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Last week Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen announced he was teaming up with Burt Rutan, Mike Griffin, and others to create Stratolaunch Systems, a new company developing an air launch system. Jeff Foust describes the company’s launch concept and the issues that have generated skepticism in some quarters.
Missing from the debate about the future of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts is one long-term question: what comes after the ISS? Roger Handberg argues that the failure to contemplate that question now could eventually mean ceding leadership in space station efforts to the Chinese.
NASA appeared set to press ahead with more conventional contracts for the next phase of its commercial crew program, but last week the agency abruptly changed course and said it would go back to Space Act Agreements instead. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons for the change and the reactions from industry and government.
While women are commonplace in NASA’s astronaut corps today, commanding missions and holding management positions, it took considerable effort for women to become astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that discusses the political, cultural, and technical issues associated with that integration.
The US government is grappling with both the growing costs of existing launch vehicles and the emergence of new, if relatively untested, competitors. Stewart Money argues that the future of reliable, cost-effective space access depends on enhanced competition among launch providers.
Many NewSpace ventures today have benefited from the stable financial support provided by a wealthy founder. Jeff Foust examines how two very different such companies have each found ways to maintain a long-term vision independent of near-term issues.
The Austrian parliament recent passed a new law governing outer space activities by its citizens. Michael Listner provides an overview of the law and how it matches up with international agreements and treaties.
In the 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin was an astronaut who became a bionically-enhanced special agent. Dwayne Day looks back at the series, now available for rental, and finds it has not improved with age.
Countless images have been taken of the Earth from space, most commonly in daylight. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a very different perspective of the Earth from space, when the lights of cities shine brightly in the night.
Is it possible to accelerate human missions beyond Earth orbit within constrained budgets? Harley Thronson, Dan Lester, and Skip Hatfield describe how to leverage the experience and technologies of the ISS to support cislunar missions.
In the wake of the apparent failure of its Phobos-Grunt mission, Russian officials are suggesting they’ll try to refly the same mission in the coming years. Lou Friedman argues that Russia instead needs to review its overall Mars exploration plans and consider closer cooperation with the US and Europe.
One of the challenges facing the burgeoning field of extrasolar planet research is finding new ways of discovering more, and more Earth-like, planets within constrained budgets. Jeff Foust reports on a couple of innovative approaches that leverage advances in smallsats and suborbital vehicles.
What do changes in little details in a satellite’s design mean? Dwayne Day examines a changing antenna design of a classic communications satellite and wonders what story it might tell.
Last week the BBC released a long-lost recording of a 1963 TV show featuring Arthur C. Clarke talking about his visions for the future of human spaceflight. Jeff Foust compares those predictions to what actually happened in the 1960s and beyond.
With Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft all but dead, Russian scientists are making plans for future missions even as the president of Russia threatens prosecution for those involved with the failure. Dwayne Day examines what Russia should, and should not, do to reinvigorate its planetary exploration program.
The Space Launch System, NASA’s new heavy-lift vehicle, has not met with universal acceptance since the design was formally announced in September. John Strickland argues that the SLS, as currently conceived, will be too expensive to support the exploration missions and other applications envisioned for it.
Space-based solar power is a concept that has strong support from a small number of space advocates, but little attention or funding from broader audiences. Jeff Foust reports on a new study that offers optimism for the future of space solar power even as the political landscape for supporting it becomes even more challenging.
A European Union proposal for a “Code of Conduct” for space activities has run into opposition from some countries, including India. Michael Listner discusses what Indian officials find objectionable in the code and the options for handing those concerns.
The search for extrasolar planets has become one of the fastest-paced areas of astronomy, with over 700 such worlds now discovered. Jeff Foust reviews an iPad app that provides a multimedia look at some of those worlds and the science behind the search.
Congress last week passed a final 2012 budget for a number of federal agencies, including NASA, supporting some programs but cutting back funding for others. Jeff Foust reports on the details of that appropriations bill and why, despite its passage, NASA’s future funding remains highly uncertain.
The future of America’s human spaceflight efforts is uncertain given budgetary pressures and worries that the nation doesn’t have the commitment needed to support a long-term program. Roger Handberg warns that if the US waits too long, it could be shut out of future international cooperative ventures by a rising Chinese space program.
What does shifting an orbit of an asteroid have in common with interstellar spaceflight? Lou Friedman describes how both out-of-the-box concepts may be key to expanding our thinking about humanity’s future in space.
Tragedy thrust NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, into the global spotlight earlier this year. Jeff Foust reviews a new book by the couple, including details about the sometimes contentious interactions Kelly had with his management at the space agency.
Tight budgets and other factors are putting pressure on NASA’s planetary exploration programs. Jeff Foust reports on what that means for long-term plans for missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.
China is building up its space-based reconnaissance systems in a bid to match American military capabilities. Dwayne Day describes what is driving Chinese plans, and what vulnerabilities that effort introduces.
Visions of overwhelming US military space superiority have long appeared dubious to many, something that is especially the case today given new fiscal realities. Nader Elhefnawy revisits those visions of the US as an “astrocop”.
Russia launched its Phobos-Grunt Mars mission last week, but the spacecraft remains stranded in a decaying Earth orbit that could cause it to reenter within weeks. Michael Listner examines some of the legal implications and remedies for yet another uncontrolled satellite reentry.
Fast-moving, multidisciplinary fields like astrobiology quickly outdate books written about them. Jeff Foust reviews a second edition of a book first published five years ago on astrobiology that benefits from some substantial updates.
This week Russia will launch Phobos-Grunt, a mission to travel to Mars and return a sample of the Martian moon Phobos. Lou Friedman describes the mission and an unusual experiment from The Planetary Society that is onboard the spacecraft.
Phobos-Grunt is a very ambitious mission for any space power, let alone for a country that hasn’t launched a Mars mission in 15 years. Dwayne Day writes that it may be too ambitious a mission, but if successful could have a major payoff for planetary exploration.
Phobos-Grunt is the latest in a long line of Russian/Soviet Mars missions, most of which failed. Doug Messier examines the history of that program and whether this mission can break from that history.
In the next few weeks Congress is expected to wrap up work on NASA’s 2012 budget, including deciding how much money to allocate to the agency’s commercial crew program. Alan Stern and Frank DiBello argue that NASA, Congress, and the White House should work together to get that program moving as fast as possible.
Members of Congress introduced a bill last week to provide some potential export control relief for the satellite industry, while the administration continues work on its own reform efforts. Jeff Foust reports on the progress being made on both fronts, and the prospects in this latest round of the long-running struggle for export control reform.
NASA has proposed guidelines to prevent future lunar vehicles from damaging or contaminating artifacts left behind by the Apollo missions. Matthew Kleiman describes how those voluntary guidelines can be supported by international law.
In the 1970s, the Air Force looked at the Space Shuttle as more than just a vehicle for launching military satellites. Dwayne Day discusses studies that examined the feasibility of using the shuttle to service or return to Earth reconnaissance satellites.
In a speech earlier this month, space entrepreneur robert Bigelow suggested that China was on a path to effectively claim the Moon as Chinese territory within 15 years. Jeff Foust reports on Bigelow’s comments and a critical analysis of them by Chinese space experts.
Western space experts have struggled to apply policy formulations intended to describe American space programs to China’s space efforts. Danny Houpt describes an alternative set of policy typologies that may better fit China’s space policy.
A set of images from the dedication of the new terminal building at Spaceport America in New Mexico earlier this month.
Last Month Virgin Galactic formally dedicated its “Gateway to Space”, the new terminal building and hangar at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Jeff Foust reports on the event as well as the work still in progress for both Virgin’s spacecraft and the spaceport itself.
November is shaping up to be a critical month for Mars exploration, with the planned launches of Russian and American missions to the Red Planet. Lou Friedman notes that ongoing debates within the administration could also spell doom for long-term Mars exploration plans.
While NASA begins development of the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, some have proposed propellant depots as an alternative architecture. Andrew Gasser argues that depots, despite the criticisms of some, offer a feasible and less expensive approach to human space exploration.
The Moon Treaty is widely regarded as a failed treaty since the biggest spacefaring nations, including the United States, have not signed on to it. Michael Listner warns, though, that elements of the treaty could make their way into international law even if the US doesn’t sign or ratify the treaty.
With the shuttle now retired, books recounting the history of the program are making their way onto bookstore shelves. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that includes stunning imagery from various shuttle missions, but has one surprising omission.
This week’s dedication of Spaceport America in New Mexico is the latest milestone in an emerging commercial space industry. Alan Stern sees these developments as signs of a new era in innovation in spaceflight analogous to the early aviation industry.
Cost overruns with the James Webb Space Telescope will require NASA to take money from other programs, perhaps including human spaceflight, to cover its costs. Michael Kaplan explains how the two programs can instead be synergistic.
While most of the recent attention on new launch systems has focused on NASA’s Space Launch System and SpaceX’s plans for a reusable Falcon 9, other vehicles are reshaping the industry landscape as well. Jeff Foust reports on some recent developments by several vehicles, and renewed concerns about overcapacity in the market.
NASA’s announced design of the Space Launch System rocket enables the space agency to pursue the goal set by the president of a human mission to an asteroid by 2025. Anthony Young wonders, though, if such a mission is compelling enough to hold interest over the years leading up to it.
Revisiting the Liability Convention: reflections on ROSAT, orbital space debris, and the future of space law
Another month, another falling satellite; in this case ROSAT, forecast to reenter later this month. Michael Listner discusses some of the legal issues specific to ROSAT’s reentry as well as broader liability concerns about satellite collisions.
Fiscal pressures and policy debates between the White House and Congress could be putting the future of planetary exploration in the US in jeopardy. Lou Friedman worries that history may be repeating itself as the OMB threatens to put key planetary missions on hold indefinitely.
Recently several hundred people gathered in Orlando for a symposium on an unusual topic: what will it take to be able to send a mission to another star? Jeff Foust reports on some of the issues raised regarding a long-term plan for developing a starship.
Last month saw two major announcements about launch vehicles: the release of the design for the Space Launch System, and SpaceX’s plans to develop a fully reusable version of its Falcon 9. Stewart Money explains why the latter announcement may be more important in the long run.
In the second part of his report on a historical symposium about the Gemini program, Dwayne Day describes the achievements made by the program in areas from radar to EVAs that have had lasting effects on human spaceflight.
Once largely overlooked by NASA in favor of hard science and engineering, behavioral science is getting renewed attention as human missions feature more diverse crews for longer stays in space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a look at the current state of research in this field.
Is there a way to speed up the development of human exploration systems while also performing good science? Jack Burns and Scott D. Norris describe how Orion can be used, in conjunction with robotic spacecraft and future crewed landers, to unravel the secrets of the Moon.
NASA’s efforts to develop commercial cargo and crew transportation systems for accessing the ISS, among other potential applications, have become critical programs for the agency. Jeff Foust reports on the progress companies involved in those programs are making as well as concerns about the future of commercial crew in particular.
Under NASA’s current plans, the first human exploration mission won’t take place until at least 2021. Alan Stern and Gerry Griffin argue that’s too long to wait, and offer a pragmatic alternative to accelerate human space exploration.
The achievements of Project Gemini have often been overlooked in space history in favor of the firsts accomplished by Mercury and Gemini. Dwayne Day offers some insights into Gemini’s history from a recent symposium.
Is United States space policy insufficiently farsighted? Christopher Stone argues that it is, based on evidence China sees the need for, and is willing to support the development of, space-based solar power.
NASA’s exploration of the outer solar system has been enabled by the use of plutonium-powered RTGs that generate electricity where solar panels would be ineffective. Jeff Foust reports how declining stocks of a plutonium isotope, and policy battles regarding how to fund its production, jeopardize future planetary missions.
The recent movie Apollo 18 has been panned by many critics, including in the pages of this publication. Dwayne Day argues that this movie does has some redeeming qualities, though, that should not be overlooked.
Last week Michael Drake, the director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, passed away. Andre Bormanis recalls how Drake played a role in shaping his career when he was an undergraduate at Arizona.
Dwayne Day interviews author Michael Cassutt about his new book, a science fiction novel about human expeditions to a near Earth object that turns out to be something quite different.
During the 1970s the Soviet Union carried out an impressive series of robotic planetary missions, but those achievements are largely forgotten today, even in Russia. Lou Friedman reviews a new book that explains in detail what those Soviet missions to the Moon, Mars, and Venus accomplished.
Last Wednesday, with only a few hours’ notice, NASA unveiled its design for the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. Jeff Foust reports on the technical and political issues associated with the SLS design and the concerns some have about the program’s future.
Last Saturday the NRO held a celebration marking its 50th anniversary and, as part of it, declassified two Cold War-era reconnaissance satellite programs. Dwayne Day describes the NRO’s big party and what it had to show off.
Later this week a 20-year-old NASA satellite will reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, posing a very small risk to the public from falling debris. Michael Listner argues that the US can use this reentry as an opportunity to shore up elements of international space law.
Space agencies and companies often come up with interesting euphemisms for describing launch failures. Dwayne Day wonders if it’s time to come with an entirely new word to describe when a rocket has a bad day.
Many spacecraft missions today take advantage of Lagrange points and complex trajectories, but it took considerable effort to get missions to make use of them. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir by one of the pioneers of those techniques who played a key role in a number of NASA missions.
Later this week the National Reconnaissance Office may declassify details about two of its early Cold War satellite reconnaissance systems as part of ceremonies marking the office’s 50th anniversary. Dwayne Day offers a preview of what we may learn about the KH-7 and KH-9.
Cost overruns have put the future of the James Webb Space Telescope in jeopardy. Jeff Foust reports on the mission’s growing cost and the concerns some scientists have that funds for Webb will come at the expense of other programs.
Last week NASA chief technologist Bobby Braun announced plans to leave the agency and return to academia, the latest in a series of officials to leave NASA in recent weeks. Lou Friedman expresses concern this is a sign that the agency’s commitment to science and technology development is unraveling.
Does China really have long-term ambitions to send people to the Moon, as some have argued? Dwayne Day discusses how a lack of information hampers our assessments of Chinese human spaceflight plans.
NASA launched over the weekend its latest mission, a pair of lunar orbiters known by the acronym GRAIL. Jeff Brooks argues that NASA could win more support for its missions if it came up with names for its missions that resonated better with the public.
In the fourth part of her ongoing analysis of a value proposition for NASA’s human spaceflight program, Mary Lynne Dittmar examines the role Congress plays, or should play, in shaping that value proposition.
The last 25 years has seen a resurgence of interest in small satellites, which had been all but neglected after the early years of the Space Age. Jeff Foust reports on the developments that have triggered renewed interest in smallsats and the challenges they face to greater adoption.
There are various, and often conflicting, arguments for why humans should go into space. Greg Anderson explains why he things the arguments should be based on how it is critical to the future development and survival of humanity.
In space, claimed the tagline of a famous science fiction film, no one can hear you scream. After seeing the new and somewhat controversial film Apollo 11, Jeff Foust finds, you’ll wonder if anyone can hear you yawn.
US military space programs are facing a vicious cycle of cost, complexity, and requirements that is no longer sustainable. Thomas Taverney proposes that large, exquisite systems should be replaced by constellations that mix big spacecraft with smaller, less expensive ones.
The International Space Station program suffered a setback last week when a Progress cargo spacecraft failed to each orbit. Jeff Foust reports on the effect the failure will have on access to the station for cargo and crews as well as its role in the ongoing political debate about NASA’s future.
Prospects for human space exploration seem uncertain at best, given limited direction and funding concerns. Lou Friedman sees some hope, though, in the form on new initiatives from the private sector.
The USS Hornet earned a place in history by serving as the recovery ship for Apollo 11. Dwayne Day describes how the carrier, now a museum, is quietly sitting in an abandoned port in the San Francisco Bay area, rusting away.
THow can governments win public support for funding human expeditions to Mars? Frank Stratford argues they may have to be pushed to do so by private initiatives.
Small satellites show increasing potential to do more in space at lower costs than big satellites, but an ongoing challenge has been finding cost-effective ways to launch them. Jeff Foust reports on new opportunities involving existing large rockets and proposed small rockets to serve the smallsat market.
In the latest installment of her assessment of the value of NASA’s human spaceflight program, Mary Lynne Dittmar examines the national security implications of human spaceflight, particularly from the perspective of soft power.
Fifty years ago this month the first spacecraft in the Ranger program launched into Earth orbit. Drew LePage examines the early history of this program and how it set the foundation for more than just missions to the Moon.
Last month recently-retired aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan was a featured guest at the EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Eric Hedman recounts what Rutan had to say about his career and work, including development of suborbital vehicles, at the event.
This is a turbulent time for the space workforce, as some workers lose their jobs while other companies wonder how they’ll attract a new generation of engineers. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides practical career guidance for aerospace and other engineers.
Why has the retirement of the shuttle resonated with the general public so much? Stewart Money discusses how the shuttle, unlike spacecraft before or after it, captured the essence of being a ship.
What value does NASA provide to the nation? In the second part of her analysis, Mary Lynne Dittmar argues that value, not widely recognized, is more fundamental than human space exploration.
When most people think of NewSpace, visions of space tourism and low-cost launchers come to mind. Jeff Foust examines several entrepreneurial space companies that are instead working on technologies that could enable or be enabled by improved access to space.
Space advocates find themselves having to fight the perception that the end of the shuttle program means “the end” of NASA itself. Lou Friedman says that today is a vibrant time for space exploration, even if those accomplishments aren’t often recognized.
Brazil is making a major push to turn its equatorial spaceport into a major hub of launch activity. Doug Messier reports on the various initiatives underway and the challenges the country faces to join the ranks of the world’s space powers.
The end of the shuttle program has created uncertainty about NASA’s long-term future. In the first part of her analysis of the situation, Mary Lynne Dittmar says the lack of a compelling and enduring value proposition for human spaceflight is at the root of this problem.
It’s been nearly four years since the Google Lunar X PRIZE was unveiled, and no team had won it, or even appears reasonably close to winning it. Jeff Foust reports on some recent developments among the various teams, and discussions about what Google itself gets out of the prize competition.
In the last several weeks many have claimed that the retirement of the shuttle is tantamount to the end of NASA human spaceflight, or even NASA itself. Justin Kugler argues while that isn’t the case, we’re in danger of repeating the same mistakes of the past.
Michael Listner provides a brief update on the US government’s consideration of a proposed European “code of conduct” for space activities.
Among the Apollo astronauts least remembered are those who flew to the Moon but remained in the command module while their crewmates walked on the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir by one of those astronauts, who experienced highs and lows after his flight.
A proposed change in how NASA will contract for the next round of its commercial crew development program has generated considerable opposition from industry. Jeff Foust reports on the planned change and concerns it could be the first step to more significant changes in the program.
Many aspects of space exploration, from the language of the Outer Space Treaty to concepts for space colonies, implied a future where space was free of national interests and sovereignty. John Hickman argues that such approaches are as doomed as the utopian visions of the New World centuries ago.
The utility, or lack thereof, of a proposed electric propulsion system to enable Mars missions has been a major point of contention for some Mars exploration enthusiasts and will be discussed again at the Mars Society conference this week. Chuck Black finds a historical analogue to this debate.
Lou Friedman offers his perspective on the book Falling Back to Earth about the space policy of the George H. W. Bush Administration and its lessons for today.
A long-term vision for many aerospace engineers and others in the space community has been the development of a reusable launch vehicle that use atmospheric oxygen for some phases of its flight. John K. Strickland examines the current state of research and the potential future directions in this area.
Dwayne Day discovers an unusual consequence of, and financial opportunity associated with, the retirement of the Space Shuttle.
When the shuttle Atlantis landed Thursday morning, it was more than just the end of the Space Shuttle program. Jeff Foust discusses how it represents an end of a much longer era in human spaceflight, as the momentum built up from the original race to the Moon is finally exhausted.
The Space Shuttle’s legacy has been widely debated as the program reaches its end: despite all its accomplishments, it failed to achieve its original goals of cost reduction. Andre Bormanis argues that the shuttle should best be remembered for taking a step on the path towards better and less expensive space access.
The end of the Space Shuttle program marks a profound change for NASA, in more ways than one. Roger Handberg warns that in the post-shuttle era the political environment for NASA may become more difficult and partisan.
A magazine planning to chronicle the emerging NewSpace industry has run into financial problems. Dwayne Day examines the intersection between the uncertainties of the space and publishing industries.
This week the EAA AirVenture convention in Oshkosh will honor Burt Rutan for his lifetime of achievement in aerospace design. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores that history of design, from Rutan’s earliest homebuilt airplanes to SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo.
When the shuttle Atlantis lands later this week, it will mark the end of the Space Shuttle program, an ending tinged with regret and controversy. Dwayne Day looks back at how the decision to retire the shuttle was reached in the aftermath of the Columbia accident.
Congress has mandated that NASA develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle, but in the eyes of some the agency has made little progress on the Space Launch System (SLS). Jeff Foust reports on when a design for the SLS might finally be ready, and possible funding and schedule issues for the program.
Space exploration has ushered in a number of major technological advancements, including microelectronics that led to today’s information-saturated age. Bob Mahoney worries that this space-enabled advance, ironically, may undermine the future of humans in space.
The uncertainty many people feel about the future of human spaceflight with the imminent retirement of the Space Shuttle leave many wondering how to sustain a long-term human future in space. Donald C. Barker says that future ventures much be sold and sustained on the survival of humanity.
In 2002 several co-op students at NASA’s Johnson Space Center stole a vault containing rocks returned from the Moon by the Apollo missions, only to be quickly apprehended. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a dramatic, if not sensationalized, recounting of that theft.
On Friday the shuttle Atlantis lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center, beginning the final mission of the Space Shuttle program. Jeff Foust reports on the weather and technical issues that nearly delayed the launch and the outpouring of emotions about the end of such a storied program.
As the Space Shuttle program winds down, what lessons from it can we carry forward to future programs? Dana Andrews argues that although it failed to achieve it, NASA was right to pursue a vehicle with high flight rates that can ultimately lower the cost of space access.
The Space Shuttle’s design, including its delta wings, has become iconic, but it’s not the only way a spaceplane can be built. James McLane describes his cameo role in the development of an alternative design 40 years ago.
The origins of the Space Shuttle program date back four decades, and at the beginning were a source of inspiration for many young people wondering what was next after Apollo. Drew LePage recalls those memories after finding a vintage newspaper article about the shuttle.
Yet another television show with an inaccurate portrayal of NASA and space operations? Dwayne Day reviews a recent episode of a USA Network drama that offers another example of how NASA and the CIA are portrayed in popular culture.
When is it appropriate to send humans to other worlds versus sending robotic probes? Dan Lester argues a key factor in future human spaceflight may be the degree of latency needed to successfully perform telerobotics.
Attention is focused on the Kennedy Space Center this week for the launch of Atlantis on the final mission of the Space Shuttle program. Jeff Foust reports on one largely overlooked factor in this surge of attention: the mission itself.
A little-known pioneer of reconnaissance satellites passed way in May. Dwayne Day examines the life of Robert Salter and the contributions he made in the early history of American reconnaissance satellite efforts.
Advocates of human exploration of Mars and the Moon find themselves having to continually state and restate their arguments. Jeff Foust reviews a new edition of a classic book advocating Mars exploration and a new book reprinting blog posts from a leading lunar advocate.