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There’s growing interest in the concept of robotic refueling and repair of satellites, including several ongoing commercial and government efforts. Jeff Foust reports that while many focus on the technology of satellite servicing, the business and regulatory challenges may be the bigger concern.
The decision by the NRO in the 1970s to use the Space Shuttle was a controversial one within the intelligence community. Dwayne Day examines the insights from a newly declassified interview with the NRO’s director about that move to the shuttle.
Critics of proposals for the human exploration of Mars argue that the money spent on that effort would be better used for terrestrial priorities. Frank Stratford claims that a human Mars mission, properly structured, may be the best, and perhaps only, way to help support those other needs.
China has achieved another set of milestones in its human spaceflight program with this month’s launch of Shenzhou-9 and its docking with the Tiangong-1 module. Ayodele Faiyetole wonders if this achievement, and other recent space developments, foretells a new era of international cooperation or competition in space.
There is considerable interest today in using small satellites, or smallsats, to support military and other missions, but the Defense Department’s interest in smallsats is hardly new. Dwayne Day describes the development of a smallsat program nearly a quarter-century ago than ran into a number of problems before ever getting off the ground.
Walter Cronkite was not only a popular evening news anchor, he was for many the de facto voice of spaceflight during the early Space Age thanks to his detailed coverage of NASA missions on CBS. Jeff Foust looks for insights into Cronkite’s coverage of, and interest in, space contained in a new biography of the legendary journalist.
Feedback loop: John Hickman talks to author Allen Steele about science fiction and space as a frontier
For years science fiction author Allen Steele has offered his take on how humanity might spread out into the solar system and beyond. John Hickman talks to Steele for his thoughts on space settlement, governance, and the interplay between science fiction and fact.
In the latest update on the development of a code of conduct for outer space activities, Michael Listner corrects some earlier misconceptions about dueling code proposals and prospects for progress on development of an international code later this year.
Last week NASA announced the NRO was giving the space agency a pair of optical systems that could be used for future space telescopes. Dwayne Day explains how this donation is just the latest in a series of cooperative ventures between the two agencies that dates back to the early days of the Space Age.
The recent successful SpaceX flight to the International Space Station comes during a time of debate about the role of the private sector in space exploration and development. Gary Oleson argues that SpaceX and other commercial “NewSpace” ventures are following a path that’s been demonstrated to work throughout American history.
Legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury passed away last week. Andre Bormanis recalls Bradbury and the effect he had on science fiction, spaceflight, and himself.
The works of Ray Bradbury influenced many people over the years. Jim Knauf recounts how reading Bradbury, and growing up in the same Illinois town as the famed author, helped shape his own career trajectory in aerospace.
Mars has long captured the imaginations of artists, who have depicted the planet and exploration of it in a wade variety of ways. Jeff Foust explores an ongoing exhibition in New York that offers its own unique and quirky take on human exploration of Mars.
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully splashed down in the Pacific last week, concluding a historic test flight to the International Space Station. Stewart Money describes the parallels in exploration he sees between the Falcon 9/Dragon and a class of sailing vessels from half a millennium ago.
NASA’s current space exploration plan calls for human missions to a near Earth asteroid by 2025, but do other countries want to cooperate? Jeff Foust reports on some support, both among the leaders of other space agencies as well as from former NASA officials, for a return to the Moon as humanity’s next destination beyond Earth.
Most countries and organizations that use space agree on keeping space activities sustainable in light of growing concerns about space debris and collisions, but there’s no consensus on how to achieve that. Brian Weeden discusses some new concepts on economic incentives to support space sustainability.
Is a battle shaping up between the European Union and the United States over the development of a code of conduct for outer space activities? Michael Listner examines the EU’s latest move to support its own version of such a code.
This week marks the last time Venus will transit the disk of the Sun as seen from the Earth for over a century. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an illustrated history of the studies of these transits and their scientific importance.
Last week’s flight of the SpaceX Dragon to the International Space Station was a major achievement for the company and for NASA, demonstrating its ability to safely deliver cargo to the station. Jeff Foust examines how it’s also proof of a vision for commercial spaceflight that dates back long before the current administration.
The success of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft so far makes some wonder what else it can do besides transport cargo or people to and from the International Space Station. Tom Hill describes how it can be used to study some of the key physiological issues of a human mission to Mars.
One of the launch failures during the CORONA program involved a unique experimental satellite. Dwayne Day explores the development of that satellite and the circumstances that led to it crashing into a trailer park.
Reforming space export controls to make it less difficult for US companies to sell their products overseas has been a challenge for the space industry for several years. Jeff Foust reports on some renewed optimism thanks to a new report and an amendment to a defense bill.
Developing a compelling case to fund decades-long efforts to send humans to Mars has been challenging for space advocates and government agencies. Frank Stratford suggests an alternative mechanism that could make such missions possible without necessarily putting them at the forefront.
While attention in recent weeks on commercial space activities has been focused on ventures like Planetary Resources and SpaceX, teams competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition make slow but steady progress. Jeff Foust report on how teams will have to deal with one complication for their lunar exploration plans: taking care not to disturb historic lunar landing sites.
Last week the House of Representatives approved a defense authorization bill that includes a provision effectively preventing the administration from implementing a space code of conduct. Michael Listner examines the battle shaping up between the White House and some members of Congress.
The era after Apollo and before the Space Shuttle is often overlooked in reviews of space history, beyond a mention of Skylab. Anthony Young reviews a book that examines in detail Soviet and American space efforts during the 1970s and early 80s.
On Saturday, SpaceX plans to launch a Dragon spacecraft on a test flight to the International Space Station. Jeff Foust examines how this flight is perceived not just as a test of the company’s system to transport cargo to and from the ISS, but also in some quarters as a test of the viability of commercial crew.
To some, the International Space Station can seem like a distraction towards their preferred long-term goal of human missions to Mars. Chris Carberry argues that, if properly used, the ISS can help further the technology and other approaches needed for such missions.
As our understanding of near Earth objects (NEOs) have changed, so has our perception of the risks associated with them. Luis Fernández Carril explores this history of NEOs, from omens to potential sources of wealth.
Quantum physics is essential to our understanding of how the universe works, yet understanding quantum physics itself can be a challenge for many. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a readable yet rigorous introduction to the topic and its relevance to physics and astronomy.
Space advocates often argue whether future exploration and commercialization efforts should focus on the Moon, Mars, or asteroids. Peter Kokh and Al Anzaldua explain why advocates for all three destinations should join forces to ensure appropriate funding for technologies that can be used to realize everyone’s goals.
Late last week GeoEye announced an offer to acquire its chief rival in the commercial remote sensing market, DigitalGlobe, a proposal that was quickly rebuffed by DigitalGlobe. Jeff Foust reports that while there may not be a merger or acquisition involving those companies now, proposed cuts in the government’s EnhancedView program could lead to major changes in the industry in the near future.
Although Planetary Resources got plenty of attention last month with its long-term plans to mine asteroids for water and other resources, it’s not the only company with an interest in mining solar system bodies. Ayodele Faiyetole discusses the potential benefits of this emerging commercial interest in extraterrestrial resource extraction.
The growing adoption of electronic books, or ebooks, has created a new market niche of books bigger than a conventional magazine article but smaller than a typical printed book. Jeff Foust reviews a couple space-related samples of these small, inexpensive ebooks.
Long relegated to science fiction and the dreams of space enthusiasts, the concept of asteroid mining took a big step forward last week when startup company Planetary Resources announced its intent to extract water ice and other resources from near Earth asteroids. Jeff Foust reports on the company’s plans and the obstacles it faces.
Some space-based applications can be very expensive, but also hold the prospect of being very lucrative. Trevor Brown describes how a joint stock company involving various companies and even the government can develop a profitable infrastructure of solar power satellites and other products potentially worth trillions.
A collection of images from the arrival earlier this month of the shuttle Discovery in Washington and its transfer to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center.
The recent moves of the shuttles Discovery to Washington and Enterprise to New York are are part of a more complex, and even controversial, transition process than what the remaining Saturn V rockets went through in the early 70s, when they were simply put on display outdoors, exposed to the elements. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at the effort to restore one of those old rockets to its former glory.
Last week NASA formally delivered the space shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian, flying the orbiter to Washington to take the place of Enterprise. Jeff Foust reviews the events of that transfer, and how it stirred up some old feelings and concerns about the future of the space program.
What was it like to see the shuttle Discovery arrive in Washington? Dwayne Day offers a first-hand, photographic account of the shuttle’s arrival and welcoming ceremony.
A recent comment by a space expert suggested that the Star Trek television shows and movies had made space travel look perhaps too simple. Andre Bormanis argues that this is an issue not about complexity but rather communications.
Spaceflight has long been seen as the exclusive realm of governments and large companies, but that perception may be changing. Jeff Foust reports on technical and financial innovations that are allowing small groups, even volunteers, make progress on rockets and related projects.
Has the golden age of space exploration already passed us by? Eric Hedman looks at a little-known chapter in American history as evidence that the golden age is yet to come.
The concept of a "code of conduct" for space operations has generated some debate in recent months. Thomas Taverney discusses what attributes a code should and should not have in order to protect national security and permit safe space operations.
Space settlement remains a long-term goal for some space advocates, but many hurdles remain to realizing that dream. Jeff Foust reports on a new initiative by the Space Studies Institute to address one of the key unknowns.
As NASA’s shuttles start to make their way to their retirement homes this week, some remember the short-lived Soviet shuttle that appeared to be a copy of NASA's vehicle. Dwayne Day examines a report that offers new insights into how the Soviets acquired shuttle technology.
Greater utilization of space will require much higher launch rates than seen today. Ronald Menich examines the economics of a notional system that would launch nearly as many times in a single day as take place worldwide in a year.
Spaceflight has has a significant influence on modern society, which in turn has also influenced spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines that mutual relationship from a European perspective.
When people think of the term “robot”, their mental picture may be far different from the spacecraft roving on the surface of Mars or exploring elsewhere in the solar system. Dan Lester argues that “robot” can mean something else entirely: telepresence devices that humans can control to more effectively and affordably explore other worlds.
Despite the delays and other challenges facing the commercial spaceflight industry, more states and other entities are proposing to develop commercial spaceports in the US and elsewhere. Jeff Foust discusses what those spaceport developers should be prepared for based on the experience of those who have, or are still trying, to build their own.
Did the US Air Force really learn about debris from a fallen spysat from a English farmer in a pub? Dwayne Day revisits an old tale thanks to newly-declassified information and finds a different story.
Conventional wisdom indicates that it’s not possible for private entities to claim property on the Moon or other celestial bodies under current treaties. Jeff Foust reports on one proposal that claims to have found a loophole that makes private property rights feasible on other worlds.
Most agree that the universe was born in the Big Bang, but why was there a Big Bang? Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to offer a scientific, rather than philosophical or religious, explanation for why the universe sprang from “nothing”.
NASA has long-term goals for its human space exploration program, including missions to Mars in the 2030s, and is working on some of the key elements needed to achieve those goals. Yet, as Jeff Foust reports, some are losing sleep over a lack of clear direction and detail on where to go and how to carry out those plans.
The month of April includes a number of major anniversaries in the history of spaceflight, several of which fall on the same day, April 12. Ayodele Faiyetole describes why those coinciding anniversaries, and the changing nature of human spaceflight, provides an opportunity to educate and celebrate.
The latest addition to the National Air and Space Museum is a toy, albeit a toy that spent more than a year in space. Jeff Foust looks at the inclusion of a Buzz Lightyear figure into the museum’s collection and why it may be more than just recognition of the toy’s role in an educational project.
Orbital debris, aka space junk, is a serious and growing problem, but it can also be a difficult one for the public to visualize. Jeff Foust reviews a new short film that takes advantage of a big, three-dimensional screen to try and better communicate the threat posed by debris.
Why do visions of space-based weapons remain compelling to some despite their huge technical and fiscal obstacles? Nader Elhefnawy examines the influence of science fiction and its interplay with political and popular thought.
NASA’s 2013 budget proposal cuts planetary science funding by 20 percent and ends its participation in a series of joint Mars missions with Europe. Jeff Foust reports on the reaction to the cuts by Congress and the planetary science community, including how some are planning to fight back.
Brazil has had a series of on-again, off-again efforts to develop a space launch capability. Dwayne Day analyzes a recently declassified CIA report that examined the state of Brazil’s efforts 30 years ago and compares it to the nation’s actual efforts.
The explosion of exoplanet discoveries has resulted in a new class of planet: “super-Earths” that are heavier than the Earth but smaller than gas giants. Jeff Foust reviews a book where a leading exoplanet scientist argues that such worlds may be more hospitable to life than Earth-sized planets.
For some time, commercial suborbital spaceflight has been associated most closely with space tourism. Now, Jeff Foust finds, as interest grows in using these vehicles for research, scientists and vehicle developers alike are trying to emphasize those applications over tourism.
Many consider the Moon Treaty to be dead since major spacefaring countries like the US have not acceded to it. Michael Listner points out several recent development that suggest the controversial treaty may still have some life to it.
What is the next step in European space transportation vehicles beyond the ATV? Paul de Brem reports on a new concept under study by the French space agency that could do far more than ferry cargo to the ISS.
Space museums are typically thought of as large facilities associated with the Smithsonian or NASA centers. Jeff Foust examines how smaller facilities, including one located in a suburban storefront, can help make space more accessible to the general public.
NASA’s proposal to spend over $800 million in 2013 on its commercial crew program has raised concerns in Congress, including in two hearings last week. Jeff Foust reports on those congressional concerns and the responses from NASA and industry.
As the Soviet Union started development of its version of the Space Shuttle, the Buran, what did American intelligence agencies know about it? Dwayne Day reviews available records to track their efforts and identify missteps they made along the way.
Rising costs of EELV-class launches threaten to hinder NASA’s ability to support a range of science missions. Stewart Money examines how the government got into this situation and a potential way out.
Newt Gingrich was briefly in the news about space last week, making a campaign stop in Huntsville, Alabama. Jeff Foust traces back some Gingrich’s space policy comments to a book he wrote nearly three decades earlier that offered a optimistic, if ultimately unrealistic, look at America’s potential future in space.
A producer is shopping a remake of the famous TV series Space: 1999 called Space: 2099. Dwayne Day looks back at what made the original series so distinctive and the prospects for that remake.
For the last several years reusable suborbital vehicle developers have promised that they’ll be ready to begin flights in the next year or two, only to push those schedules back. Jeff Foust reports on progress that those companies are making, which could finally mean those flights really are right around the corner.
An important element of space security is deterrence, but what should the “red lines” be that a potential adversary would cross to trigger a response? Matthew Kleiman and Sonia McNeil discuss the importance of setting such red lines as part of a space code of conduct.
Detecting and studying underground facilities has been in the news given concerns about Iran’s nuclear programs. Dwayne Day examines the roles satellites play in such studies based on Cold War and more recent experience, and their limitations.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has become one of the leading spokespersons about astronomy and space for the general public. Jeff Foust reviews his latest book, a collection of essays where he tries to make the case for continued space exploration.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos released this month its official report on the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission. James Oberg argues that the report fals short in explaining just what happened to the doomed Mars probe, which has implications for other aspects of spaceflight as well.
In the next several months Orbital and SpaceX will carry out key test flights to demonstrate their ability to transport cargo to and from the ISS. Jeff Foust reports on the progress those companies are making and just how much is riding on the success of those flights.
In the concluding part of his analysis, Ken Murphy examines the potential growth of economic activity as humanity expands beyond Earth orbit to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points and eventually the lunar surface itself.
Earlier this month a Swiss group announced plans to develop a small satellite that could capture and deorbit cubesats. Michael Listner explains how that could solve not just the technical issues of orbital debris removal, but policy and legal ones as well.
In the 1960s the CIA was worried that the Soviets might have the ability to take control of American spy satellites. Dwayne Day describes what’s known about a program to attach payloads to those satellites to try and detect any such efforts.
Four years ago he warned that mounting fiscal pressures could jeopardize the future of human space exploration. Now, Charles Miller argues, the situation has worsened, making it imperative to develop low-cost space transportation systems.
Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the flight of Friendship 7, the Mercury mission that made John Glenn the first American to go into orbit. Jeff Foust discusses how the anniversary is a time for remembrance and recognition, but that it should not be confused with nostalgia for a bygone era.
America was tracking the development of the Soviet Union’s N-1 moon rocket in the 1960s, but was limited in what it could disclose. Dwayne Day describes one vignette from that era that illustrates the difficulty NASA had in proving to the public that there was indeed a race to the Moon.
For humanity to sustainably expand beyond Earth, it will need to develop new markets and businesses. In the first of a two-part article, Ken Murphy examines the initial steps of an off-Earth economy that will lead to a robust cislunar “econosphere”.
An exhibition in a New York museum offers people an opportunity to get a glimpse of the future of space exploration. Jeff Foust reviews the exhibit and the future it foresees for humans on the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Over the decades writers have offered predictions of when humans would go to Mars. Dwayne Day explores that history of predictions, and why one of the first may still be the most accurate.
Even though the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has moved on from Florida, the candidates are still mentioning space in their speeches and campaign materials. Jeff Foust describes how this is less a debate about space policy than simply another way for the candidates to criticize one another.
Three years ago this month two satellites collided over Siberia, creating additional orbital debris. Michael Listner examines what has come of that collision in the fields of space situational awareness and space operations.
Newt Gingrich has been widely ridiculed for proposing a goal of a lunar base by 2020. Joseph Mascaro argues that’s unfortunate, since contrary to much of the criticism, there’s a place for human spaceflight in our nation’s future.
NASA’s 2013 budget proposal, due out today, is expected to cut funding for a planned joint series of Mars missions with Europe, putting the future of Mars exploration in general in question. Jeff Foust reviews a book that providers a insider’s account of what happened the last time the future of NASA’s Mars program was in question, over a decade ago.
Several recent satellite reentries have put a spotlight on the issue of orbital debris. Jeff Foust reports on a recent panel session that discussed how complex the problem is and how difficult it will be, technically and otherwise, to solve it.
Last month a little-known pioneer of satellite reconnaissance passed away. Dwayne Day describes the unique insights Frank Buzard offered on the early history of American spy satellite efforts.
Although the Obama Administration has now proposed the development of an international “Code of Conduct” for outer space activities versus adopting a European version, some in Congress remain concerned. Michael Listner discusses their potential opposition to an international code and what they could do to block it.
Those living in cities can see only a pale imitation of the real wonders of the night sky because of light pollution. Jeff Foust reviews a documentary that examines the impact of the loss of the night sky on nature and society.
The failure of Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft remains a mystery even as some Russian officials suggest a foreign power like America may have had a hand in the spacecraft’s demise. James Oberg argues that some rational engineering analysis—aka “rocket science”—can shed light on the spacecraft’s loss and dispel conspiracies.
Space, typically an issue that gets very little attention in presidential campaigns, burst into public prominence last week thanks to a series of debate questions and speeches. Jeff Foust reports on how Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and other Republican candidates outlined their views on space, and what they also left out.
The press and public do not seem to be accepting Newt Gingrich’s position on space policy. Sam Dinkin discusses the implication for the transition to low-cost space access.
The National Reconnaissance Office recently released a selection of images taken from the newly-declassified GAMBIT and HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite programs. Dwayne Day examines the relevance of those images to American space and defense efforts from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Can the vastness and majesty of the universe be condensed into 140-character snippets? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a Twitter-inspired examination of various questions in astronomy.
Six months after the Space Shuttle completed its final mission, many are still uneasy about the future of America's human spaceflight efforts. Jeff Foust reports that many in the field see cause for optimism for the future, mixed with a dose of caution about the obstacles in the path ahead.
Supporters of spaceflight have struggled to find rationales to back continued expenditures on relevant projects. Robert D. Lancaster argues that future spaceflight efforts should be based on planetary defense, access to resources, and settlement.
Fifty years ago this week NASA launched the first in a series of Ranger spacecraft to the Moon, with poor results. Drew LePage examines the development of those spacecraft and the unfortunate outcomes of those early missions.
One of the biggest space advocacy victories of the last decade was the grassroots push to restore a shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Jeff Foust reviews a documentary that recalls those efforts that attracted support from a broad swath of the general public.
Advances in astronomy are dependent in part on the development of new large—and expensive—observatories on the ground and in space. Jeff Foust reports on the concerns raised by astronomers and other scientists that constrained budgets could threaten to put advances in astronomy on hold.
Last week a top State Department official announced that the US had decided not sign on the European Union’s proposed space Code of Conduct. Michael Listner examines the reasons for that move and if the administration has an alternative approach in the works.
Images, of space and of the Earth from space, are among the most powerful tools for communicating the wonders of space. Andre Bormanis examines some recently-released historical images and illustrations of and about space.
We are living in something of a golden age of planetary exploration today, with spacecraft exploring the far reaches of our solar system. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a wide-ranging history of the various past and present missions that have provided new insights on our celestial neighborhood.
While scientists ultimately hope to launch large, dedicated space telescopes to directly image Earth-like extrasolar planets, such missions are expensive and likely far in the future. Jeff Foust reports on some efforts to fly less expensive space missions in the coming years to expand the horizons of exoplanet science and lay the groundwork for more ambitious missions.
There are few mechanisms today for arbitrating disputes on space-related issues, particularly those where non-governmental organizations are involved. Michael Listner describes a newly-adopted approach that could make it easier to resolve issues without the need for diplomatic maneuvering.
Last month NASA scientists announced the discovery of the first planets similar in size to the Earth orbiting a Sun-like star, a finding that got considerable media attention. John Hickman examines what the media got right and wrong in their reporting of the discovery.
The outer solar system has been the subject of a number of major discoveries, and some controversy regarding nomenclature, in the last decade. Jeff Foust reviews a book that, unfortunately, misses out on those developments but does provide some interesting older insights.
The 2012 presidential campaign kicks into high gear on Tuesday with the Iowa caucuses, as seven major candidates vie for the Republican nomination. Jeff Foust reports on what those candidates have said—and, more commonly, have not said—about space policy in the campaign to date.
In the final installment of her series on a value proposition for human spaceflight, Mary Lynne Dittmar makes the case for re-establishing something like the National Space Council to better coordinate and communicate the national security value of human spaceflight in an increasingly competitive global landscape.
Even as the Space Shuttles were being retired, there was a final behind-the-scenes bid to try and keep flying them commercially. Mary Lynne Dittmar discusses some of the lessons learned from that effort.
The recent movie Apollo 18 polarized audiences: some found the film too slow and boring, while others appreciated its verisimilitude. Dwayne Day reexamines the film and the new insights into its production provided by its release on DVD.
A Chinese government white paper released last week discussed that country’s plans in space for the next several years, raising concerns about competition with the United States. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that argues the greater competition is among China’s neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region, whose space ambitions could lead to conflict.