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This week in The Space Review…
The launch Sunday of China’s first lunar lander mission is a setback for the private teams in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, who hoped they, and not China, would be the next to land a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Jeff Foust reports on how some teams are taking different approaches to continue their efforts to win the prize, as the rules for winning the prize are tweaked again.
As China sends its first lander and rover to the Moon, NASA has no firm plans to carry out a similar mission, although there is no shortage of mission concepts. Dwayne Day examines some of the proposals for networks of landers and sample return missions that are seeking funding from the space agency.
Political gridlock and tight budgets in a tough economy have made it difficult for NASA and other research agencies of the government to win additional funding for their programs. Eric Hedman argues for a combined effort by space advocates and others to win increased R&D funding for NASA and others that, in the long run, will help the economy and national standing.
Astrobiology is a relatively new and diverse field that provides plenty of topics for discussion. Jeff Foust reviews two new books on the topic, one focused on the search for habitable worlds and the other examining the ethical issues of encountering life, primitive or intelligent, elsewhere in the universe.
As NASA works on the initial version of its Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, companies are working on concepts to increase the SLS’s capabilities. Dwayne Day describes one effort that makes use of a version of the F-1 rocket developed for the Saturn V.
When Inspiration Mars first announced their plans for a human Mars flyby mission in February, their plan was to fund it philanthropically. Now, Jeff Foust reports, the foundation is seeking NASA support, and funding, to make the mission a reality, a challenge as daunting as any technical issue their mission faces.
Long-time space settlement advocate Vidvuds Beldavs discusses his history in space advocacy and how a new novel rekindled his vision of humans working and living in space.
The Space Shuttles have been retired, but there remains fascination about how these very capable, but very complex, vehicles flew. Jeff Foust reviews a book that dives deep into the technical details about the shuttles and their operations.
Last week, as NASA celebrated the successful end of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, it said it was looking to apply the COTS model to other programs. Jeff Foust reports on those concepts, from the ongoing commercial crew program to one company’s proposal to apply COTS to cislunar human spaceflight.
While many of NASA’s human spaceflight programs appear to be making good progress, all is not necessarily well. Douglas Messier warns that funding crunches could jeopardize the overall future of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts.
NASA’s MAVEN Mars mission is scheduled for launch Monday afternoon, weather permitting. Jeff Foust provides an update on launch preparations and how the mission fits into NASA’s broader Mars plans.
Space activity in Texas has traditionally been most closely linked to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, but commercial space is changing that. Jonathan Coopersmith examines those changes as discussed at a conference in the state last month.
Chris Hadfield became a celebrity during his time on the space station earlier this year, thanks in large part to his use of social media. Jeff Foust reviews Hadfield’s switch to conventional media: a book that is as much a memoir as it a guide to helping readers achieve their own goals.
China’s upcoming Chang’e-3 mission, besides being that country’s first lunar rover, will also make use of radioisotopes for the first time. Dwayne Day examines what’s known about Chinese efforts to develop plutonium systems to heat and possibly power spacecraft.
Space science is in a golden age today thanks in large part to the fleet of NASA missions studying the solar system and the universe. However, Jeff Foust reports that NASA budgets, squeezed ever tighter by sequestration and other policy decisions, could force NASA to soon make some tough decisions about what missions it can afford to continue operating.
India’s first mission to Mars met with criticism inside and outside of India, as many saw it as a sign of misplaced priorities by the government. Ajey Lele addresses those criticisms and makes the case that India can carry out a space exploration program while improving the quality of life for its citizens.
Last week India successfully launched its first mission to Mars, at a cost a fraction of NASA and other Western efforts. Bee Thakore argues this is evidence of India’s innovative approach to spaceflight that can benefit both India and other nations.
Although the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has turned up empty-handed so far, there’s been no shortage of speculation, in science and fiction, of what alien civilizations might be like. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at how society has perceived what “Aliens” might be like versus the best ideas of science.
Scientists are meeting in California this week for the Second Kepler Science Conference. Jeff Foust reports on some recent discoveries that are bringing astronomers to the goal of the mission: determining how frequent planets like the Earth are in the galaxy.
Re-thinking the National Security Space Strategy: Chinese vs. American perceptions of space deterrence
Most people associate a launch vehicle with a rocket, but that’s not necessarily the case. Jeff Foust reports on a new venture that plans high-altitude passenger balloon flights with a system newly classified as a launch vehicle by the FAA.
Robert Kennedy and Dwayne Day investigate several serious cases of plagiarism of space history articles by one writer.
Satellite navigation systems are, today, almost taken for granted as they’re incorporated into many aspects of our life. William Mellberg reviews a book that examines the history of the development of the Global Positioning System and its evolution from a secret military initiative to a modern-day public utility.
For more than four decades, Phil Pressel could tell no one outside of his co-workers—not even his wife—what he did. With that veil of secrecy now lifted, he describes to Roger Guillemette and Dwayne Day his work with the camera on the Hexagon reconnaissance satellite.
Most people associate a launch vehicle with a rocket, but that’s not necessarily the case. Jeff Foust reports on a new venture that plans high-altitude passenger balloon flights with a system newly classified as a launch vehicle by the FAA.
The importance of space-based services and the threats they face have more countries thinking about how to improve space security. Ajey Lele offers some proposals tailored to the space security needs of India.
In the next few weeks, Comet ISON may dazzle the night skies—or it may fizzle out. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a historical overview of our studies of comets as well as tips for observing them.
The concept of “virtual” participation, be it of meetings or in space exploration, is often seen as less than full physical participation. Dan Lester argues that telepresence and other virtual exploration concepts are just as real as being there in person.
While most of NASA went on hiatus dring the government shutdown earlier this month, commercial space companies managed, for the most part, to continue their launch vehicle and spacecraft development efforts. Jeff Foust reports on orbital and suborbital vehicle updates from last week’s ISPCS conference.
In Russia in Space, journalist Anatoly Zak describe the post-Soviet space program. Dwayne Day interviews Zak about writing the book and related issues regarding Russia’s space program.
As part of its study of the US human spaceflight program, a committee of the National Academies issued a call for white papers this summer on various key issues. Jeff Foust examines the broad range of papers submitted and the themes they offered for what the US should do in space and how.
A recent report that the Russian government was considering a ban on exports of the RD-180 engine raised concerns in the US, given its use on the workhorse Atlas V rocket. Jeff Foust reports that, while such an export ban appears unlikely, some in government and industry are advocating development of a domestic engine that could potentially replace it.
For decades, the development of the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellites was cloaked in secrecy, a veil only recently lifted by the NRO. Dwayne Day examines a new book by one of the key people involved in the HEXAGON program that offers a behind-the-scenes account of designing the most complex mechanical device ever flown in space.
Much of the general public thinks NASA’s budget is much larger than it actually is, and as a result it shapes their willingness to support the space agency’s activities. Alan Steinberg describes research he performed to see if adjusting the public’s knowledge of NASA’s budget increases their support for the agency.
The last two decades have seen an avalanche of extrasolar planet discoveries, raising hopes that the discovery of a true Earth-like exoplanet is around the corner. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an eloquent overview of the state of research and the possibility these discoveries will come to a halt just as we’re on the verge of ending our cosmic solitude.
As NASA plots the future of human spaceflight and exploration, some worry that science, including astrophysics, will be left behind. Matt Greenhouse argues that the exploration and science sides of NASA should come together to develop architectures that use humans to support science missions.
Just when it appeared that the US government had all but given up on the development of reusable launch vehicles, DARPA announced plans last month for the Experimental Spaceplane program. Jeff Foust reports on the DARPA effort and what it could mean for lower cost and more frequent space access.
Albert “Bud” Wheelon, a key figure in the CIA’s efforts to develop satellite reconnaissance systems in the 1960s, passed away recently. Dwayne Day examines his life and the contributions he made to several satellite programs.
Forty-five years ago this week, the first crewed Apollo mission, Apollo 7, lifted off. Anthony Young looks back at this historic mission and what may be misunderstood about it.
The new movie Gravity, about a disaster in space, is proving to be a hit at the box office, but space enthusiasts and professionals are put off by the film’s inaccuracies. Jeff Foust examines the issues with the movie and whether it’s okay to an enjoy a movie that looks realistic but takes some dramatic license.
In the course of less than 12 hours on Sunday, a commercial spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station and two rockets successfully performed critical launches. Jeff Foust recounts the events of that busy day and their significance for those companies and others.
Many Apollo-era astronauts have been skeptical of the potential of commercial human spaceflight, but one such astronaut has changed his mind. James Lovell describes why he now supports plans by Golden Spike to develop commercial human missions to the surface of the Moon.
This week, NASA is hosting a workshop to discuss ideas for the agency’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission submitted this summer. Jeff Foust reports on the progress NASA is making on the mission concept and the obstacles it faces selling the mission to the public and to Congress.
More than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, is can still be difficult to keep track of Russia’s space activities. Jeff Foust reviews a book that gives a detailed, and richly illustrated, look at Russia’s past, present, and future human spaceflight plans.
The future of NASA’s human spaceflight program remains uncertain as the agency, Congress, and others debate destinations and deadlines. Roger Handberg argues that, if the program is to have a future, it will require much different approaches to cooperation and funding than in the past.
As three companies continue work on development of commercial crew transportation systems, NASA is preparing to release a call for proposals for the program’s next phase. Jeff Foust reports on the status of the companies’ work on crew transportation issues and the policy and budget issues the program is facing.
While NASA has hopes of extending the life of the ISS to as late as 2028, eventually the station will need to be retired. Eric Hedman examines what kind of station, or stations, should replace it, who should build it, and how.
Stephen Hawking is one of the world’s most famous scientists, but someone perhaps better known for his disability than his research. Jeff Foust reviews Hawking’s autobiography, where he discusses both his personal and professional lives.
Can the lessons of decades of nuclear weapons deterrence be applied to the use of weapons in space? In an excerpt from a new collection of essays, Michael Krepon discusses what our experience from the Cold War could teach about preventing conflict in space.
Starting this week, three companies will be performing key launches of new or returning to flight rockets over the next few weeks. Jeff Foust reports on these upcoming launches and the stakes for these companies and their customers in government and industry.
One of the “what ifs” people ask about space history regards extending the Skylab program by flying its flight spare. Dwayne Day examines that while exploring a Skylab training mockup now on display in Huntsville.
The venerable Voyager 1 spacecraft was back in the news last week with word that it had passed into interstellar space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at Voyager and a number of other astronomy and planetary science missions, putting their development and scientific results into a broader context.
The state of New Mexico placed a $200-million bet on the commercial space industry by developing Spaceport America. Jeff Foust visits the facility as it waits for its anchor tenant, Virgin Galactic, to begin launches from the desert spaceport.
The Eastern Range, which includes the launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, has a bad reputation in some quarters of the space industry for being expensive and difficult to use. Edward Ellegood argues that reputation is largely undeserved, thanks to changes in the way the range does business over the last decade.
Remember when Lou Dobbs was the prophet of space profits? Jeff Foust dusts off a 12-year-old book written by the business media personality and SPACE.com founder, and compares Dobbs’s views and predictions about the commercial space industry with what has transpired since.
Most of the attention devoted to Mars missions is focused on rovers like Curiosity, Opportunity, and NASA’s planned 2020 rover. Jeff Foust reports on an upcoming orbiter mission, overlooked by many, that offers an opportunity to understand what happened to the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
With the movie now in theatrical release, more people have seen Europa Report and its story of a human mission to the Jovian moon Europa. Dwayne Day revisits his review of the movie and the criticisms others have raised about it.
Space colonies are back in public view, thanks to the recent sci-fi film Elysium. Jeff Foust explores the long history of the concept through a review of a book that examines Gerard O’Neill’s role as a “visioneer” of the concept.
Earlier this month the Air Force announced it would shut down at the end of this fiscal year its “Space Fence” used for tracking orbiting objects. Brian Weeden provides a thorough examination of what the Space Fence does and the implications, both technical and fiscal, of that decision.
One long-running obstacle to the greater use of small satellites is the limited ways to get them into orbit. Jeff Foust reports on some emerging opportunities ranging from a NASA solicitation for a dedicated smallsat launch to use of the ISS as a launch platform.
One year ago Neil Armstrong passed away after heart surgery. O. Glenn Smith recalls his experiences with the famous astronaut, including an email exchange shortly before Armstrong’s death.
Light pollution makes it increasingly difficult for people to truly appreciate the night sky. Jeff Foust reviews a book where the author travels across two continents seeking dark skies and a better appreciation of the night.
Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the first flight of the DC-X, an experimental vehicle designed to test technologies and operations for future reusable launch vehicles that, however, did not follow. Jeff Foust examines what the prospects are for a new generation of RLV “X-vehicles” in both government and the private sector.
It’s been nearly a year since the death of Neil Armstrong. Author Neil McAleer recalls his correspondence with the famous astronaut and the connection they had with a famous science fiction writer.
Last week, NASA announced that efforts to fix one of the reaction wheels on the Kepler spacecraft had failed, ending that spacecraft’s planet-hunting mission. Jeff Foust reports on those efforts and what’s next for the spacecraft and the overall mission.
Governments and private organizations alike have proposed sending humans to Mars, yet many members of the public view such ventures as a waste of money. Thomas Taverney lays out his rationale for why and how humans should go to Mars.
A long-running mystery in the history of spaceflight has been claims that a launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base was “cursed” by a local Native American tribe. Dwayne Day reviews what we do and don’t know about those stories, and the challenges of researching that topic.
Technology is often cited as the key factor in enabling new space missions and markets, but it is typically just one factor among many. Jeff Foust reports on how some are balancing technology development with business models and other approaches to promote innovation in space.
For decades many advocates have offered the inspiration of the young as one justification for space exploration. Now a full-time teacher, Bob Mahoney reports some disturbing observations that may suggest the inspiration-exploration connection is more important than many people think.
At the beginning of the Space Age, few women were involved in the nation’s space program. Jeff Foust reviews a biography of one of those women, a rocket scientist who played a key role in the launch of America’s first satellite but whose contributions had been largely forgotten.
There is no shortage of proposals for exploration architectures that lead to human missions to Mars. Harley Thronson, though, argues that too many of these proposals feature distractions like Moon and asteroid missions that make it unlikely they would succeed.
One year ago, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover successfully landed on Mars, overcoming the “seven minutes of terror” to begin its mission of studying the Red Planet. Jeff Foust examines how NASA’s Mars exploration program, as well as private efforts and overall public interest, have evolved over the last year.
More than two years after the end of the last Space Shuttle mission, it’s tempting for some to seek comprehensive histories of the program. Dwayne Day says there’s still a lot to learn about the military uses of the shuttle, although a few declassified documents are now shedding some light.
NASA has traditionally been considered an issue that hasn’t been particularly partisan. However, Jeff Foust reports that this year is different, with policy and spending bills for the space agency often divided along party lines.
Last month, India launched on a European rocket a next-generation weather satellite. Ajey Lele discusses how this satellite fits into expanded efforts by India to better predict the weather and understand the implications of climate change.
Space, luxury or necessity: situations and prospects for France after the Livre Blanc and Opération Serval
The United States is not the only country to realize the transformative role space-based assets can play in military operations. Guilhem Penent discusses how use of space-based reconnaissance, telecommunications, and other capabilities is changing French military operations and doctrine.
As entrepreneurial space ventures have spring up in places like Mojave and Seattle, one region largely associated with high-tech startups has been on the sidelines. Jeff Foust describes how that is changing, as smallsat and other space companies get started in Silicon Valley.
The new movie Europa Report was the subject of a panel at Comic Con earlier this month, featuring some of the key people involved with the movie. Dwayne Day reports on the panel discussion, including the role science played in shaping the sci-fi film.
Could the mysterious slowing of the Pioneer spacecraft as they exited the solar system be proof of exotic new physics, or simply an unforeseen aspect of their design? Jeff Foust reviews an ebook that describes this mystery and its outcome.
Sunday marked the second anniversary of the landing of Atlantis on the final Space Shuttle mission. Jeff Foust examines Atlantis’s new home at the Kennedy Space Center as well as the reopening of the shuttle Enterprise exhibit in New York.
Comments made by a senior Defense Department official in May led some to speculate that the military had started a new antisatellite weapons program. Victoria Samson examines the military’s 2014 budget request and finds no evidence of such an effort.
The 1986 film Space Camp, about a group of teenagers accidentally launched into space, is one of the highlights of an earlier, more optimistic era about spaceflight. Dwayne Day checks out a new film that is, at best, an unappealing remake of that earlier movie.
The X-15 remains one of the most fascinating aerospace programs, setting speed and altitude records that in some cases still stand today. Anthony Young reviews a book that offers a history of the program from the perspective of those who flew and worked on this rocketplane.
NASA’s plans to redirect an asteroid into cislunar space and sending astronauts to it would seme like something that would excite planetary scientists, given the prospects of returning large amounts of samples from that asteroid. However, Jeff Foust reports, some are worried about the challenges such a mission faces and the priority science would have on it.
Fifty-one years ago this week, Congress held hearings on whether women should be astronauts. Dwayne Day looks back at this key turning point in the debate about whether women should fly in space, in light of a letter from that era now making the rounds online.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket continues to receive scrutiny in some quarters because of concerns about just how affordable the vehicle will be. John Strickland examines the costs of SLS in light of recent developments that suggest the vehicle could have a very low flight rate.
Jerry Salvatore, former chief technologist with Hughes, offers his own understanding of the facts surrounding who was involved in, and should get credit for, the rescue of the AsiaSat 3 satellite by the company 15 years ago.
As researchers meet this week to discuss research on the International Space Station, NASA and the organization that manages ISS research are being pressed to make greater use of the station’s facilities. Jeff Foust reviews those challenges and the efforts of one startup company that believes its research could have a significant commercial payoff.
Last week a Proton rocket malfunctioned and crashed spectacularly, an incident immediately known to the general public. Dwayne Day looks at a previous launch accident what was not immediately acknowledged by the Soviets but noticed by the American intelligence community.
In the conclusion of his two-part article, Chen Lan examines exactly where the Long March 3B rocket crashed in February 1996 and whether the crash could have caused the large death toll that many in the West have speculated.
Mark Skidmore, the Hughes program manager for the HGS-1 satellite recovery effort 15 years ago, offers a different recollection of some of the key events in that program than what was published in a recent essay here.
The perceptions of astronauts and cosmonauts have evolved over time, along with who was considered eligible to fly in space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a collection of historical essays on the “heroic era” of human spaceflight early in the Space Age.
Over 15 years ago, a Chinese Long March rocket went off course seconds after liftoff, crashing not far from the launch site and, according to some accounts, killing many people. In the first of a two part article, Chen Lan examines what we have learned about that accident since 1996.
Interest in smallsats is rising as such spacecraft become more capable, but finding applications for them that will generate significant demand has been a challenge. Jeff Foust reports on how two companies, including one that announced its plans last week, are seeking to fly fleets of such satellites for Earth imaging applications.
Last week, electronic banking company PayPal announced, to some surprise, that it was kicking off an initiative to study how to perform financial transactions in space. John Hickman takes issue with the lack of critical reporting about the announcement in the press, especially those who confused space commercialization with space exploration.
Although it won’t be in theaters until August, the sci-fi movie Europa Report is available now via video on demand. Dwayne Day watched the movie and describes an interesting and thought-provoking film about a human mission to Europa.
In the early Space Age, the women married to NASA’s first astronauts were, in public, the ideal housewives who cheerfully supported their husbands’ dangerous journeys into space. Jeff Foust reviews a new book the describes the private struggles these women faced dealing with the unique stress of their situation.
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