an unknown Air Force officer predicted the program’s fate.
Through a series of space policy directives, the Trump Administration has called for reforms of commercial space regulations, from launch to remote sensing. Jeff Foust reports that many in industry are finding that this regulatory streamlining isn’t working out quite as they expected.
Long before Deep Impact and Armageddon, an MIT class in the 1960s examined how it could deflect a threatening asteroid. Dwayne Day examines how the concept leveraged the Saturn V and other Apollo-era technologies.
A new drama for Apple’s upcoming streaming video service is about an alternative history regarding the race to the Moon. Mark Whittington wonders if it will capture viewers’ interest.
One hundred years ago, astronomers observed a solar eclipse that provided them with evidence confirming Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the development of general relativity, and its effect on astrophysics in the century since that famous eclipse.
Last week NASA announced a new initiative to stimulate further commercial use of the International Space Station and separate commercial platforms in low Earth orbit. Jeff Foust reports on that effort and how it conjures up memories of a similar effort nearly two decades ago.
One of the major questions of the Apollo program is what role CIA intelligence on Soviet efforts played in decisions such as sending Apollo 8 to the Moon. Dwayne Day examines what insights the CIA offered NASA that could have shaped such decisions.
David Shomper had a unique role for the Apollo 11 mission that put him atop the Saturn V rocket—literally. Thomas Frieling interviews Shomper on the unique role he played on that mission.
Ever since SpaceX launched the first Starlink satellites last month, astronomers have raised the alarm about the effect those satellites would have on the night sky. A.J. Mackenzie argues that those astronomers have not done a good job making their case.
NASA is not the only organization planning missions to the Moon, as there’s growing commercial and international interest. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of those plans and the scientific and commercial reasons for doing so.
A news report last week indicated that Stratolaunch may soon cease operations after a single flight of its giant aircraft. That outcome is disappointing, Dwayne Day writes, but also not terribly surprising.
An appropriations bill the House will consider later this month retains language that restricts bilateral cooperation between NASA and its Chinese counterparts. Jeff Foust reports that some believe it’s time to revisit that provision to allow for greater civil space cooperation between the countries.
Long after the last Saturn V lifted off, NASA and industry examined ways to preserve and even use new versions of the rocket’s F-1 engine. Dwayne Day recounts those efforts that continued up until several years ago.
Fifty years ago, the movie Marooned offered one of the more realistic portrayals of spaceflight of that era, depicting an Apollo spacecraft stuck in orbit. John Charles explains how that dilemma could have been avoided, and thus one of the film’s characters could have survived, had they only known about backup procedures.
This summer, many books will look back on the Apollo program and the original race to the Moon, an some will look ahead. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a more wide-ranging, and thought-provoking, examination of our past and future on the Moon.
After years of delays, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are preparing to start carrying paying customers on suborbital spaceflights starting as soon as later this year. Jeff Foust reports both have made progress but still have work to do before entering commercial service.
Among the contingency plans developed by NASA for the Apollo program were those where missions had to remain in Earth orbit because of an upper stage malfunction. Dwayne Day describes how NASA’s proposals for alternative work for those missions put it in conflict with the national security community.
Accelerating a return to the Moon brings with it risks for the astronauts who will make those first missions. John Strickland discusses how vehicles can be developed to increase the safety for those crews.
The Moon is back in the limelight this year, but that doesn’t mean Mars is any less interesting a world. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an overview of what we know, and what we don’t, about a nearby planet.
NASA’s new urgency to return to the Moon requires the agency to, besides developing new landers and other spacecraft, also develop new spacesuits for walking on the Moon. Dwayne Day explores the lessons many of the Apollo astronauts provided to NASA about their moonwalking experiences more than a quarter-century ago.
More companies are getting into the commercial launch market, at both the large and small ends of vehicle capacities, despite uncertainty about how much demand there is for such vehicles. Jeff Foust reports that those within the industry expect a shakeout that could leave only a handful of companies standing.
How defense and civil space offices can work together to on space situational awareness and space commerce
National space policy calls for handing over civil aspects of space traffic management work to the Commerce Department, but that office has little in-house expertise to take on that task. Alfred Anzaldua argues that collaboration with academia can help provide that expertise and keep the United States at the forefront of this critical field.
As the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 approaches, many books about the mission and the overall program follow a “triumphalism” perspective. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a noted space historian who takes into account alternative perspectives to provide a more nuanced, complex look at the program and its historical significance.
Blue Origin held an event last week in Washington where founder Jeff Bezos discussed the company’s Blue Moon lunar lander. Jeff Foust reports on the literal unveiling of the lander and Bezos’ vision of humanity’s future in space.
Throughout the 1960s, the CIA closely followed the Soviet space program to determine its capabilities and intent. Dwayne Day describes how one report from the late 1960s encapsulated what the CIA knew, and didn’t know, about Soviet efforts to go to the Moon.
As the United States weighs developing a Space Force, the March test of an anti-satellite weapon by India has some there thinking about its military space plans. Ajey Lele discusses why India should develop its own space force to give military space capabilities the attention they need.
Robert Zubrin is best known as a leading advocate for human mission to Mars, but his views of spaceflight go well beyond the Red Planet. Jeff Foust reviews a book where he describes how humans can go from the Earth to the stars, and why they should.
A little-known Russian organization may be playing a key role in the development of military spacecraft and anti-satellite weapons. Bart Hendrickx explains what is known about CNIIHM and its role in Russia’s military space activities.
Ever since Vice President Mike Pence announced in a speech a month and a half ago that NASA was charged with landing humans on the Moon in five years, many have wondered how NASA can do it, and for how much money. Jeff Foust reports that the answers to some, but not all, of those questions are finally appearing.
When President Kennedy met with advisors after Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight, there was another person in the room: journalist Hugh Sidey. Dwayne Day discusses Sidey’s unusual access, and how his accounts of the event changed over time.
NASA’s plans for getting astronauts to the Moon largely involve vehicles like the Space Launch System. Ajay Kothari and Todd Rokita argue that instead using new reusable launch systems can enable a rapid return to the Moon at a much lower cost.
The Apollo astronauts who flew to the Moon performed extraordinary accomplishments; what lessons can we learn from their achievements? Jeff Foust reviews a book that promises just that, only to find that you don’t need to go to the Moon to find the wisdom contained in its pages.
More than a week ago, SpaceX suffered an anomaly during testing of the abort engines for its Crew Dragon spacecraft. Jeff Foust reports on the little information known about the incident and its implications for the commercial crew program.
The giant Saturn V rocket sent humans to the Moon a half-century ago, but what would have happened had something gone wrong? In the first article in a series leading up to the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, Dwayne Day examines some of the worst-case scenarios studied by NASA.
Companies are proposing a number of satellite constellations, some with thousands of spacecraft, intended to provide broadband communications. Adam Kimbrough notes that such systems also create new headaches for radio astronomers.
Over the decades, the views of President Kennedy's interest in space have risen and fallen based on new historical evidence and analysis. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a new consideration of Kennedy's support for racing the Soviets to the Moon.
As astronomers prepare to begin a decadal survey that will recommend the next flagship-class mission to pursue, the top selections from the previous two surveys have yet to launch. Jeff Foust reports on how this is weighing on astronomers who seek to balance bold scientific ambitions with uncertain budgets.
An important aspect of point-to-point suborbital passenger demand is whether it’s prudent for a company to permit key personnel to travel via a higher-risk mode of transportation. Sam Dinkin estimates what level might support a judgement that such travel is safe enough.
The first that damaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris last week led to a debate about the value, and expense, of symbols. Jeffrey Liss argues that the same debate applies to the cost and benefits of space exploration.
New discoveries continue to reshape our knowledge of the origin and nature of our universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a guide to that current state of knowledge, best suited for newcomers to the topic.
On Saturday, Stratolaunch’s giant aircraft, developed to serve as an air-launch system, finally took flight in California. Jeff Foust examines the long road that venture has faced to get to its first flight, and its uncertain future.
India’s anti-satellite test last month has gotten little in the way of reaction from other governments. Jessica West argues that countries need to speak up in order to preserve the space environment from other tests that could be even more destructive.
Israel hoped to become the fourth country to soft-land a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon last week, but its Beresheet lander crashed after suffering technical problems. Jeff Foust reports on the landing attempt and SpaceIL’s future plans.
How can the United States meet growing energy demand while also reducing its greenhouse gas emissions? Mike Snead describes how “astroelectricity”, better known as space-based solar power, can achieve that as part of a long-term national program.
The current era of spaceflight is very different from even the relatively recent past given the influx of new companies and countries. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an overview, at an introductory level, about this new space age.
This week SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft will attempt a landing on the Moon, a precursor of sorts for future commercial missions whose payloads will include NASA-selected scientific instruments. Jeff Foust reports that, as scientists and lander developers get to know each other, there's still some work to do to match up expectations with capabilities.
NASA astronauts are almost universally considered to be exceptional people, physically and mentally. Deana L. Weibel discusses this elevation of astronauts above ordinary people, which can even have religious overtones.
India's recent test of an anti-satellite weapon got a muted reaction from many other governments. Taylor Dinerman argues that the test demonstrates that space warfare may be something that space powers will have to learn to live with.
The Apollo program offers many iconic photographs, but there are still many more excellent images of the program and missions like Apollo 11 that few have seen. Jeff Foust reviews two books by the same authors who offer a selection of those images from various aspects of the race to the Moon.
Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA last week to accelerate its human spaceflight plans so it can land a human on the south pole of the Moon by 2024. Jeff Foust reports this charge is the latest in a recent series of policy changes that have created more questions than answers.
Last week India surprised the world by carrying out a direct-ascent ASAT test, destroying one of its own satellites. Ajey Lele discusses the background of the test and why it is not as destabilizing as some might think.
Vice President Pence’s speech appeared to harken back to previous efforts to set audacious deadlines for NASA. Roger Handberg argues the new goal is a dance between operational reality and political reality.
As NASA works on its accelerated return to the Moon, Chinese officials have discussed the potential for setting up a base at the lunar poles. John Hickman examines the advantages and disadvantages of the two countries’ efforts.
With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing coming up this summer, there’s a growing number of books about the mission and the overall space race. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that provides a good, but not particularly novel, history of the space race.
Human spaceflight is often promoted as an expression of humanity’s innate desire to explore, but it’s not how such programs are truly funded. Roger Handberg argues that, ultimately, it comes down to economic benefits, notably jobs.
While recent attention devoted to NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal focused on SLS, science programs are also facing scrutiny. Jeff Foust reports on those issues, including yet another attempt to cancel a major astrophysics mission and cost growth for planetary science missions.
A recent report by UBS projects that point-to-point suborbital space travel will be a $20 billion a year market in 2030. Sam Dinkin examines their assumptions and offers an alternative analysis.
During the shuttle program, payload specialists ranging from scientists to politicians got to fly on missions, even though they were sometimes considered second-class astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offeres a detailed examination of the program, including the perspectives of many of those payload specialists.
Last week NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that NASA was studying alternatives to using the Space Launch System on the EM-1 mission. Jeff Foust reports on those developments and how it could reopen the need for the SLS in the first place.
Satellite intelligence can provide insights to guide policy decisions. Chris Manteuffel describes one case from the Cold War where satellite imagery was wrongly interpreted by intelligence officials, leading to a costly investment that may not have been necessary.
NASA is working on elements of an exploration plan that would return humans to the surface of the Moon by 2028. Gerald Black says that this approach has more negatives than positives and should be replaced by an alternative approach.
There are a number of problems with NASA’s current approach to return to the Moon. Yet, Eric Hedman argues, it may still be the best way to get humans to the surface of the Moon in the next decade.
The successful landing of the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the lunar farside in January has triggered another round of speculation about China’s lunar exploration plans and a race with the United States. Dwayne Day argues that many Western observers see what they want to see in China’s space program and not what is really going on.
Last summer, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 3 that addressed space traffic management issues, but its implementation has been slowed by arguments regarding what agency should be in charge. Brian Weeden offers a potential compromise that would allow work on the issue to move ahead.
The successful launch and docking of a Crew Dragon spacecraft a week ago was only a part of that test flight: a vehicle that carries astronauts to the space station also needs to be able to return them. Jeff Foust reports on the conclusion of that Demo-1 mission and the growing confidence the commercial crew program is ready to carry astronauts this year.
More than three decades ago, Frank White published a book that described the “Overview Effect,” that change in perspective that many astronauts experience when seeing the Earth from space. Jeff Foust reviews White’s latest book that instead looks at a changing perspective of the universe enabled by spaceflight.
A SpaceX Falcon took off in the middle of the night this weekend, sending a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on a test flight to verify the vehicle is ready to carry astronauts. Jeff Foust reports on the status of the mission and what remains to be done before that spacecraft carries people into orbit.
Despite recent advances in reusability, rockets are fundamentally similar today to those developed in the middle of the last century. John Hollaway wonders when there will be a true disruption in space access.
Last month, SpaceIL’s Beresheet lunar lander launched, and is making its way to the Moon for a landing attempt in April. Gerald Black argues this is the beginning of a new commercial rush to the Moon where, like the gold rushes of the 19th century, suppliers could cash in as well.
The Apollo 11 mission has been told and retold countless times in almost every conceivable format. However, Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that offers a fresh look at the mission, thanks in part to footage that hadn’t been seen since it was taken a half-century ago.
This year is expected to include major milestones in commercial spaceflight, such as key test flights of orbital and suborbital vehicles. There’s also, Jeff Foust reports, some unfinished business in commercial space policy intended to support those and other ventures.
As NASA seeks partners for its plans to establish a lunar Gateway and return to the Moon, Japan must consider what roles it wishes to play in that effort. Takashi Uchino examines the rationales for human spaceflight in Japan and how to balance that with robotic space exploration.
President Trump recently signed a space policy directive that formally begins the process of creating a Space Force. Lamont Colucci argues that a full-fledged Space Force, as a separate military service and not one that is part of the Air Force, is essential to the future of American grand strategy.
Ronald Reagan is perhaps best known in space for his administration’s decision to develop the space station, but that legacy goes far beyond that single decision. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a leading space historian on the achievements of the Reagan White House on civil and commercial space policy.
The last launch of a HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite, in 1986, ended in failure. Dwayne Day describes how that satellite also carried an additional top secret sensor and intelligence mission not previously known.
This year is shaping up to be the most active in lunar exploration in decades. Jeff Foust reports on how, at least partially in response to those other missions, NASA is looking to speed up its own plans.
In the conclusion of his two-part article, Jeffrey L. Smith looks at another case when a launch vehicle provider switched solid rocket booster providers, and why that attempt was far less successful than a most recent change.
Many of the best-known space startups have been created, and funded, by wealthy entrepreneurs. Roger Handberg discusses some of the limitations of this patron model that have already affected some of these companies.
Northrop Grumman recently tested a new solid rocket booster that will be used on ULA’s Atlas and Vulcan rockets. Jeffrey L. Smith, in the first of a two-part article, describes the development of that booster and the technical challenges involved.
Besides planning for future space telescopes, the 2020 astrophysics decadal survey will also examine proposals for future ground-based telescopes. Jeff Foust reports on one effort to win federal funding to ensure open access to two large observatories planned for completion in the 2020s.
Proposals by those seeking to address climate change and other environmental problems, such as the Green New Deal, make little use of space-based resources or other capabilities. Taylor Dinerman argues that space can benefit the environment without jeopardizing growth.
Concerns about the weaponization of space, and warfare there, have grown with new development of ASAT weapons and proposals for a Space Force. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to provide an overview of the topic, but offers few insights.
While proposals continue to be debated about a Space Force or Space Corps, such a military entity may not be well-suited to many other challenges involving space operations. Al Anzaldúa, Hoyt Davidson, and others make the case for a civilian Space Guard to handle issues from regulation and inspection to protection and rescue.
In a somewhat surprising move last week, Space Systems Loral announced it was cancelling its agreement with DARPA on a satellite servicing program for financial reasons. Jeff Foust reports that other companies still remain interested in developing systems for servicing satellites, at least for now.
Ramjets, studied decades ago for missiles, have been considered for use on some launch vehicle concepts. John Hollaway wonders if ramjets might be more efficient than previously thought for reusable spaceplanes.
Last month the streaming service Hulu quietly cancelled The First, a series about the first human missions to Mars, starring Sean Penn. Jeff Foust reviews the series to see why this Mars mission went off-course.
Like in its first season, the second season of National Geographic’s Mars mixed a dramatic storyline of humans on Mars with documentary features. Dwayne Day examines how well they work together, and how they illustrate some of the long-standing problems regarding the advocacy of commercial human spaceflight.
The decadal survey has become the primary way that the space science community sets research priorities and identifies missions to achieve them. Joseph K. Alexander discusses how the decadal survey works and whether it could be applied to human space exploration.
Blue Origin started off 2019 with another suborbital test flight of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Jeff Foust reports on the company’s goal to start flying people later this year while breaking ground on a factory that will produce rocket engines for both itself and ULA.
Some see proposals to establish a Space Force by the US as a first step towards placing or using weapons in space. Takuya Wakimoto explains why this would be a bad step for both US and international security.
The history of robotic missions to explore the planets is a subject as big as the solar system itself. Jeff Foust reviews a book that shrinks that history down to a single volume, including missions that failed to make it off the drawing boards.
The Change’e-4 landing on the far side of the Moon this month has led many to argue that a new space race is emerging between China and the United States. Roger Handberg argues that there can’t be a competition if only one of them is really racing.
The next decadal survey for astrophysics is getting started, and among its tasks will be to prioritize the most promising concepts for large space-based telescopes to be developed in the 2020s. Jeff Foust reports on the four specific concepts under consideration and the pressure they face from the budget problems of their predecessors.
The second second of the National Geographic Channel series Mars attempted to bring new drama to the Red Planet. Dwayne Day reviews the series and finds that attempt at drama rather lacking.
The Moon Treaty has long been criticized as stifling commercial space activities. Dennis O’Brien argues that the treaty, with a proper implementation agreement, can instead address uncertainties about commercialization that will enable those activities to proceed.
This year was supposed to be one of major milestones for commercial space companies, but three weeks into 2019 the milestones have been largely negative. A.J. Mackenzie examines the bad news for various companies and what it means for NewSpace in general.
While the James Webb Space Telescope is not designed to be serviced after launch, large space telescope missions that follow likely will. Jeff Foust reports that some astronomers and engineers are looking beyond merely servicing telescopes in space but rather assembling them there.
Earlier this month China landed its second spacecraft on the Moon, and became the first country to land on the lunar farside. Namrata Goswami warns that, despite these achievements, the West continues to underestimate China’s space program.
Besides being the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the first Bulgarian in space. Svetoslav Alexandrov recaps that country’s history in spaceflight and how, after a hiatus, it is trying to become more active in space again.
As interest in smallsats grows, so does the need for propulsion systems that can make such spacecraft more capable. Researchers from Singapore and Australia examine the current state of research in smallsat propulsion technologies.
This year will see many books about the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, focusing primarily on the program itself, the astronauts, and other key figures. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir that shows that books written by others involved in the program at lower levels can also be interesting.
Last week, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by a small object in the Kuiper Belt, the most distant flyby by a spacecraft to date. Jeff Foust reports on the scene at mission control for the flyby and the science that will come.
NASA has proposed developing a three-stage lander for carrying crews to the surface of the Moon. John Strickland argues that approach is inferior to approaches that make use of larger, reusable, single-stage landers that can be configured for different applications.
In the last two months, two companies founded several years ago to pursue asteroid mining have been acquired. Jeff Foust examines the apparent end of an era for one emerging commercial space market.
Space advocates have long sought signs of exponential growth in relevant technologies, like Moore's Law in computing. A group of researchers looks for evidence of such growth in one aspect of satellite design.
Can NASA's model for supporting the development of new commercial space capabilities be applied by other national space agencies? Takashi Uchino examines the difficulties in using that approach in Japan.