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With 2018 coming to an end, part of the federal government, including NASA, is shut down. Jeff Foust reports on the shutdown and a failed effort in Congress to pass a commercial space regulatory reform bill.
India launched in December a communications satellite devoted to the Indian Air Force. Ajey Lele explains how this is a sign of the growing importance of space to India’s military.
NASA may see its Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, or LOP-G, as the next step in human space exploration, but that name leaves something to be desired. Bob Mahoney makes the case for a better name.
A new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a future where China has a major presence on the Moon. Vidvuds Beldavs reviews the book and examines what Robinson may have overlooked in his vision of the future three decades hence.
Last week, after years of delays, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo finally flew to the edge of space. Jeff Foust describes the flight, the company’s future plans, and how it’s reopened a debate on the definition of space.
In the second part of his examination of the history of commercial space legislation, Cody Knipfer explores efforts ranging from providing a legal basis for suborbital human spaceflight to establishing resource rights for asteroid mining.
Fickle weather can disrupt the search for potentially hazardous near Earth asteroids. Jeff Foust reports on how some planetary astronomers are pushing for a space-based telescope immune to the weather and able to make observations not possible from Earth.
Earlier this month China launched its latest Moon mission, Chang’e-4, scheduled to land on the moon by early January. Namrata Goswami puts that mission into a broader perspective of China’s long-term space exploration plans.
A little bit of humor can go a long way in helping communicate the mysteries of the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tackles some of the serious issues about the origin and fate of the universe without taking them too seriously.
The 1970s in space advocacy is primarily remembered for visions of space colonies. Dwayne Day discusses how those concepts were shaped by both concerns about resource depletion as well as fear of nuclear war.
This year was supposed to be the year of the small launch vehicle, but some companies experienced delays that have pushed their first launches into 2019. Jeff Foust reports that, even as these new vehicle prepare to enter service, a reckoning is coming for the overall industry in the near future.
There’s a long history of legislation by Congress addressing commercial space regulation, oversight, and promotion. Cody Knipfer, in the first of a two-part examination, explores the early history such legislation in the 1980s and 1990s.
Books about space exploration often incorporate a mix of photographs or photorealistic illustrations. Jeff Foust reviews a book that instead incorporates simple, but detailed, illustrations of launch vehicles and spacecraft to show their development.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 8 mission to the Moon. Dwayne Day explores what we know about the role, if any, intelligence about Soviet plans played in NASA’s decision to carry out the mission.
Last week NASA announced the companies that will be part of its program to offer commercial rides to the lunar surface. Jeff Foust reports on that development as well as agency studies of heavier landers, including those designed to transport people to the Moon.
The debate about how to organize military space activities in the United States continues as the administration crafts its plans for a Space Force. Alfred Anzaldúa argues that a military Space Force may not be as effective for some needs as a more civil Space Guard.
As the United States and other countries send spacecraft to the Moon in the next several years, they’ll carry with their national flags. Mark Whittington discusses if multinational cooperative missions should fly under a single flag instead.
Even relatively little-known projects in astronomy can be complex endeavors whose funding and management challenges can be as big as their scientific and technical ones. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an account of one such effort with an ambitious goal: taking an image of the black hole in our galaxy’s center.
Later today NASA’s InSight spacecraft will attempt to land on Mars. Jeff Foust discusses the preparations for the landing and the science that mission will perform, as well as NASA’s plans for what comes next at Mars.
Russian plans for a series of lunar missions, including sample return, have faced delays, even as other countries press ahead with their own lunar ambitions. Dwayne Day describes how this is a sign of the implosion of the Russian planetary exploration program.
Advances in space transportation have given some space advocates renewed hope about the prospect of permanent space settlements. Jeff Foust reports on a recent meeting that eagerly tackled the technical issues while offering fewer insights on the economics or rationales for living in space.
The second season of the television series Mars pits scientists against private interests on the Red Planet. Dennis O’Brien says the new series offers an opportunity to examine issues in space law raised by that clash.
Two eminent British scientists, Martin Rees and the late Stephen Hawking, have published new books that examine topics that extend far afield from their specialties in astrophysics. Jeff Foust examines what they have to say about human spaceflight in particular.
Last month a private Chinese company made its first attempt to launch a payload into orbit. Chen Lan offers an eyewitness account of the event and explains why that launch, while a failure, was still a major milestone for the country’s emerging commercial space industry.
As the US launch industry gets more active, it’s running into new problems regarding access to airspace and conflicts with the commercial aviation industry. Jeff Foust reports on how the two industries are trying to better understand each other and resolve those conflicts.
A new era in American spaceflight requires a renewed emphasis on the ability to reliably and affordably transport cargo to and from the space. Mike Snead discusses what that means to him within the context of disruptive innovation.
The early history of spaceflight is linked to the early development of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that traces the early history of the development of ICBMs in the US, including the various policy and technical challenges those efforts faced.
Last week’s midterm elections saw the defeat of Rep. John Culberson, a major advocate for missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Jason Callahan explains what that means for NASA missions under development, and why some scientists might not be that surprised.
The budget increases that NASA’s planetary science program has enjoyed for the last several years may soon come to an end, even while there’s no shortage of compelling mission concepts. Jeff Foust reports on two alternative approaches under study for doing planetary exploration, involving philanthropy and coalitions.
For decades, engineers have tried to develop spaceplanes that can operate like aircraft, only to suffer technical shortfalls. John Hollaway argues that the failed efforts to develop such vehicles mark the limits of the space launch industry.
While astrobiology has become an increasingly mainstream science, it is still grappling with some of the central questions about the existence of life beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that takes a serious look at the field, without taking itself too seriously.
NASA is current planning development of the Gateway orbiting the Moon to support lunar exploration in the 2020s. Taylor Dinerman discusses why, if the Gateway is going to be built, it should be designed to last for decades.
A space policy directive earlier this year instructed various departments to engage in commercial space regulatory reform efforts. Jeff Foust reports that, as those policies become proposed rules, industry is keenly interested in their progress and concerned in some cases about the lack of details.
A half-century ago, the United States and the Soviet Union raced to the Moon. Mark Whittington argues that a new Moon race is shaping up between the United States and China, with stakes no less significant than in the 1960s.
A new documentary discusses the invention of GPS, focusing on a Pentagon meeting 45 years ago. Richard Easton says that the film has a number of inaccuracies about how GPS was actually developed.
Two NASA spacecraft are in the final days of operations as they run out of fuel, while a rover on Mars remains silent nearly five months after a dust storm swept across the planet. Jeff Foust reports on the impending demise of Dawn and Kepler and the last-ditch efforts to restore contact with Opportunity.
Since its introduction more than seven years ago, some space advocates have openly fought against the Space Launch System, beleving it to be a flawed, expensive vehicle. A.J. Mackenzie argues it’s time for those advocates to end futile political battles and instead focus on developing alternatives for when the arguments about SLS can be reopened.
Astrobiology has gained increasing prominence in space science in the last 25 years thanks to better understanding about the potential habitability of worlds inside and outside our solar system. Jeff Foust discusses a recent report from the National Academies that examines how NASA should build upon its existing activities in astrobiology.
Recent and upcoming anniversaries in spaceflight have prompted a number of books examining the history, and future, of space exploration. Jeff Foust reviews one such book by a prominent space historian that offers a broad overview of spaceflight.
At the recent International Astronautical Congress, there was significant enthusiasm for lunar exploration by companies and governments alike. Jeff Foust reports that there’s still a lot of work to do to translate that enthusiasm into concrete plans.
What constitutes a truly disruptive technology in the field of spaceflight? Patrick J. G. Stiennon argues that reusable rockets alone aren’t sufficient if they simply serve existing markets, requiring instead a different approach.
While the National Space Council in the United States has taken on a renewed role in shaping national space policy, Japan has a similar framework for developing its own space policies. Takashi Uchino compares the two countries’ structures and the differences in how policy is made.
Some of the people who have been involved with India’s space program over the decades are now writing memoirs about their efforts, much like American counterparts. Jeff Foust reviews one such book by someone who played a key role in the development of India’s first orbital launch vehicle.
Last week’s Soyuz failure has implications for the future of the International Space Station, the commercial crew program, and international cooperation in space in general. It also, Jeff Foust reports, illustrates how tenuous our hold on space remains, six decades after the beginning of the Space Age.
There’s gold in them thar asteroids, space mining advocates argue, along with other precious metals and volatiles. John Hollaway, though, explains why he’s skeptical that those resources will be economically viable any time in the foreseeable future.
In August, Roscosmos announced a new class of eight cosmonauts which had been selected from a pool of just 420 applicants. Tony Quine examines the process by which Russia selected those cosmonauts, including the views of one candidate who fell short of being selected this time around.
A new documentary and companion book celebrates NASA’s 60 years with an eye towards what the agency should be doing in the future. Jeff Foust reviews the two, including examining how the film compresses 60 years into 90 minutes.
The landing and reuse of Falcon 9 first stages has become increasing routine, but that does not mean everyone is convinced reusable rockets always make sense. Jeff Foust reports on some objections to reusability, as well as a defense of reusability by a key SpaceX executive.
Later this month Europe will launch BepiColombo, the newest mission to the innermost planet, Mercury. Dwayne Day recounts some of the efforts after the Mariner 10 flybys in the 1970s to send followup missions to the planet, overcoming technical and other issues.
The highly anticipated movie First Man about the life of Neil Armstrong opens in theaters this week. Andre Bormanis says the filmmakers had to deal with the unique challenge of a movie about a man like Armstrong, resulting in a worthy film that is still somewhat disappointing.
For six decades, NASA and other agencies have been launching robotic missions beyond Earth orbit to study the solar system and the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a new NASA history that provides an overview of every one of those missions, successful or not.
Monday marks the 60th anniversary of the day NASA started operations. Jeff Foust reports from a recent conference panel where the current administrator was joined by five of his predecessors to discuss how their challenges have changed, while sometimes remaining the same.
Should the United States establish a separate Space Force versus a Space Corps within the Air Force or some other alternative? Tom “Tav” Taverney argues that whatever the model, reforms are necessary to improve the speed of space activities and how they’re managed.
Last week, after months of anticipation, United Launch Alliance confirmed what most people in the industry thought would happen when it selected the BE-4 engine from Blue Origin for its Vulcan launch vehicle. Jeff Foust discusses how this agreement entangles two companies who are cooperating and competing simultaneously.
The announcement this summer by President Trump of the creation of a Space Force has raised questions about whether its legal justification under international law. Mike Lorrey describes how creating a military space force can be linked to the Outer Space Treaty.
SpaceX used the announcement of the first customer for its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) to reveal some changes to the vehicle’s design. Jeff Foust reports on the update and the unique plans that customer has for that mission.
NASA will select next year either a comet sample return mission or a spacecraft to Saturn’s moon Titan as its next New Frontiers medium-sized planetary mission. Van Kane describes the two missions and the science they would perform.
The Planetary Society recently outlined its core beliefs regarding the goals of and approaches to humans spaceflight. Four authors affiliated with the National Space Society offer a critique of that document and suggest some changes.
With NASA about to mark its 60th anniversary, it’s an opportunity to look back at the agency’s achievements during that time. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a curated selection of key policy statements and related documents that shaped NASA’s human spaceflight efforts.
Last month’s meeting of the Conference on Disarmament saw a debate on space weaponization. Michael Listner argues this was an example of efforts by China and Russia to attempt to use legal means to gain an advantage on the United States militarily in space.
The mainstream satellite industry has fallen on hard times of sorts in recent years as the number of GEO satellite orders has drastically declined. Jeff Foust reports on the implications for manufacturers and launchers of those satellites amid uncertainty about the future effects of low Earth orbit constellations.
In-space refueling of upper stages can enable mission architectures like landings on the Moon and Mars without the need for massive launch vehicles. Ajay Kothari describes how this approach can create a “railroad” for frequent, inexpensive access beyond Earth.
Are the idea of space colonies, or free space settlements, making a comeback? Jeff Foust reviews a book that tried to make the case for a simpler version of such space habitats than what was proposed four decades ago.
DARPA marked its 60th anniversary at a conference last week that included discussions about past and present space programs. Jeff Foust reports on those discussions as well as suggests for future “DARPA-hard” space projects.
For the first time last week, the US Secretaries of State and Defense met with their Indian counterparts in a “2+2” dialogue. Future such discussions, argue Frank Rose and Jonathan Ward, should include space cooperation.
The study of the universe and the military would seem two very different topics, but the links beween the science of astrophysics and the art of war run long and deep. Jeff Foust reviews a book that untangles those connections while also examining the future of military activities in space.
Later this month the venerable Delta II rocket will lift off for the final time, carrying a NASA satellite. James Michael Knauf recalls the history, and the accomplishments, of that launch vehicle over nearly three decades.
NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has been out of contact with the Earth for nearly three months, and the agency announced plans last week to try to restore contact with it. Jeff Foust reports that the overall Mars exploration program at NASA is facing challenges as well.
Last week, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine suggested that astronauts should be able to do commercial endorsements and other media deals in order to help make the agency more popular. A.J. Mackenzie argues that if the agency really wants to do that, it needs to be more open in how it assigns and reassigns astronauts to missions.
Making contact with extraterrestrial intelligence has long been a theme of science fiction. Vidvuds Beldavs examines how one recent trilogy by a Chinese author explores that topic in a new and compelling way.
Asteroid mining ventures that announced plans to harvest space resources several years ago have since suffered financial setbacks or have pivoted to other fields. Jeff Foust reviews a book whose lead author remains as optimistic as ever about asteroid mining.
The proposed Space Force has attracted significant debate in the last two months, including widespread criticism that it’s a step towards weaponizing space. Cameron Hunter and Bleddyn Bowen argue that the concept is neither as new nor as alarming as some claim.
As the debate about establishing a Space Force as a separate military branch continues, one official has emerged as the concept’s biggest proponent outside of the White House: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Jeff Foust reports on Bridenstine’s advocacy and what might be driving it.
Current federal regulations of commercial human spaceflight vehicles use a licensing system and “informed consent” for regulation. Mike Snead discusses the need for a more rigorous airworthiness approach to ensure the safety of those flying such vehicles and for the growth of the overall industry.
This month marked the 25th anniversary of the first flight of the DC-X, a vehicle at the time that promised to usher in a new era of reusable launchers. Jeff Foust examines the progress that has been made, particular in the last five years, on lower cost and more frequent space access.
George Abbey, the former head of the Johnson Space Center, was one of the most powerful figures at NASA during his time at the agency, but one who preferred to work out of the limelight. Jeff Foust reviews a new biography of Abbey that traces his life and his career at NASA, from Apollo to the International Space Station.
The Trump Administration’s space policy efforts have been driven by a theme of restoring American leadership in space, but there’s one area where those efforts have fallen short. Brian Weeden explains why the US needs to become more engaged in international discussions on space security issues or risk ceding that leadership to China and Russia.
Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would launch its first astronaut by 2022. Ajey Lele examines why India would invest in a human spaceflight program with a such a short-term deadline.
NASA’s science programs are dominated by big missions, but smaller spacecraft are playing an increasing role. Jeff Foust reports on a new initiative to make greater use of CubeSats and other smallsats for NASA science programs, including in fields that had previously eschewed such spacecraft.
A recent scientific paper appears to kill the idea of being able to terraform Mars. John Strickland argues that the paper ignores other approaches to making the planet more habitable that, while not feasible now, are also not impossible at some point in the future.
Recent years has seen more private sector funding of space activities, often in cooperation with government agencies. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to argue for a purely capitalist approach to space exploration, cutting the government out entirely.
The NASA logo, in both the “meatball” and “worm” variations, is showing up on everything from cheap t-shirts to designer apparel. Dwayne Day examines why the NASA brand has become so popular in recent years.
Space stations have been associated with crewed facilities since the early days of the Space Age, but can a station carry out missions without people on board? Gordon Roesler argues that advances in robotics technologies enable the creation of uncrewed space stations that can support new missions, and new markets, in Earth orbit and beyond.
A Senate committee held a hearing last week about NASA’s efforts to search for life beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reports that the hearing covered a lot more ground than just the state of astrobiology research at the agency.
During the early Space Age, capsules carrying astronauts splashed down in the ocean. However, John Charles notes there was consideration of using the a version of the mid-air capture system used for retrieving film canisters returned from space as a way of recovering astronauts.
Preparations for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 are underway, including the restoration of the mission control room used for the mission. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a technical history of that control center and efforts to restore it to its appearance a half-century ago.
NASA turned 60 years old this week—unless you celebrate its birthday in October. In any case, Jeff Foust reports on what a panel discussion last week involving the current NASA administrator and two of his predecessors had to say about the past and future of the agency.
As the Trump Administration considered setting up a establishing a Space Force as a separate military branch, what space law issues does it pose? Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi argues that, despite prohibitions in international law on many types of military space activities, there are cases where a military space force would be consistent with treaties.
A century before the Apollo landings, Jules Verne penned a story about a human mission around the Moon. Eric Hedman argues that the classic book is worth a second read.
The 1970s was a decade of retrenchment for spaceflight after the early successes that led to landing humans on the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines some of the cultural effects in the United States and Europe of that dispiriting decade in spaceflight.
A highlight of last week’s Farnborough International Airshow in the UK was a long-awaited announcement by the British government of its plans to support the development of a spaceport and vehicles to use it. Jeff Foust examines those plans and the issues the companies, and the government, face to make those plans a success.
The Air Force will soon make selections on vehicles for the next generation of the EELV launch program, with Northrop Grumman’s OmegA one of the leading contenders. Jeff Smith examines what we know about the OmegA design and how it might stack up to the competition.
NASA is gearing up to seek proposals for the first element of its Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Jeff Foust reports on what some of the companies that worked on earlier studies for that element have in mind, even as the Gateway itself becomes more ambitious.
In the concluding part of his examination of approaches to hypersonics research, Mike Snead discusses the political and economic issues of developing “aircraft-like” access to space.
Not only did the Soviet Union develop anti-satellite weapons during the Cold War, it investigated ways to protect its own satellites from ASAT attacks. Bart Hendrickx describes that work and new Russian efforts to develop similar technologies.
It’s a simple question, but one seemingly difficult to answer: when will Boeing and SpaceX launch their commercial crew vehicles on their planned test flights? Jeff Foust reports that, as scheduled dates for the first test flights approaches, more delays are expected, although then those new dates will be announced is as uncertain as what that new schedule will be.
In a recent Aviation Week op-ed, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called on renewed focus on hypersonics for space and other applications. In the first of a two-part response, Mike Snead argues that Gingrich’s solution suffers from a number of problems.
Critics of NASA’s Space Launch System note that SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 far more rapidly and at a far lower cost. John Hollaway turns to a couple of books, including one historical account, to offer other lessons about the differences between government and private-sector innovation.
Gravitational waves have been a hot topic in science in the last few years, but can be difficult to understand. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a concise overview of the topic, including the efforts to detect them that finally succeeded a few years ago.
Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the Moon, passed away in May. Dwayne Day recalls how Bean stood out among his fellow astronauts through hard work and a straightforward, common-sense approach that made him seem ordinary.
Some recent studies have suggested the global space economy could grow to $1 trillion by the 2040s, about three times its current size. Jeff Foust reports a challenge to achieving that goal is finding new markets that can stimulate new growth for the overall industry.
NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway has been billed as a key step towards human missions to the surface of the Moon, but some worry international cooperation plans could delay the Gateway’s development and make it less effective. Eric Hedman argues that NASA needs to begin with the end in mind, and work its way backwards to a design for the Gateway that makes sense.
Europe faces multiple problems with trying to increase reliance on domestic power sources while reducing its carbon footprint. Vidvuds Beldavs suggests that Europe invest in space solar power to meet its power needs while developing technologies needed for human expansion into the solar system.
The small launch vehicle market is dominated by American companies, but there are ventures around the world working on such vehicles, including several in Europe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the state of the market and offers recommendations to make European companies more competitive.
NASA announced last week yet another delay for the James Webb Space Telescope as well as a cost increase that will require Congress to formally reauthorize the mission. Yet, as Jeff Foust notes, few doubt that the mission will continue even with its latest problems.
Sometimes, you need to sweat the small stuff when it comes to launches. Wayne Eleazer describes how a lack of attention to such details led to launch and satellite failures over the years.
A nonprofit organization announced a rocketry competition for universities last month. Jeff Foust reports on how this effort is intended not just to promote rocket development but also expand and diversify the industry’s workforce.
Different countries take different approaches to development national space laws, but all spacefaring countries need laws to comply with their treaty responsibilities. Lucien Rapp examines those differences and how they can inform future global space governance.
What does the search for extraterrestrial intelligences have to do with dealing with human-made changes to the Earth’s climate? Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to argue how those civilizations—if they exist—can teach us about how to deal with life in the Anthropocene.