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This week in The Space Review…
The hard truths of NASA’s planetary program
NASA is proposing spending more than $3.3 billion next year on its planetary science program, but that program is strained by increasing costs and institutional issues. Jeff Foust reports on how those problems have delayed a Venus mission and could spread to other NASA science missions.
Space storm rising
The growth of the space industry has made it increasingly difficult for companies to hire and retain skilled employees. Joseph Horvath and Christopher Allen make the case for changing how the industry does professional development.
A solution to the growing problem of satellite interference with radio astronomy
As the number of satellites of all types increases, so does the interference their transmissions cause for radio astronomy. Three experts describe the problem and one approach to resolving it.
Review: NACA to NASA to Now
Can you effectively condense more than a century of activity into a relatively short book? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a concise yet comprehensive overview of NASA and its predecessor, NACA.
Russia returns to the Moon (maybe)
Later this year, Russia is scheduled to launch a long-delayed lunar lander mission, its first mission to the Moon in decades. Dwayne Day, though, warns that the mission’s odds of success are long given the current state of Russia’s space program.
Searching for life and grappling with uncertainty
As the number of known exoplanets grows, so do the hopes of scientists searching for evidence of life beyond Earth. Jeff Foust looks at new efforts to use exoplanets to better understand the formation of life as well as the challenges communicating those findings to the public.
Building a catalog to track the trash around the Moon
The increase in activity around the Moon brings with it an increase in defunct spacecraft and other debris in cislunar space. Vishnu Reddy discusses work he is leading to catalog that debris and ensure safe operations around the Moon.
Suborbital spaceflight and the Overview Effect
The Overview Effect, or change in mindset from going to space, has been well-documented among those who have gone to orbit but some doubted a brief suborbital spaceflight could trigger it. Jeff Foust reports that the person who popularized the Overview Effect now believes it can.
Suborbital spaceflight’s next chapter
Suborbital human spaceflight appeared to open a new era nearly two years ago, but those flights have recently been on hold because of mishaps and maintenance. Jeff Foust reports on those companies’ plans to resume flights of customers, including researchers, and the role NASA is playing to support the industry.
Managing ocean sustainability from above: leveraging space capabilities to combat illegal fishing
There would seem to be little in common between the space industry and efforts worldwide to stop illegal fishing. Cody Knipfer explains how satellites have become key tools in efforts to identify and halt such fishing operations.
The Falcon 9 achieves the shuttle’s dreams
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is launching at a frenetic pace for both its own Starlink satellites as well as for government and commercial customers. In the process, Francis Castanos notes, it has passed a goal set long ago for the Space Shuttle.
Review: Original Sin
Recent events can make it seem like we are entering a new era of militarization or even weaponization of space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that the military use of space has been spaceflight’s “original sin” among all major space powers.
Journey to a cold and curious moon
Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, is one of the most intriguing worlds in the solar system and might even be able to support life below its icy surface. Dwayne Day examines a proposed mission that would have flown by Triton, one that ultimately was not selected by NASA.
New rockets spring to life
Springtime is for lovers… of new rockets, that is. Jeff Foust reports on impending first flights of several new launch vehicles, some reaching the pad after years of delays.
Three rules for peace in orbit in the new space era
There are various proposals for space traffic management regimes and rules of the road for space behavior. Brian Chow and Brandon Kelley describe three tenets they believe are critical to establishing such systems so they do not undermine space security.
Assessing NASA advisory activities: What makes advice effective
NASA gets plenty of internal and external advice about its activities, but what makes that advice effective? Joseph K. Alexander discusses the key features of effective agency advice based on experience from several efforts over the years that had a major impact on the agency’s work.
India’s space security policy, part 2: getting space security right
In the second part of an examination of Indian space security policy, Pranav R. Satyanath examines how India should look beyond ASATs when crafting a policy for securing its interests in space.
Trials and tribulations of planetary smallsats
Smallsats have revolutionized many aspects of spaceflight, including science, but not without challenges. Jeff Foust reports on the problems a line of small planetary missions funded by NASA has faced trying to get off the launch pad, including finding rides to space.
Will a five-year mission by COPUOS produce a new international governance instrument for outer space resources?
A United Nations committee has started work on a five-year project to develop a potential governance framework for utilization of space resources. Dennis O’Brien analyzes the viewpoints of various nations and organizations involved in that effort.
Making something from the great balloon incident: space policy at the fringes
The Chinese spy balloon that floated over the United States and was eventually shot down has raised awareness about what is going on in the stratosphere and the need to better track it. Roger Handberg argues it may also provide some data on another topic at the fringes of space policy.
Review: Wild Ride
Of all the private astronaut missions to date, none was quite like Inspiration4, which flew four non-professional astronauts on a Crew Dragon in 2021. Jeff Foust reviews the memoir by one of the four, Hayley Arceneaux, who recounts both her childhood battle with cancer and a trip of a lifetime to space.
Too many or two few? The launch industry’s conundrum
Two small launch vehicle developers suffered high-profile launch failures last month, the latest sign of struggles for that sector. Jeff Foust reports that while some see financial and technical problems leading to a weeding out of the industry, others are calling for even more vehicles to meet growing demand.
Trends in NASA authorization legislation
Congress passed a NASA authorization act as part of a broader bill last year, the first NASA authorization enacted in five years. Alex Eastman and Casey Dreier discuss how NASA authorization acts have become less frequent, but also longer, in recent decades.
India’s space security policy, part 1: history’s second cut
India abstained in a recent UN vote on an antisatellite testing moratorium, even as 155 nations voted in favor of it. Pranav R. Satyanath examines India’s policy towards development of ASATs and international regulation of them.
Galactic dissonance for the Space Force
The US Space Force has proposed a range of new activities, from debris removal to monitoring cislunar space. Matthew Jenkins argues that the service should focus first on demonstrating how it protects American interests at home and abroad.
What is the environmental impact of a supercharged space industry?
The space industry has long downplayed the environmental impact of launches, given their historically small number. Jeff Foust reports that, as launch activity soars, concerns grow about how emissions from both launches and spacecraft reentries might affect the upper atmosphere.
National Reconnaissance Program crisis photography concepts, part 2: PINTO
In the second part of an examination of efforts more than a half-century ago to develop rapid-response reconnaissance systems, Joseph T. Page II discusses one concept that repurposed flight-proven hardware to rapidly collect and return images.
Comparing the NASA Advisory Council and NASA’s external advisory bodies
NASA has multiple places it can turn to for advice, from its own advisory council to external committees run by the National Academies. Joseph Alexander explores the differences between those internal and external advisers.
Review: The New Guys
Forty-five years ago, NASA selected 35 people that would include the first women and Black astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines many members of that historic astronaut class and the challenges they faced to get an opportunity to go to space.
Human spaceflight safety in a new commercial era
This week, as NASA marks the 20th anniversary of the loss of Columbia, the agency says it’s redoubling its efforts to learn from that and past accidents to avoid another. Jeff Foust reports that those efforts come as human spaceflight shifts to the private sector, creating a new set of issues to ensure safety.
Space-to-ground capabilities are the answer to deterring invasion of Taiwan
The US military raised concerns last year that China may be developing fractional orbital bombardment systems and other space-to-ground weapons. Christopher Stone argues that the best way to counter such weapons is for the US to develop similar ones.
Our solar system is filled with asteroids that are particularly hard to destroy
The recent success of NASA’s DART mission might suggest that scientists have figured out how to deal with a potentially hazardous asteroid. Fred Jourdan and Nick Timms explain their research that shows that asteroids like the one DART hit might actually be difficult to handle.
Review: Apollo’s Creed
Many astronaut memoirs follow similar paths recounting experience before, during, and after NASA. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a different approach, looking at the post-NASA life of an Apollo-era astronaut as remembered by his stepdaughter.
Persistent cooperation on the space station
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NASA officials have emphasized that operations of the ISS remained unaffected. Jeff Foust reports that was put to the test when a Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station was damaged last month.
Not-so ancient astronauts and Area 51: the Skylab Incident
During the final Skylab mission, astronauts photographed a secretive base in Nevada, creating a headache for the CIA. Dwayne Day revisits that incident to explore the issue of secrecy and classification.
What the United States should do regarding space leadership?
The United States is a leader in space, but that future leadership is not assured. Namrata Goswami argues that the US needs to revise its space priorities to address growing interest in using space for economic development.
Mawu and Artemis: Why the United States should make Africa a priority for space diplomacy
Rwanda and Nigeria became the first African nations to sign the Artemis Accords last month. Nico Wood discusses why, despite this milestone, the United States needs to do more to work with African nations in space diplomacy.
Unlocking the next great observatories
At a conference last week, astronomers celebrated the James Webb Space Telescope as it continued to surpass expectations. Jeff Foust reports that they also discussed how to develop future space telescopes, including a series of new “great observatories” that may take decades to launch.
From the sand to the stars: Saddam Hussein’s failed space program
Shortly before the first Gulf War, Iraq embarked on an effort to launch its own satellite. Dwayne Day examines what we know about efforts to build a satellite and small launch vehicle, and potential ties to missile development.
China’s new space station opens for business in an increasingly competitive era of space activity
China effectively completed its space station last year, enabling it to be permanently crewed for research. Eytan Tepper and Scott Shackelford discuss the geopolitical ramifications of that station as the International Space Station enters its final years.
Review: Dinner on Mars
While there is plenty of discussion about how to send humans to Mars, there’s far less about how they’ll live there. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores how emerging technologies and techniques could allow people on Mars to sustainably grow a variety of foods while also helping terrestrial agriculture.
Moon denied: the 1993 Early Lunar Access proposal
Exactly 30 years ago, General Dynamics unveiled a concept for returning humans to the Moon faster and less expensively than other proposals. Dwayne Day examines Early Lunar Access and why it demonstrated there was no such thing as easy lunar access.
To go to Mars, do a backflip at Venus
NASA is currently implementing a Moon-to-Mars strategy with lunar missions serving as precursors for eventual human expeditions to Mars. Jeff Foust reports on a recent study that argues that a human flyby of Venus could be a key intermediate step between the Moon and Mars.
A COTS-like alternative for planetary exploration
NASA is struggling to carry out an ambitious series of planetary science missions within a flat budget. Louis Friedman argues it’s time for NASA to take a page from other parts of the agency and consider public-private partnerships for some missions.
Review: A Brief History of Black Holes
Black holes have become established in both astrophysics and popular culture. Jeff Foust reviews a book where an astrophysicist argues that both the “black” and “hole” part of the name are misnomers based on the science of those objects.
After all, it’s rocket science (and bureaucracy)
While 2022 was a record year for the number of launches, some vehicles had trouble getting off the pad or reaching orbit successfully. Jeff Foust reports on the challenges several companies faced in the final weeks of the year, both technical and regulatory.
M is for MONSTER ROCKET: the M-1 cryogenic engine
During the first half of the 1960s, NASA embarked on a number of projects that looked beyond the initial Apollo lunar landings. Dwayne Day describes one of those projects, an effort to develop an engine that would have dwarfed those being produced for the Saturn V.
The critical importance of resiliency for US missile warning satellites
The US military is in the process of transitioning from a fleet of geostationary missile-warning satellites to a constellation in lower orbits. Brian Chow discusses why resilience must be a central tenet of that transition.
Space resilience and the importance of multiple orbits
Growing concerns about anti-satellite weapons have led some to propose alternative architectures like LEO constellations. Matthew Mowthorpe argues that resilience from such threats comes from having satellites in a variety of orbits.
Apollo 21: Upgrading the Lunar Module for advanced missions
The Apollo 17 mission ended exactly 50 years ago, concluding the first era of human lunar exploration. Dwayne Day and Glen Swanson discuss what could have followed had NASA adopted proposals from Grumman for advanced versions of its Lunar Module for additional missions.
The secret payloads of Russia’s Glonass navigation satellites
Russia’s Glonass satellites do more than provide navigation services. Bart Hendrickx explores what’s known about additional payloads carried on those satellites, from detecting nuclear explosions to performing naval signals intelligence.
Starship, Twitter, and Musk
As SpaceX makes slow progress on development of Starship, its CEO and founder is distracted by his acquisition of Twitter. Jeff Foust reports on concerns some have that Musk’s focus on Twitter, and the controversies that have ensued there, have taken his focus away from a goal of making humanity multiplanetary.
Satellite bombs, gliders, or ICBMs? Krafft Ehricke and early thinking on long-range strategic weapons
Just before the dawn of the Space Age, German-born engineer Krafft Ehricke was working for American aerospace company Convair, examining future concepts for strategic weapons. Hans Dolfing examines a recently unearthed paper from Ehricke’s archives where he examined the tradeoff of missiles, satellites, and alternatives.
All’s well that finally begins well
The Artemis 1 mission concluded Sunday with a successful splashdown of the Orion spacecraft in the Pacific. Jeff Foust reports on Orion’s return and what it means for the Artemis program and NASA going forward.
Launching with cost-plus, landing with fixed-price: the financial underpinnings of a lunar return
The key elements of the Artemis program, the SLS and Orion, were developed under traditional cost-plus contracts. Tarak Makecha argues that NASA needs to shift to fixed-price contracts to keep Artemis sustainable in the long term.
The first photograph of the entire globe: 50 years on, Blue Marble still inspires
The 50th anniversary of Apollo 17 this month also marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic images ever taken of the Earth. Chari Larsson examines the lasting impact of the “Blue Marble” image.
Review: Before The Big Bang
Astronomers continue to probe the early universe, seeking to better understand the Big Bang. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a cosmologist that explains how a concept called the multiverse may explain why our universe appears to beat the cosmological odds.
Analyzing the deployment of BlueWalker 3
While astronomers have been concerned about megaconstellations like Starlink for a few years, a new satellite has raised new worries. Brad Young discusses measurements of the brightness of one satellite with a large array, a precursor to a constellation that could further interfere with astronomy.
Evaluating America’s green energy options including astroelectricity (part 4)
In the conclusion of his four-part series, Mike Snead examines whether it is feasible for space-based solar power to provide the green energy the United States will need by the end of the century.
Europe selects new astronauts as it weighs its human spaceflight future
As part of its ministerial council meeting last month, the European Space Agency announced a new class of astronauts. Jeff Foust reports on the selection, which comes as the agency considers new missions for them and even developing its own human spaceflight systems.
The growing importance of small satellites in modern warfare: what are the options for small countries?
Small satellites are playing a growing role in both government and commercial space activities. Donatas Palavenis examines their increasing capabilities and options for smaller countries to take advantage of them.
For ESA, a good enough budget
Ministers from the European Space Agency’s member states met in Paris last week to decide what programs would be funded, and by how much, over the next three years. Jeff Foust reports that while ESA didn’t get everything it asked for, agency leaders seemed satisfied with the funding they got given other challenges facing Europe.
Evaluating America’s green energy options including astroelectricity (part 3)
In the third part of his review of space-based solar power and alternative energy sources, Mike Snead examines whether wind and terrestrial solar power can meet future US green energy needs.
Assembly lines in space: Enabling construction of rotating space settlements
Space advocates have long dreamed of living in giant rotating habitats, but just how would you build one? John Strickland offers one proposal that brings the concept of the assembly line to microgravity.
Review: Back to the Moon
The ongoing Artemis 1 mission is the latest small step towards returning humans to the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that takes several giant leaps ahead to what might be possible once humans establish a presence on the Moon and use it to advance astrophysics.
SLS showed up, at last
After years of delays, the Space Launch System finally lifted off for the first time, sending an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports on the last-minute challenges leading up to the launch and the focus now on testing Orion.
Lessons from a university’s first cubesat
Universities continue to take their first steps into space by developing cubesats. Fergus Downey discusses the lessons learned from his university’s first cubesat mission, which came to an end last month.
Evaluating America’s green energy options including astroelectricity (part 2)
In the second part of his examination of the potential role for space solar power to meet future green energy needs, Mike Snead examines how much energy green options need to provide and whether some terrestrial options are suitable.
Review: The Art of the Cosmos
Many space science books include images of the planets and galaxies that look like works of art. Jeff Foust reviews a book that focuses on celebrating those images as a form of art.
A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, surrounding an explosion: US intelligence collection and the 1960 Nedelin disaster
A Russian missile exploded on a launch pad at Baikonur in 1960, killing dozens of people, including a key Soviet official. Dwayne Day examines what the CIA was able to piece together from that accident five years later in a recently declassified report.
A pivot point for space startups
Space companies, like other startups, sometimes have to change direction because of issues with technology, markets, or funding. Jeff Foust reports on how two companies have had to make recent changes to keep going.
Evaluating America’s green energy options including astroelectricity (part 1)
With a transition from fossil fuels inevitable, what alternative sources of energy can meet the nation’s needs? In the first of a series of articles, Mike Snead examines future energy needs and the role space-based solar power can play to fill them.
Review: Space Craze
Society has long had a fascination with spaceflight, both real and fictional. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores that history, often through the lens of artifacts like toys and collectables.
Buccaneers of the high frontier: Program 989 SIGINT satellites from the ABM hunt to the Falklands War to the space shuttle
A effort known as Program 989 developed a series of signals intelligence satellites over decades. Dwayne Day reveals new details about that program from declassified documents, from searches for ABM radars in the Soviet Union to aiding the UK in the Falklands War.
In the shadows of lunar landers
In Texas, SpaceX is getting closer to the first orbital launch attempt of Starship, a milestone in its plans to develop an Artemis lunar lander for NASA. Jeff Foust reports that neither NASA nor SpaceX will share many details about those efforts, while other companies bidding on a second lander are also keeping quiet.
Does the Moon mean Mars is next?
For more than half a century, a human return to the Moon has been presented as a logical precursor for human missions to Mars. Roger Handberg, though, argues that even a successful return to the Moon is no guarantee that people will soon be ready to go on to Mars.
Review: Good Night Oppy
The impending demise of the InSight Mars lander brings up memories of the ends of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that covers the lives, and eventual deaths, of those twin rovers.
Russia and Iran expand space cooperation
Russia and Iran are gradually expanding cooperation in space, but without drawing much attention to it. Bart Hendrickx examines those cooperative efforts that include both remote sensing and communications satellites.
Aiming for the Moon, crashing on Earth: The rise and fall of the 1989 Space Exploration Initiative (part 2)
The demise of the Space Exploration Initiative was not the end of discussions about the future of human space exploration in the 1990s. Dwayne Day discusses the various proposals and studies that examine ways to return humans to the Moon without the sticker shock of SEI.
The debate about who should regulate new commercial space activities
The FCC recently approved a rule reducing the amount of time satellites can remain in orbit after the end of their missions, a move intended to address orbital debris. Jeff Foust reports it also rekindled debates about which agencies should be involved in regulating commercial space activities.
ISRO’s LVM3-M2 mission: an expansion of India’s commercial activities
OneWeb resumed launches of its broadband satellite constellation this month with the launch of 36 satellites on an Indian rocket. Ajey Lele describes how this is a major step forward for India’s efforts to win more commercial launch business.
Aiming for the Moon, crashing on Earth: The rise and fall of the 1989 Space Exploration Initiative (part 1)
Before Artemis and the Vision for Space Exploration was the Space Exploration Initiative, a proposal by President George H.W. Bush to return humans to the Moon. Dwayne Day examines the development of that proposal and how that planted the seeds for its demise.
The space investment crunch
Space startups have enjoyed surging investment in recent years, with many going public. Jeff Foust reports that broader economic problems may make it more difficult for companies to raise money or stay public and could lead to consolidation.
Recycling in the ultimate high ground
New technologies and a growing commercial presence in space are reshaping how the US military operates in orbit. Ben Ogden argues that a critical element of those changes will be a greater adoption of in-space servicing of spacecraft.
Screens and spaceships: inside the renovated National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum reopened part of its downtown Washington museum earlier this month as part of a multi-year renovation of the popular museum. Jeff Foust pays a visit to see the changes in the space-related galleries, including how some famous artifacts are presented.
Who wants to fly around the Moon?
Last week SpaceX announced it signed up Dennis Tito, the first space tourist to visit the ISS, along with his wife, for a flight around the Moon on Starship. Jeff Foust reports on what we know, and don’t know, about the trip and its implications for commercial human spaceflight.
FOBS, MOBS, and the reality of the Article IV nuclear weapons prohibition
Some US officials have expressed concerns China and Russia may be developing fractional orbital bombardment systems, or FOBS, something last seriously considered decades ago. Michael Listner examines a debate in the 1960s about whether a Soviet FOBS system violated the brand-new Outer Space Treaty for guidance for how such systems should be viewed today.
#MeToo in space: We must address the potential for sexual harassment and assault away from Earth
As humanity expands into space, it will take with it both its hopes and its problems. Four experts argue that space agencies and companies need to take greater efforts to prevent sexual harassment or assault in space.
Review: Boldly Go
One year ago, the actor who played one of the most famous fictional space travelers got to go to space for real, albeit briefly, on Blue Origin’s New Shepard. Jeff Foust reviews William Shatner’s latest book, which includes new details about that flight and his reaction to it.
Arms control and satellites: early issues concerning national technical means
Reconnaissance satellites emerged in the 1970s as a key tool for verifying arms control treaties. Dwayne Day examines how the NRO dealt with this new use of their satellites and misperceptions about their abilities.
Commercial space stations: labs or hotels?
At last month’s International Astronautical Conference, companies working on commercial space station concepts talked up both the potential of their stations to support research and host tourists. Jeff Foust reports on how they’re preparing to handle two very different markets given uncertain demand for their facilities.
Making a modern military service
As a new military service, the US Space Force has to develop its own culture while also preparing to defend the nation against new threats. Coen Williams and Peter Garretson argue that the Space Force needs to adopt an approach that gives servicemembers the ability to act more independently to be more agile.
Review: A Traveler’s Guide to the Stars
Given the difficulties of simply getting off the planet, many don’t devote much attention to getting out of the solar system. Jeff Foust reviews a book by one engineer who has given a lot of thought to how to build interstellar spacecraft, and the numerous challenges they face.
Applied planetary science: DART’s bullseye
NASA’s DART spacecraft collided with a small asteroid last week—just as the agency planned. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA hopes the impact will help people sleep a little better at night when it comes to the risks posed by asteroids impacting the Earth.
NASA-SpaceX study opens final chapter for Hubble Space Telescope
NASA announced last week it was working with SpaceX on a study to examine the feasibility of reboosting and possibly servicing the Hubble Space Telescope using a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Christopher Gainor argues that, regardless of the outcome of the study, it should help better define what the final phase of Hubble’s life will be.
Sputnik’s effect on Vanguard
This week marks the 65th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. Richard Easton recalls how one engineer working on a competing American satellite program reacted when he heard the news of Sputnik’s launch.
Review: The Whole Truth
Scientists have, over the last several decades, built up increasingly detailed cosmological models. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an astronomer who won a Nobel Prize in Physics for such work but believes that, given the progress of the field, that model was inevitable.
Aiming too high: the Advent military communications satellite
Complex military space programs that run behind schedule and over budget are nothing new. Dwayne Day explores the history of an overly ambitious military communications satellite program from the early years of the space age.
Space for (mostly) all
The International Astronautical Congress last week had a record turnout of more than 9,000 people from 110 countries. However, Jeff Foust reports that a lot of attention was on two major spacefaring nations, China and Russia, that had little or no presence at the event.
An analysis of Chinese remote sensing satellites
China has developed a wide array of remote sensing satellites for civil, commercial, and military applications. Henk H.F. Smid examines what is known about this growing fleet of spacecraft.
Review: First Dawn
Roberto Battiston is a physicist who served as head of Italy's space agency for four years. Jeff Foust reviews a book where Battiston discusses topics ranging from cosmology to space commercialization.
Europe seeks to stay in the space race
The International Astronautical Congress is underway this week in Paris, with a major focus on Europe’s place in space. Jeff Foust reports on how ESA is seeking a major budget increase despite, or perhaps because of, the economic and geopolitical challenges on the continent.
Return to panic: How two iconic NASA astronauts survived the 1970s and beyond
After the Apollo program, two astronauts had challenging, but very different, physical and emotional experiences. Emily Carney explores how the memoirs and other accounts by Buzz Aldrin and Fred Haise examined their hardships.
Harpoons, robots, and lasers: how to capture defunct satellites and other space junk and bring it back to Earth
While space debris is a growing problem, there are plenty of potential ways to remove such debris, at least in theory. Ralph Cooney examines some of the concepts and the environmental issues they raise.
A darker shade of blue: The unknown Air Force manned space program
In the early 1960s, the US Air Force was looking at several options for having a role in human spaceflight even after that work was handed over to NASA. Dwayne Day examines what’s known about some of those efforts and open questions about their development.
A substantive National Space Council meeting
The National Space Council held its first public meeting in more than nine months last Friday. Jeff Foust reports that there were several major developments to emerge from that meeting, from space security to building up the space workforce.
Lunar mining, Moon land claims, and avoiding conflict and damage to spacecraft
While there have been proposals in the past for “safety zones” around lunar landing sites, those zones may conflict with treaties. Michelle L.D. Hanlon discusses efforts to find international agreement on ways to conduct activities on the Moon without risking damage to others.
Unwinding a conflict of treaties
The Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Treaty make property rights on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere difficult or impossible to establish. Paul Costello argues that a much older legal precedent could offer an alternative approach to establishing such rights.
Of hydrogen and humility
NASA went into the first attempts to launch the Artemis 1 system confident in the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. Jeff Foust reports that, two scrubs later, that confidence is tempered by the challenges of dealing with a new launch vehicle using old, and troublesome, technology.
The origins and evolution of the Defense Support Program (part 2)
The early Defense Support Program missile-warning satellites were so successful they lasted far longer in orbit than expected, creating a stockpile of satellites on the ground. Dwayne Day explores how the US Air Force dealt with that issue and various technical glitches as the program matured.
Frank Drake has passed away but his equation for alien intelligence is more important than ever
Astronomer Frank Drake, a pioneer in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, died last week at the age of 92. David Rothery examines perhaps his most famous contribution to the field, the equation that bears his name that allows us to estimate how much company we should have in the galaxy.
Review: The Milky Way
If our Milky Way galaxy could talk, what would it have to say? Jeff Foust reviews a book that tells the story of the formation, evolution, and eventual demise of our galaxy in the form of an autobiography.
The origins and evolution of the Defense Support Program (part 1)
The US military has operated satellites for decades designed to provide early warnings of ballistic missile launches. Dwayne Day, in the first of a multi-part series, examines the origins of the first such missile-warning satellite effort, the Defense Support Program.
The time has finally come for Artemis 1
NASA is now less than a week away from the long-awaited, and long-delayed, first launch attempt of the Space Launch System. Jeff Foust reports on final preparations for the launch and what the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission seeks to achieve.
War in Ukraine highlights the growing strategic importance of private satellite companies, especially in times of conflict
A major element of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been the role commercial satellites have played in monitoring the invasion and aiding the Ukrainian government. Mariel Borowitz explains how this could reshape the future of the commercial remote sensing industry.
Review: A Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Woman
NASA’s Psyche mission, previously set to launch earlier this month, has been indefinitely delayed because of software testing problems. Jeff Foust reviews the memoir of the mission’s principal investigator, whose life and career have gone through far more serious challenges than a launch delay.
Chief communicator: How Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura helped NASA
Nichelle Nichols, the actress best known as Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, recently passed away. Glen Swanson examines the role she played after the original TV series helping NASA diversify its astronaut corps.
Small launchers struggle to reach orbit
Sometimes the first launches of new rockets fail to reach orbit, as was the case with India’s SSLV earlier this month. Other times, Jeff Foust reports, it’s the business cases for small launch vehicles that struggle to gain altitude.
Roe v. Wade: the space case
The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that established abortion rights, has impacts that could extend into space. Vanessa Farsadaki discusses potential implications for the ruling for long-duration spaceflight.
Review: A History of Near-Earth Objects Research
Efforts to search for, and potentially defend against, near Earth asteroids have enjoyed a sharp increase in funding in recent years. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a history of near Earth object studies and the factors that led to that recent increase in support for them.
ISS in the balance
NASA is working to extend operations of the International Space Station to 2030. Jeff Foust reports on how those plans face challenges from Russian comments that it may withdraw from the partnership early as well as uncertainty that commercial stations will be ready by the end of the decade.
A review of Chinese counterspace activities
China has been active in a wide range of technologies that could interfere with, damage, or even destroy satellites. Matthew Mowthorpe and Markos Trichas offer an overview of those activities as best understood today.
What is space development?
People often talk about space development, but what does that term actually mean? John Strickland offers his description of the activities required to expand human presence in space.
Why the molten salt reactor should be our next big step for terrestrial and off-planet needs
Both terrestrial and space applications need new power sources. Ajay Kothari discusses how one new nuclear power system can both address cimate change on Earth and support missions to the Moon and beyond.
Billionaires and backlash: suborbital spaceflight a year after Branson and Bezos
It’s been a year since Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos flew on their companies’ suborbital vehicles days apart from each other. Jeff Foust reports on the status of the suborbital human spaceflight industry today and the backlash against those flights.
The rebirth of NASA
Just as the James Webb Space Telescope begins science operations, the Space Launch System is finally nearing its first launch. Roger Handberg argues these developments demonstrate what NASA is good at, and what it should instead hand over to the private sector.
Advanced Gambit and VHR
Newly declassified documents indicate that the National Reconnaissance Office studied another version of the Gambit reconnaissance satellite in the 1970s. Philip Horzempa discusses what the documents reveal about Advanced Gambit-3.
Will NASA rename the James Webb Space Telescope?
While the James Webb Space Telescope is now fully operational after major cost and schedule overruns, it has not completely escaped controversy. Alice Gorman explains why some continue to push NASA to rename the observatory.
The transformation of JWST
It was little surprise that the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope would get an overwhelmingly positive reaction from scientists and the public. Jeff Foust reports that the image release is part of a broader transformation of JWST in terms of science, technology, and even policy.
Not necessarily for the NRP: Final thoughts on the Casa Grande crosses
Some people have speculated that a set of concrete crosses in the Arizona desert was used to calibrate CORONA spy satellites. Joseph T. Page II offers new evidence to conclude that those crosses were used for other purposes.
ASATs and space law: quo vadis?
The Russian ASAT demonstration last November has led to renewed calls for a testing ban. Leia-Maria Lupu and Maira Sophie Müller examine what international law today says about the consequences of such tests.
Review: Apollo 11 Flight Plan: Relaunched
This week marks the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers what the publishers claim to be the most faithful reproduction yet of the flight plan for that historic mission.
JWST and the future of large space telescopes
NASA and its partners will release this week the first science-quality observations from the James Webb Space Telescope, starting a new era in space astronomy that will last for decades. Jeff Foust reports on how some astronomers are looking beyond JWST to future space telescopes, and the challenges they face from the struggles to build JWST.
An ICAO for the Moon: It’s time for an International Civil Lunar Organization
The number of countries and companies planning lunar missions presents a challenge for coordination and cooperation. Peter Garretson offers a solution in the form of an organization modeled on the one that has advanced civil aviation.
Space and America’s future
The White House sought a significant increase in NASA’s budget for next year, but that increase may not be enough. Frank Slazer makes the case for even larger funding increases for the agency to keep its exploration plans on track.
Review: Escaping Gravity
While NASA astronaut memoirs are abundant, far fewer NASA leaders have written about their time at the agency. Jeff Foust reviews the new book by former deputy administrator Lori Garver, who describes in great detail her efforts to change the agency’s direction and the opposition she faced.
Kalina: a Russian ground-based laser to dazzle imaging satellites
Russia’s military has been working on several laser projects to disrupt operations of reconnaissance satellites passing overhead. Bart Hendrickx discusses the progress on one such system.
The perils of planetary rideshares
NASA is funding several smallsat missions to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids—if they can find a ride. Jeff Foust reports on the challenges those missions have encountered as their rideshare launch opportunities get delayed or changed.
Boozy Chimps in Orbit and intoxicating Saturns: Where space pop meets Tiki culture
At first glance, there would seem to be little in common between the Space Age and the “Tiki” culture that was popular in much of the 20th century. Deana Weibel describes how there was, in fact, considerable overlap that continues to this day.
Review: The Elephant in the Universe
One of the biggest mysteries in astronomy is the dark matter that is present in far greater quantities in the universe than ordinary matter. Jeff Foust reviews a book that describes the century-long quest to understand dark matter.
Dark Clouds: The secret meteorological satellite program (part 4)
In the concluding installment of his history of military weather satellite programs, Dwayne Day examines what happened when an NRO weather satellite program was transferred to the Air Force, including the problems that jeopardized its ability to monitor the weather.
NASA rents the runway for its new spacesuits
NASA needs new spacesuits for both the space station and Artemis lunar missions, but has struggled to develop new suits on its own. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA is taking a services approach instead, working with two companies to lease new suits from them.
Escaping Gravity and the struggle to reshape NASA
Former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver has written a book about her time at the agency. Rand Simberg reviews the book with a focus on Garver’s efforts to put NASA on a new course that leveraged commercial capabilities.
Why the space industry needs a space college
The growth of the space industry is creating new demands on the education system to train workers. Dylan Taylor and Keith Cowing discuss a concept for a “space college” that is both physical and virtual to more effectively train the next generation of the space workforce.
Every single contribution counts
Improving diversity, equality, and inclusion is becoming a growing priority for the aerospace industry. Timo Pesonen describes one initiative the European Commission is taking to address this issue.
A step closer for Starship
The FAA last week published its final environmental review of SpaceX’s proposed Starship orbital launches from Texas. Jeff Foust reports on the findings of the review and the steps that remain before the company is finally ready to attempt a launch.
NASA to launch three rockets from Northern Territory in boost for Australian space efforts
Over the next month NASA will perform three sounding rocket launches from an Australian commercial spaceport. Melissa de Zwart says these launches are signs of growth for the country’s space industry that could soon lead to orbital launches.
Gaia mission: five insights astronomers could glean from its latest data
The European Space Agency released last week a new set of data from its Gaia mission, tracking the positions of a billion stars. Adam McMaster and Andrew Norton explain how that data could be used in fields from planetary science to cosmology.
Review: The Sky Is for Everyone
The number of women in astronomy has grown significantly in recent decades despite many personal and professional obstacles. Jeff Foust reviews a book where dozens of female astronomers discuss their triumphs and tribulations in the field.
Dark Clouds: The secret meteorological satellite program (part 3)
In the early 1960s the NRO started a project to fly weather satellites to determine if targets of its reconnaissance satellites were clouded over. Dwayne Day examines the development of that project and how it found uses beyond supporting spy satellites.
Learning to let go of space missions
NASA’s InSight Mars lander is likely in its final months as its power levels decline, and other missions are facing their own near-death experiences. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA is emphasizing not how long a mission lasts, but what goals it achieved.
The Russian space threat and a defense against it with guardian satellites
Russia has developed, and in some cases tested, a wide range of antisatellite weapons and related systems. Matthew Mowthorpe outlines those efforts and a potential approach to defending satellites against them.
Review: Far Side of the Moon
Over the last half century, it’s become increasingly clear how stressful the Apollo program was the families of the astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines one marriage pushed to its limits but, unlike so many others, survived.
Will the economy deflect the trajectory of space startups?
Space startups have enjoyed significant growth and investment over the last several years. Jeff Foust reports that broader economic issues, from supply chain problems to inflation and interest rates, could slow down that growth, at least for some companies.
Our Mars rover mission was suspended because of the Ukraine war: here’s what we’re hoping for next
European scientists and engineers were wrapping up work on the Rosalind Franklin rover when ESA cancelled its launch on a Russian rocket as part of the ExoMars mission. Andrew Coates discusses how the project is dealing with that setback as it looks for an alternative means to launch the rover.
What the Voyager space probes can teach humanity about immortality and legacy
The twin Voyager spacecraft are heading out of our solar system, equipped with Golden Records offering a message from humanity. James Edward Huchingson describes how they may offer humans a sense of immortality, if they’re ever found by another civilization.
Review: Life in Space
There is a steady stream of life sciences research taking place on the International Space Station today, but it took a long time to achieve that. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines space life sciences work at NASA during the shuttle and early station programs, including the various obstacles those efforts faced.
Cubesats to the Moon
In mid-June, NASA will launch a cubesat mission to test the stability of the halo orbit around the Moon it plans to use for the Artemis program. Jeff Foust explains how the mission, and others planned for launch this year, are also validations of the growing capabilities of cubesats.
National Reconnaissance Program crisis photography concepts, part 1: A six-pack of Corona
In the 1960s, the NRO was caught off-guard by events like the Cuban Missile Crisis where its imaging satellites could provide little assistance. Joseph T. Page II examines one concept studied in response to such events that could have provided more responsive reconnaissance.
How Ukraine could help Europe boost its space sector
Ukrainian space companies are continuing work more than three months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Viktor Serbin, CEO of a Ukrainian space startup, discusses how companies like his can boost Europe’s space ambitions.
Boeing’s commercial crew vehicle is finally (almost) ready for crew
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft landed in New Mexico last week, wrapping up its second uncrewed test flight. Jeff Foust reports that NASA and Boeing both feel confident that, after years of delays, the commercial crew vehicle is now just about ready to carry astronauts.
For Starliner, better late than never
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner launched last week on its second uncrewed test flight to the ISS, nearly two and a half years after a truncated first mission. Jeff Foust reports on that launch and docking, and the road ahead for the commercial crew vehicle.
Barnstorming the Moon: the LEM Reconnaissance Module
During the early years of the Apollo program, NASA considered a variety of approaches to scout potential landing sites. Philip Horzempa examines one proposal that would have turned the Lunar Module into a reconnaissance satellite.
How the India and France Space Strategic Dialogue can address multi-dimensional concerns in 2020s
Earlier this month the governments of France and India agreed to start a formal dialogue on space policy issues. Harini Madhusudan examines how this fits into the longer history of space relations between the two countries and what topics they may discuss.
Review: Space Forces
People living in space has been a long-running dream of space advocates that predates the Space Age. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores the various rationales offered over the years for settling space.
Chinese military thinking on orbits beyond GEO
Military interest in the region of space beyond geostationary Earth orbit, such as cislunar space, is growing. Kristin Burke examines how that region of space is treated in Chinese academic military papers and its implications for space security.
“Times are changing”: NASA looks to move beyond the traditional contract
NASA administrator Bill Nelson called traditional cost-plus contracts a “plague” on the agency during a congressional hearing earlier this month. Jeff Foust reports on how the agency is looking to make greater use of fixed-price contracts and competition, and the challenges it faces doing so.
All the myriad worlds
What’s your favorite moon in the solar system? (You do have one, right?) Dwayne Day offers his favorite moons, based not just on science but also the stories they tell.
Kosmos 482: questions around a failed Venera lander from 1972 still orbiting Earth (but not for long)
Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union launched a mission to Venus that was stranded in Earth orbit. Marco Langbroek examines what’s known about the last element of that mission still in orbit and when it’s likely to reenter.
The future of Mars science missions
The planetary science decadal survey final report released last month recommended flagship missions to the outer solar system but also endorsed continued work on Mars Sample Return. Jeff Foust reports other Mars exploration recommendations in the report are still shrouded in uncertainty, such as a radar mapping mission that NASA wants to stop funding.
Anti-satellite weapons: the US has sworn off tests, and Australia should follow suit
The United States announced last month it would not perform destructive direct-ascent ASAT tests and encouraged other nations to join it. Cassandra Steer explains why Australia should join the ASAT testing ban despite a lack of plans by the country’s military to develop ASATs.
Raising the flag on the Moon and Mars: future human space exploration in Japan (part 2)
In the concluding part of his examination of Japanese space exploration policy, Makusu Tsuizaki discusses how lessons learned from the ISS could support new plans for human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Review: The Universe: A Biography
There are no shortage of biographies of figures in the space community, but what about a bigger subject? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a straightforward history of the origin and development of the universe, billed as a biography.
Lessons from a new era of destinations
A crew of private astronauts returned from an extended stay on the International Space Station last week. Jeff Foust reports the mission offers lessons for NASA and industry as they move ahead into a new era of commercial space stations, if geopolitics don’t get in the way.
Act now on contingencies for Russian non-participation in ISS
Russia’s threats to exit the International Space Station raise questions about its long-term future. Srikanth Raviprasad and Steve Hoeser argue that NASA needs to be taking steps to prepare for that possibility and ensure a smooth transition to commercial stations.
Raising the flag on the Moon and Mars: future human space exploration in Japan (part 1)
Japan, a major partner in the International Space Station program, is gearing up to cooperate on lunar exploration through Artemis. Makusu Tsuizaki examines some of the policy and budgetary issues involving Japan’s space exploration plans.
Review: The Sky Above
In the 1990s, the shuttle was flying frequently, providing many flight opportunities for NASA astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir by a former NASA astronaut who flew on four shuttle missions in that era after taking a long path to becoming an astronaut.
War at sea, seen from above
The sinking of a Russian cruiser by a Ukrainian missile was monitored from space, in part by commercial satellites. Dwayne Day compares that event with the role space assets played 40 years ago in the Falklands.
A small ban of ASATs, a giant leap for space security
Vice President Harris announced last week that the United States would no longer perform tests of destructive direct-ascent ASAT weapons. Jeff Foust reports that while the ban has limited practical effects, it could be a step forward for multilateral efforts to develop norms of behavior in space.
Space blocs: The future of international cooperation in space is splitting along lines of power on Earth
There’s a new trend of groups of countries working together in space, from regional space agencies to the Artemis Accords. Svetla Ben-Itzhak examines what it means for prospects of conflict in space.
Review: The End of Astronauts
For years, space advocates have agreed that there’s a role for both humans and robots in exploring the solar system. Jeff Foust reviews a book that tries to make the argument that advances in robots now make them better suited for expeditions beyond Earth orbit than astronauts.
A second chance at the Moon
NASA announced last month it will hold a new competition to select a second lunar lander for the Artemis program alongside SpaceX’s Starship. Jeff Foust reports this gives companies that lost the first time a second shot, but perhaps with different designs and different partners.
Investing in these innovations will get us to Mars and beyond
The further exploration of the solar system, including human missions to Mars, requires more than just new launch vehicles. Dylan Taylor discusses some other enabling technologies for missions to Mars and beyond.
How solar storms can destroy satellites with ease
In February, most of a batch of newly launched Starlink satellites reentered after a solar storm. Piyush Mehta explains how an increasingly active Sun poses a range of threats to the ever-growing population of satellites in orbit.
Review: Never Panic Early
It’s been 52 years since Fred Haise and his Apollo 13 crewmates safely returned to Earth after disaster struck en route to the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews Haise’s long-awaited autobiography that shows he was defined by more than his single spaceflight.
A megaconstellation megadeal
Amazon announced last week the biggest commercial launch deal ever, purchasing up to 83 launches over five years from three companies, a deal worth several billion dollars. Jeff Foust reports on the details of the contracts and what it means for a launch industry already suffering from a lack of supply.
Red and black: The secretive National Reconnaissance Office finally faces the budgeteers
In its early years, the NRO avoided budgetary scrutiny by the White House and Congress. Dwayne Day looks at what happened as policies changed and the NRO came into the crosshairs of the Office of Management and Budget.
What is China doing at the lunar distant retrograde orbit?
The orbiter from China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission continues operations well after it returned samples to Earth. Kristin Burke explores why that spacecraft may now be operating in a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.
Review: Return to Space
A documentary that premiered on Netflix last week takes viewers behind the scenes of 2020’s Demo-2, the first crewed orbital launch from the US since the end of the shuttle. Jeff Foust examines what that access reveals about the preparations for NASA and SpaceX’s historic flight.
Review: NASA Missions to Mars
The Perseverance rover is just the latest in a series of NASA missions to Mars dating back to the 1960s. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a pictorial history of those missions and what might come in the future.
Dark clouds: The secret meteorological satellite program (part 2)
In the second part of his study of early military weather satellite efforts, Dwayne Day examines how the US Army supported work by RCA on weather satellite programs that led to proposals for satellites to assist reconnaissance spacecraft.
Space travelers by any other name
One group of private individuals flew suborbitally on New Shepard last week while another group is set to fly to the International Space Station later this week. Jeff Foust reports on the perceptions of such individuals and what the industry is doing to make the experience seem less exclusive.
Keep space dialogue going, astronautics federation says
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed many space ties to the breaking point. Philippe Cosyn describes how one organization wants to keep peaceful cooperation in space going despite what’s happening on Earth.
Effective altruism, corporate responsibility, and space sustainability
Companies in the aerospace and defense industry say they are taking steps to address environmental and sustainability issues. Layla Martin finds flaws in their arguments and a need for them to be more responsible, particularly when it comes to space sustainability.
Review: Voyager: Photographs from Humanity’s Greatest Journey
One of the reasons the Voyager spacecraft are so revered is the images they provided of the planets and moons of the outer solar system. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a sampling of those images, in many cases reprocessed.
Dark clouds: The secret meteorological satellite program (part 1)
Since before the launch of Sputnik, the US military considered the role satellites could play in “weather reconnaissance”. In the first installment of a multi-part examination of that effort, Dwayne Day explores early studies of military weather satellites.
The launch market squeeze
For all the talk of a glut of small launch vehicles, supply of larger launch vehicles is now very constrained, thanks in part to the withdrawal of the Soyuz from the commercial market. Jeff Foust reports on what companies and organizations are doing to cope, including, in one case, turning to a competitor for help launching its satellites.
Red Heaven: China sets its sights on the stars (part 3)
In the conclusion of his three-part analysis of China’s space program, Jason Szeftel examines if China can revamp its space program to more effectively compete with the US and, specifically, SpaceX.
Launch failures: fairings
An Astra launch in February failed when the rocket’s payload fairing did not separate properly. Wayne Eleazer discusses how such failures, while rare over the years, are not unprecedented.
SLS crawls towards its first launch
NASA’s Space Launch System rolled out to the launch pad for the first time last week for a countdown test ahead of a launch later this summer. Jeff Foust reports on that milestone in the vehicle’s long-delayed development amid broader concerns about the state of the Artemis program.
Red Heaven: China sets its sights on the stars (part 2)
In the second installment of a three-part article, Jason Szeftel examines the changes in China’s space industry in response to the United States and whether those changes can make it competitive with the likes of SpaceX.
Financing space-derived data as commodities
When the major assets of space companies are spacecraft that cannot easily be repossessed in the event of default, it can be difficult to secure some kinds of financing. Lucien and Paul Rapp propose one solution that treats the data those spacecraft generate as commodities.
Reviews: Space films at SXSW
The South by Southwest festival in Texas this month included space content that went beyond panel discussions. Jeff Foust reviews some of the space-themed films screened at the event, from documentaries to flights of fancy.
Missions to Mercury: From Mariner to MESSENGER
ESA’s BepiColombo mission is on its way to orbit Mercury, the latest in a handful of missions to explore the innermost planet. Dwayne Day examines the challenges such missions faced and efforts to develop lower-cost spacecraft to make those missions technically and fiscally feasible.
Regulatory issues for a growing launch industry
The commercial launch industry has become far more dynamic in recent years in the US, with more companies performing more launches. Jeff Foust reports on some of the regulatory issues they face, from revised licensing regulations to a turf battle among federal agencies.
Red Heaven: China sets its sights on the stars (part 1)
China’s plans for sending humans to the Moon once looked like a version of NASA’s approach. Jason Szeftel, in the first of a three-part article, discusses how those plans have changed as China watched SpaceX reshape the launch market.
Review: Imaging Our Solar System
Since the beginning of the Space Age, spacecraft have returned images of the Moon, Mars, and other worlds in our solar system beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines how that photography evolved from the crude images of the earliest missions to the megapixel mosaics of modern-day missions.
The moral equivalent of war: a new metaphor for space resource utilization
If using the resources of the solar system is the only way to save humanity, as some argue, why aren’t we pursuing this field with more urgency? Jack Reid examines if a better argument is needed.
A FAB approach to Mars exploration
Planetary scientists are anxiously awaiting the latest decadal survey and its implications for future missions. Jeff Foust reports on how some, looking to preserve future Mars missions within limited budgets, see potential for a new line of low-cost landers that make use of new technologies and new partnerships.
Guarding Gateway’s goodness: protecting a steppingstone’s genuine utility
Many consider NASA’s planned lunar Gateway as ineffective and a waste of resources. Bob Mahoney explains how the Gateway, at least as originally envisioned more than two decades ago, can be essential to exploration of the Moon and beyond.
While some look up to search for large asteroids that could be potentially hazardous, others look down at meteorites left behind by past impacts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores the history of our studies of meteorites and their scientific significance.
The ending of an era in international space cooperation
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had reverberations affecting civil and commercial spaceflight. Jeff Foust reports on those reactions and responses, and how it may only hasten the drifting apart of Russia and the West in space.
What would FDR do?
Cooperation between Russia and the West continues on the International Space Station for now. Robert Oler argues it’s time to reconsider even that.
Prophets of the High Frontier
Space advocates have been evangelizing the promise of space-based solar power for decades, but without much progress. Dwayne Day wonders if that means those prophecies are false or just premature.
The Starlink-China Space Station near-collision: Questions, solutions, and an opportunity
The American and Chinese governments continue to disagree about two cases last year where China claimed Starlink satellites passed close to their space station. Chen Lan examines what’s known about the incidents and offers a path forward.
Review: Discovering Mars
Mars is the subject of extensive study by spacecraft missions today, just as it was in centuries past by Earthbound astronomers. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a detailed history of observations of Mars, from the earliest astronomers to the latest rovers.
Arms control in outer space won’t work
Russia’s ASAT test in November renewed calls for a ban on such weapons. Brian Britt argues that a comprehensive ban on ASATs is doomed to fail because of problems of definitions, verification, and attribution.
Front line on the TELINT Cold War: The Tell Two missions collecting rocket and satellite telemetry during the 1960s
During part of the Cold War, the US Air Force used a modified version of a B-47 aircraft to collect telemetry from Russian launches and spacecraft. Dwayne Day examines what is known about the “Tell Two” program.
Smallsat launch and the real world
Sometimes conference panels can stir real debate and disagreement, particularly on hot topics like launch. Jeff Foust reports on a couple panels from a recent conference that features sharp exchanges on smallsat launch capabilities.
Building Musk’s path to Mars
Elon Musk outlines his development plans for Starship, which he says will enable the transport of people and cargo to Mars. John Strickland discusses what else is needed to establish a long-term human presence on Mars beyond a transportation system.
Starship status check
Elon Musk gave an update last week on the status of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle, the first such presentation in more than two years. Jeff Foust reports on the issues the company has to overcome before that vehicle is finally ready to head to orbit.
Nuclear thermal propulsion is key to keeping peace in space
Both NASA and DARPA are working on nuclear thermal propulsion technologies for tests as soon as the middle of the decade. Alex Gilbert explains why this technology is essential not just to space exploration but also security.
America’s moral obligation to develop astroelectricity
Arguments for developing space-based solar power have been based on topics ranging from geopolitics to climate change. Mike Snead describes how there is also a moral imperative to develop such energy sources to uplift society.
Review: Picturing the Space Shuttle: The Early Years
Fifty years after President Nixon formally authorized its development, the shuttle’s legacy persists. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the early history of the shuttle program through a camera lens.
Defining European space ambitions
Representatives of the European Union and European Space Agency will gather next week for a one-day “space summit” to discuss potential future space projects. Jeff Foust reports on what will be on the agenda, from a European human spaceflight program to a broadband constellation.
FROG: The Film Read Out GAMBIT program
An alternative to the KH-11 reconnaissance satellite briefly considered by the NRO was a version of the GAMBIT satellite called FROG. Dwayne Day examines what has come to light about FROG in declassified documents.
What to really worry about when a rocket stage crashes on the Moon
An upper stage from a Falcon 9 launch several years ago will crash on the far side of the Moon next month, an event that’s attracted considerable public attention. David Rothery argues that the concern is not with this particular impact but with planetary protection issues with other objects crashing onto the Moon.
Are space movie studios sci-fi fantasies?
Last month, two ventures announced plans to develop studios on commercial space stations for producing movies and other entertainment. Jeff Foust wonders if there’s enough demand for space-based entertainment to hold the plots of those plans together.
The NRO and the Space Shuttle
One of the few remaining gaps in the history of the shuttle program was how it was affected and used by the National Reconnaissance Office. Dwayne Day finds new insights into that relationship from recently declassified documents.
Building a commercial space sustainability ecosystem
Despite growing concerns about the threat posed by space debris, there’s been little action by governments recently to tackle the issue. Jeff Foust reports on how more companies are getting involved in tracking debris, forecasting potential collisions, and preparing to deorbit satellites and debris.
Reconsidering the efficacy of an “Incidents in [Outer] Space Agreement” for outer space security
Some have proposed an agreement analogous to the Incidents on the High Seas Agreement to improve space security. Michael Listner reexamines an earlier proposal he made along those lines and finds new flaws in the concept.
Review: Through the Glass Ceiling to the Stars
There are many reasons astronauts write their memoirs, from adding to the historical record to simply getting people to stop bugging them about writing one. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an inspirational account from the astronaut who was the first woman to command a shuttle mission.
Space policy, geopolitics, and the ISS
The International Space Station has survived several decades of ups and downs in relations between Russia and the West. Jeff Foust reports that partnership could face its toughest challenge yet amid fears Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.
A phoenix dying in Samos ashes: The SPARTAN reconnaissance satellite program
In the 1960s there was a short-lived effort to resurrect a cancelled reconnaissance satellite program under the codename SPARTAN. Dwayne Day examines the technical and other challenges that effort faced.
Cold War Pony Express in the western Pacific
A recent essay described how the US Air Force used ships, among other means, to track Soviet launches and missile tests. Mike Beuster recalls his experience serving on one of those ships in the 1970s.
Review: Becoming Off-Worldly
With commercial human spaceflight ramping up after years of delays, there are more opportunities for people to fly to space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the experience of going to space and what people need to do to plan for such a trip.
Stealing secrets from the ether: missile and satellite telemetry interception during the Cold War
During the Cold War, the US operated ground stations around the world, including places like Iran and Pakistan, to monitor telemetry from Soviet launches. Dwayne Day explores what’s known about these projects thanks to a recently declassified official history.
When SPACs are attacked
One of the major developments in commercial space last year was the series of companies that went public through mergers with “blank-check” companies called SPACs. Jeff Foust reports those companies are facing new problems as public corporations while SPACs themselves run into difficulties.
Liability and insurance framework for manufacturers of space objects in India
India’s government is working to open up its space industry to private players, reforms that bring with it a variety of challenges. Three legal experts discuss issues involving liability and insurance regarding that reform effort.
Review: Not Yet Imagined
As the James Webb Space Telescope goes through its commissioning, the Hubble Space Telescope keeps chugging along, more than three decade after its launch. Jeff Foust reviews a history of the operations of that famous space observatory.
Blacker than a very black thing: the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite signals intelligence payloads
The last, failed launch of a HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite in 1986 had been thought to carry a deployable subsatellite like many other previous such missions. Dwayne Day explains how new historical evidence points to a different payload and a previously unknown NRO program.
New year, new (and overdue) rockets
This year could see the first flights of many small and large launch vehicles, if they can stick to their schedules. Jeff Foust reports on the status of several such rockets, and the issues that caused their inaugural launches to be delayed.
Steady growth beyond the skies: five trends in outer space from 2021
Last year was an active one in spaceflight, from space tourism to Mars rovers. Harini Madhusudan examines some of the biggest trends of the last year and their implications for 2022 and beyond.
Review: Flashes of Creation
Astronomers plan to use the newly launched James Webb Space Telescope to peer back into the distant early universe to see the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang. Jeff Foust review a book that recounts the debate among astronomers decades ago about the Big Bang model as shaped by two leading astronomers on opposite sides of that debate.
Transfer of tension
The Christmas morning liftoff of the James Webb Space Telescope was only the start of its long-awaited deployment process. Jeff Foust reports on the progress since launch getting the $10 billion space telescope into operation.
Blackbirds and black satellites: the A-12 OXCART as a satellite launcher
In the early 1960s, Lockheed proposed using the A-12 aircraft, the forerunner to the SR-71, as an air-launch system. Dwayne Day examines that proposal and why it failed to take off.
China says Elon Musk’s Starlink is “phenomenal,” but what is the real message?
In a message to the United Nations last month, the Chinese government complained that it had to maneuver its space station twice to avoid close approaches by Starlink spacecraft. Michelle Hanlon and Josh Smith discuss some of the space law issues raised by that diplomatic note.
Review: Shatner in Space
One of the biggest personalities to fly to space last year was William Shatner, aka Capt. Kirk from Star Trek. Jeff Foust reviews a show that takes viewers behind the scenes of his flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.
Dark side of the Moon: the lost Surveyor missions
The Surveyor program sent a series of landers to the Moon as a precursor to the Apollo missions. Dwayne Day examines the history of what was originally a far more ambitious program that included many more landers, some with rovers, that were proposed but never flown.
For JWST, the launch is only the beginning of the drama
After decades of development and years of delays, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally scheduled to launch this week. Jeff Foust reports that, for all the tension around the launch itself, the liftoff will will mark only the start of the high-stakes effort to get the telescope deployed and commissioned.
Growing the global space community: onboarding spacefaring nations
More countries are interested in developing launch vehicles or hosting launches by vehicles developed elsewhere. Cody Knipfer discusses why this interest calls for efforts by leading nations, like the US, to help streamline that process to ensure safety while avoiding burdensome regulations.
Review: 50 Years of Solar System Exploration
NASA missions to explore the solar system depend not just on technology but also policy. Jeff Foust reviews a collection of papers from a conference several years ago that examined how people, politics, and policies shaped how science gets done, or sometimes doesn’t get done.
Private human spaceflight become more regular, but not routine
Another Blue Origin New Shepard vehicle flew a suborbital mission Saturday, a day after the FAA said it was shutting down its program to award commercial astronaut wings. Jeff Foust reports this is a sign commercial human spaceflight is becoming more common, at long last, but is still far from routine.
Private space stations are coming. Will they be better than their predecessors?
Several ventures are now working on commercial space station proposals that could be ready to enter service by late this decade. Justin St. P. Walsh and Alice Gorman wonder if such ventures have learned the lessons from government space stations.
Who was missing at COP26 and why it’s a problem
Last month’s COP26 climate conference in Scotland attracted thousands of participants, but notably absent were representatives of the aerospace and defense industry. Layla Martin discusses why the industry needs to pay more attention to climate change.
Review: The Apollo Murders
Former astronaut Chris Hadfield has written books about his spaceflight experiences, but is now turning to fiction. Jeff Foust reviews Hadfield’s novel that makes use of his space and aviation expertise to write a thriller set in the Apollo program.
A Biden space policy takes shape
The National Space Council met for the first time last week in the Biden Administration. Jeff Foust reports on how the meeting, and a policy document released that day, show an emphasis on continuity, with some added attention in certain areas.
How to clarify human futures beyond Earth
One of the major questions regarding the ability of humans to live in space for extended periods is whether partial gravity levels, such as those on the Moon and Mars, are sufficient to keep people healthy. Joe Carroll examines the issue and how a concept for a rotating spacecraft could answer those questions.
A new era of planetary exploration: what we discovered on the far side of the Moon
Even though spacecraft have studied the Moon for more than 60 years, new technologies and instruments can provide new insights. Iraklis Giannakis discusses how ground-penetrating radar has helped scientists understand what’s going on below the surface of the Moon.
Space at Expo 2020
Expo 2020 Dubai, the latest version of a world’s fair, is underway after a one-year delay. Jeff Foust tours the expo to look for space-related exhibits, from small moon rocks to a full-sized replica booster.
A new approach to flagship space telescopes
The long-awaited astrophysics decadal survey, with its recommendations for future space-based observatories, was finally released in early November. Jeff Foust reports on how the decadal, rather than recommending a single large mission, offered a new approach for doing a series of such missions in the next few decades.
How America wins the future
The National Space Council meets this week for the first time in the Biden Administration. Frank Slazer argues the meeting is a prime opportunity for the White House to demonstrate its commitment to securing American leadership in space.
Space law hasn’t been changed since 1967, but the UN aims to update laws and keep space peaceful
Russia’s antisatellite test comes as the United Nations considers a proposal for studying norms of behavior for space activities. Michelle Hanlon and Greg Autry explain how that UN effort is a major step forward in addressing the limitations of existing international space law.
Review: To Boldly Go
Science fiction has long been an inspiration for those pursuing work in space fields, but what other lessons can the genre offer? Jeff Foust reviews a collection of essays that mines space-related science fiction for insights on leadership and strategy.
After another ASAT test, will governments finally take action?
Last week, Russia tested a direct-ascent antisatellite weapon, destroying a defunct Russian satellite and creating potentially thousands of new pieces of debris. Jeff Foust reports on the test and reaction, and whether it will lead to efforts to prohibit such tests and preserve the orbital environment.
Tracking unknown satellites
Not all satellite catalogs are created equal, with some containing objects that are missing in others. Charles Phillips and Mykola Kulichenko discuss one effort to track down objects and link them to specific satellites.
Risk, teamwork, and opportunity: the tale of a Soyuz abort
Three years ago, an astronaut and a cosmonaut survived the first abort of a Soyuz spacecraft in decades. Jeff Foust recounts a session of a conference last month where Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin discussed the experience and the lessons learned from it.
Review: The Greatest Adventure
Cramming six decades of human spaceflight into a single book is a challenge, but one the some authors are willing to take on. Jeff Foust reviews one such book, which appears to focus more on the early years of human spaceflight than more recent achievements.
The conclusion of a legal dispute involving the development of a human lunar landing system allows NASA to move forward with that aspect of the Artemis program, but with delays. Jeff Foust reports on the latest changes to the schedule for returning humans to the Moon, and whether that schedule can hold up.
Musk versus Bezos: a real rivalry or a fake feud?
The rivalry between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in space is often considered one of the key competitions in the modern space industry. Ben Little ponders if that feud is genuine or if it’s played up to mask the fact their ventures are more complementary.
An assessment of EU decarbonization options including astroelectricity
The European Union is seeking to “decarbonize” its energy supplies by the middle of the century. Mike Snead examines the role that space-based solar power could play to do so compared to alternative energy sources.
Review: Bright Galaxies, Dark Matter, and Beyond
Research over decades by astronomer Vera Rubin provided strong evidence for the existence of dark matter, winning her awards and making her the namesake of an observatory under construction in Chile. Jeff foust reviews a new biography of Rubin that puts her life and research into context.
Boldly insure where no one has gone
Insurance is a critical, if often overlooked, part of the space industry. A group of insurance executives raises issues that growing space activities pose for insurers.
For private space travelers, questions of vistas and titles
Can a suborbital spaceflight provide the same change in perspective as an orbital flight? And, do private space travelers get to be called astronauts? Jeff Foust reports on how those issues are being considered as private human spaceflight takes off.
Witch-hunts, power, and privilege from Salem to the stars
How does the fear and power asymmetry that contributed to the infamous Salem witch trials manifest itself in the modern-day aerospace industry? Layla Martin presents similarities between the events at Salem and modern space culture.
What would prompt a NASA astronaut to disobey orders and, in effect, mutiny in orbit? Jeff Foust reviews a novel by a veteran space writer that contemplates such a scenario.
The commercial space station race
NASA’s plans to retire the International Space Station by 2030 depend on companies developing commercial space stations to succeed it. Jeff Foust reports on recent developments in that effort, including new concepts announced late last month by two industry teams.
Will SpaceX follow Tesla to a $1 trillion market capitalization?
Tesla, the electric vehicle company run by Elon Musk, recently passed a market cap of $1 trillion. Sam Dinkin examines what it would take for SpaceX to pass that threshold.
How a small, distant space telescope can solve astrophysical mysteries big ones can’t
The long-awaited Astro2020 decadal survey of astrophysics will be released this week, offering its recommendations for the next large space telescope NASA should develop. Michael Zemcov makes the case for NASA to also consider much smaller telescopes that, placed far from Earth, can do things large telescopes can’t.
Strategic geographical points in outer space
Geography plays a key role in military strategy, something which extends to space. Matthew Jenkins examines how concepts like lines of communication and choke points apply to spaceports, orbits, and Lagrange points.
Engineering the arts for space: developing the concept of “mission laureates”
There has long been a link between the arts and NASA missions. Christopher Cokinos describes how those links can be strengthened by a new concept to involve all kinds of creative people into those missions.
The battle for Boca Chica
An environmental review of SpaceX’s proposed Starship launch plans from Boca Chica, Texas, has created sharp differences of opinion. Jeff Foust reports on public feedback from those strongly in favor of the company’s launch plans and those with equally strong objections.
Is outer space a de jure common-pool resource?
Two of the more controversial elements of the Artemis Accords involve safety zones and rights to use extracted resources. Dennis O’Brien argues, that, as current written, those provisions could run afoul of space law.
How space tourism could affect older people
The two oldest people to fly to space both did so this year as space tourism opens up new opportunities for a wider range of people. Nick Caplan and Christopher Newman discuss some of the issues associated with the elderly going to space on even brief suborbital flights.
Review: Back to Earth
Many space travelers have experienced the Overview Effect that changes their perspective of the Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book where a former astronaut explains how people can change their views about the Earth without leaving the planet.
The Artemis Accords after one year of international progress
One year ago, the United States and seven other countries signed the Artemis Accords, outlining principles for space exploration. Paul Stimers and Audrey Jammes review the progress since then getting more countries to sign the Accords and explore the document’s long-term prospects.
The normalization of space tourism
Blue Origin’s latest suborbital spaceflight, with Star Trek’s William Shatner and three others on board, was the fifth mission with private astronauts in three months. Jeff Foust reports that space tourism is starting to shift from exceptional even in the space community to something a little more normal.
Black ugliness and the covering of blue: William Shatner’s suborbital flight to “death”
When William Shatner returned from his brief suborbital spaceflight, he described the experience in a way few others have. Deana Weibel discusses how his comments differ from what we’ve come to expect from professional astronauts.
The Indian Space Association seeks to broaden commercial interests
Last week, Indian government and business leaders announced the formation of a new space industry group. Ajey Lele examines how it can support India’s push to commercialize the field.
Grimes and space communes
When Elon Musk talks about human settlement of Mars, people take him seriously. Layla Martin wonders why we shouldn’t take his former partner seriously when she offers her own vision of space.
Aerostat: a Russian long-range anti-ballistic missile system with possible counterspace capabilities
Russia has been working for several years on an anti-ballistic missile system called Aerostat. Bart Hendrickx examines that effort and how it could also be used as an antisatellite weapon.
Lollipops and ASATs
Antisatellite weapons were a concern for the US as far back as the early years of the Space Age. Dwayne Day explores what declassified documents have revealed about American efforts to track Soviet radars and other capabilities linked to ASATs.
The UK looks for its place in space
The British government released a new national space strategy last month that established a series of goals and objectives for the country’s space sector. Jeff Foust reports on that strategy and some of the issues facing Britain as it seeks to bolster its space industry.
Asteroids are back in the news with the upcoming launch of NASA’s Lucy mission to visit several Trojan asteroids preceding and following Jupiter in its orbit around the Sun. Thomas Simmons reviews a book that offers a historical context to the study of minor planets.
Five big questions about the International Space Station becoming a movie set
On Tuesday, a Soyuz spacecraft will launch a professional cosmonaut to the International Space Station along with a director and an actress, who will film scenes for a movie. Alice Gorman examines some of the issues raised by this novel use of the station.
Resilience and space situational awareness: an interview with NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins
The Inspiration4 mission was the second flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft called Resilience, which first flew NASA’s Crew-1 mission. Jeff Foust interviews NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, the commander of that mission, about his experiences and future plans.
Inspiration4 sent four people with minimal training to orbit and brought space tourism closer to reality
While Inspiration4 may have been a one-off mission, it may serve as a precursor for more private orbital human missions. Wendy Whitman Cobb explains how that mission, perhaps more than suborbital spaceflight, may be the future of space tourism.
Review: Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space
A documentary crew followed the Inspiration4 crew as they prepared for their orbital human spaceflight last month. Jeff Foust reviews the five-part documentary results that offers behind-the-scenes accounts of the mission but a lack of details about other aspects of the mission as well.
Two directorate heads are better than one
Last week NASA shook up the management of its human spaceflight programs, splitting its exploration development efforts from its operations of the ISS and commercial successors. Jeff Foust reports on the reasons for the restructuring and both the distinct and shared problems the two new organizations face.
Criticism of space cowboys isn’t enough
Some voices inside and outside the space community have questioned the “space cowboy” billionaires that are playing a growing role in the industry. Blake Horn argues such criticism is only a start.
Covid and Mars
For many over the last year and a half, sending humans to Mars seems like a distant dream compared to the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Frank Stratford explains why he believes the pandemic has given a new impetus for human expeditions to Mars.
Review: Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut
Veteran ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will go to the International Space Station next year and serve as its commander. Jeff Foust reviews a book where she describes her experience becoming an astronaut and training for her first ISS mission several years ago.
An inspiration for private human spaceflight
Last week’s Inspiration4 flight, a brief private orbital spaceflight, always looked like a one-off mission, at best. Jeff Foust reports that the success of the mission may show it’s a model for more frequent commercial orbital human missions.
What is the future of the International Space Station?
NASA is moving ahead with plans to extend the life of the ISS through the end of the decade while supporting development of commercial stations that will serve as successors. Roger Handberg argues the station’s long-term future, and ultimate demise, still remains uncertain.
Astrofeminism as a theory of change: save our planet, not escape from it
If “space cowboys” of the billionaire space race are the problem, what is the solution? Layla Martin explains how a change in mindset and incorporation of a broader range of people is essential for a more sustainable future in space.
Review: The Wonderful
Much of the focus on the International Space Station has been on the station itself, its research, and its political issues. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that devotes its attention instead on the experiences of the astronauts and cosmonauts who have flown there.
The great space company sale
Several space startups have gone public this year thanks to mergers with SPACs. Jeff Foust reports this may trigger a new round of acquisitions as those companies look to acquire suppliers and other firms that can help them grow.
Paradigmatic shifts in space? Space policies of China and India: priorities, long-term focuses, and differences
China and India are two rising space powers, each taking distinct approaches to developing their space capabilities. Namrata Goswami examines the similarities and differences in the two countries’ approaches to long-term space development.
The problem with space cowboys
The race between billionaires to go to space captured headlines and public interest, but also criticism. Layla Martin argues that while competition in general is good, this particular space race wasn’t helpful for the space community.
Thor the lifesaver?
Some space advocates have pushed for development of space-based solar power as a solution to Earth’s energy and climate problems. Ajay Kothari makes the case for an alternative technology that could also have space applications.
Asteroids have long been a topic of scientific interest, as well as for planetary defense. Jeff Foust reviews a book that covers both those issues as well as the long desired, but still unrealized, dreams of harvesting resources from them.
Small launch vehicles face their biggest test
In less than a week two startups developing small launch vehicles, Astra and Firefly, suffered launch failures. Jeff Foust reports on the setbacks those companies suffered and what it says about the challenges of creating new rockets.
The making of an Enterprise: How NASA, the Smithsonian, and the aerospace industry helped create Star Trek
Fifty-five years ago this week, the first episode of Star Trek aired on NBC. Glen Swanson examines the close ties the show had with both NASA and the Smithsonian while the show was on the air and beyond.
Wizards redux: revisiting the P-11 signals intelligence satellites
This month marks the 60th anniversary of the formation of the National Reconnaissance Office. Dwayne Day describes how he hopes the anniversary will bring with it the declassification of more documents about a signals intelligence satellite program.
The privatized frontier: the ethical implications and role of private companies in space exploration
A shift to private spaceflight has worried some, who think companies will be more reckless than government agencies. Maanas Sharma discusses how those risks can be mitigated while taking advantage of the capabilities of the private sector.
Review: The Red Planet
The planet Mars is the subject of more intense study than ever before by spacecraft in orbit and on its surface, but those missions have asked as many questions as they’ve answered. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that examines what we know, and don’t know, about the formation and evolution of Mars.
The little satellite that could (part 2): from Triana to DSCOVR to orbit
NASA’s Triana spacecraft, aka “Goresat,” seemed doomed to spend the rest of its days in storage. Dwayne Day recounts how the spacecraft finally made it to space with a new name and a revised mission.
Cooperation, competition, conferences, and COVID
The leaders of NASA and several other space agencies gathered in Colorado last week to discuss cooperation on various issues. Jeff Foust reports on what NASA’s Bill Nelson and others had to say about the future of the International Space Station and a perceived space race with China.
“Starship to orbit” ought to be a tipping point for policy makers
SpaceX is making rapid progress on the first Starship/Super Heavy vehicle able to go to orbit. Doug Plata argues that should be a wakeup call for the White House, NASA, and Congress as they plan sending humans to the Moon and Mars.
The billionaires compete and the US wins the 21st century space race
The competition this summer between Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to be the first to go to space attracted plenty of attention, but also criticism. Eytan Tepper discusses how it’s a sign that the United States is leading a new, commercially oriented space race.
Review: European-Russian Space Cooperation
Cooperation between European nations and Russia/the former Soviet Union in space dates back more than half a century. Gurbir Singh reviews a new book that provides a thorough history of those cooperative efforts.
NASA and Boeing announced last week that a test flight of the company’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle will be delayed, perhaps to next year, because of valve problems in the spacecraft’s propulsion system. Jeff Foust reports on this latest setback for a program that has already suffered significant delays.
Space exploration and development is essential to fighting climate change
The Biden Administration has made climate change a priority, an issue highlighted by the latest international assessment of the topic. Alex Gilbert argues that the National Space Council should take steps to leverage space capabilities to address the issue, from Earth science to space-based solar power.
ISRO’s cryogenic conundrum
An Indian GSLV launch failed last week when the engine in its cryogenic upper stage did not ignite. Ajey Lele examines the long-running problems India has suffered trying to develop a more powerful launch vehicle.
The little satellite that could
In 1998, Vice President Al Gore proposed a satellite that would provide continuous images of the Earth. Dwayne Day, in the first of a two-part article, looks at the early history of a satellite then known as Triana.
Is it time to create the designation of non-governmental astronaut?
Determining if space tourists, like people who fly on New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, are “astronauts” has legal implications. Michael Listner proposes that it may be time to create an explicit category of “non-governmental astronaut” in US law.
Review: The Impact of Lunar Dust on Human Exploration
The lunar regolith, both abrasive and adhesive, poses a significant challenge to future robotic and human expeditions there. Jeff Foust reviews a book that outlines our state of knowledge, or ignorance, about the hazards posed by lunar dust.
Little Wizards: Signals intelligence satellites during the Cold War
Through much of the Cold War, the US launched a series of small satellites to monitor electronic signals from the Soviet Union. Dwayne Day examines what we know about these spacecraft thanks to recent declassifications.
Relaunching a lunar lander program
On Friday, the GAO announced it denied protests filed by two companies regarding NASA’s decision to award a single lunar lander contract in April to SpaceX. Jeff Foust reports on the dismissed protests and the prospects that one of those companies might yet get a lander contract.
Six things to think about (besides the price) for prospective space tourists
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are entering commercial service for their suborbital space tourism vehicles as new orbital space tourism options emerge. Steven Freeland says prospective space tourists should consider several factors when deciding whether to fly.
Review: America’s New Destiny in Space
The recent suborbital flights of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson stimulated a new round of commentary about the benefits and drawbacks of private spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book that, while predating these latest developments, fits right in on the benefit side of the argument.
Will suborbital space tourism take a suborbital trajectory?
With Blue Origin’s first crewed New Shepard flight last week, there are now two companies ready to start flying people on commercial suborbital flights. Jeff Foust reports on the launch and what it means for space tourism and the broader industry.
John Glenn’s fan mail and the ambitions of the girls who wrote to him
John Glenn, who would have turned 100 this month, attracted volumes of fan mail after his first spaceflight in 1962. Roshanna P. Sylvester examines what the letters say about the people, especially young women, who wrote him, and the society of that era.
The case for suborbital scholarships
Suborbital space tourism may be taking off, but it has a perception problem that it, and by extension commercial space, is only for the very rich. A.J. Mackenzie offers a proposal to make space tourism a little more diverse.
Review: The Burning Blue
Many books have been written about the Challenger disaster in the last 35 years. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that promises the “untold” story of what happened.
Flattops from space: the once (and future?) meme of photographing aircraft carriers from orbit
Aircraft carriers, given their size and distinctive shape, stand out in satellite imagery. Dwayne Day explores the long history of taking images of carriers from space, from spysats in the Cold War to commercial imagery of Chinese, Indian, and other carriers.
Astronomy flagships, past and future
Astronomers are awaiting the final report of the astrophysics decadal survey, which will make recommendations on future large missions to pursue. Jeff Foust reports that as NASA waits for the report, it’s busy getting past recommendations launched or recovered from technical and policy problems.
Assessing and celebrating the global impact of the “First Lady Astronaut Trainees”
On Tuesday, Wally Funk, one of the women who passed astronaut medical exams more than 60 years ago, will finally go to space on New Shepard. James Oberg says the impact of the so-called “Mercury 13” goes beyond a long-awaited spaceflight.
Review: Leadership Moments from NASA
NASA has provided many examples of good leadership, and bad, over the years. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former astronaut and a space journalist who try to distill insights about leadership in general from the agency’s experiences.
The suborbital spaceflight race isn’t over
For many people, Richard Branson’s successful flight on SpaceShipTwo Sunday marked the end of a billionaire space race with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Jeff Foust reports that the real competition between the companies, and the race to win customers, is just beginning.
China is using mythology and sci-fi to sell its space program to the world
China shares few details about its space missions, often waiting until after launches or other events happen to announce them. Molly Silk explains how China is marketing its space ambitions using both an imagined past and imagined potential futures.
When it comes to spacewalks, size matters
The spacesuits NASA uses for spacewalks date back decades and are long past their design life. Steven Moore explains that means, in some cases, a key factor in selecting astronauts for spacewalks is whether they fit in the remaining suits.
Review: Across the Airless Wilds
Fifty years ago this month, the Apollo 15 mission landed on the Moon with the first of three lunar rovers used by astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts the long history of development of that rover, which was a game-changer for both astronauts and scientists.
Ingenuity, InSight, and Ice Mapper
Rovers seem to get all the attention on Mars, but there are other current and planned missions to the Red Planet. Jeff Foust updates progress on a helicopter that continues to push the limits of flight, a lander with fading power, and a future orbiter mission working on a tight budget.
Flights to Mars, real and LEGO
In the late 1960s, Boeing developed a concept for a nuclear-powered crewed Mars spacecraft. More than a half-century later, Dwayne Day describes, that concept continues to stimulate imaginations, including of one designer who created models of it using LEGOs.
The nanosatellite gold rush demands new routes to space
Smallsats offer new, cost-effective approaches to flying advanced technologies—if you can launch them. Steve Heller argues that continued innovation in smallsats requires innovation in getting the satellites to space.
Did ancient astronomers set a message in stone for us?
An ancient stone pillar in a temple in Turkey may tell the story of a long-ago impact, some researchers suggest. Sam Dinkin notes the pillar may have been a message of a very different kind as well.
Reviews: Examining the life of John Glenn
John Glenn is one of the most famous American astronauts, but what was the man like behind the mythology constructed around him? Jeff Foust reviews two books, one a general biography of Glenn and the other that focuses on his astronaut career.
Shipkillers: from satellite to shooter at sea
The growth of the Soviet Navy in the 1960s and 1970s led the US to develop new ways to track and target those vessels. Dwayne Day examines how the Navy and the NRO developed systems to relay satellite tracking information directly to weapons control stations on ships and planes.
Jumpstarting European NewSpace
The European Union used an event last week to highlight its space programs, including a new initiative intended to support entrepreneurial space companies on the continent. Jeff Foust reports that some of those companies disagree with the approach the EU is taking.
Before you go, Administrator Nelson
Bill Nelson goes into the job of NASA administrator knowing his tenure will be limited by politics and policy. Roger Handberg argues that Nelson should make it a priority while in office to create plans for a successor to the International Space Station.
Global space traffic management measures to improve the safety and sustainability of outer space
The rise in the number of satellites and debris in Earth orbit poses risks to space operators in all countries. Jamil Castillo explains why space traffic management solutions thus need to take a global approach.
Review: Project Hail Mary
Andy Weir gained fame from his realistic account of Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded on Mars. Jeff Foust reviews his new novel, which features an astronaut like Watney stranded much further away.
Scrutinizing the Russian-Iranian satellite deal
A report earlier this month claimed that Russia was selling a high-resolution imaging satellite to Iran that could launch within months. Bart Hendrickx examines the evidence supporting such a deal.
Burning Frost, the view from the ground: shooting down a spy satellite in 2008
In 2008, the US shot down a malfunctioning spysat, a move the government said was intended to prevent a hazardous reentry but which others saw as a demonstration of an anti-satellite capability. Dwayne Day explores what one NASA official wrote about his role in the event.
A shifting balance of space cooperation?
Last week Russian and Chinese officials rolled out a roadmap for a proposed joint lunar base, after Russian officials previously suggested they might quit the International Space Station as soon as the middle of the decade. Jeff Foust reports on what’s changing in spaceflight cooperation among China, Russia, and the US, and what’s staying the same.
The underrepresentation of women in the space industry is a widely known problem, but what are we missing as a result? Layla Martin introduces readers to a new school of thought, backed by extensive research, regarding the gender gap in the field.
Review: My Remarkable Journey
Katherine Johnson died last year at the age of 101, but not before writing her memoirs. Jeff Foust reviews that book where the NASA “Hidden Figure” describes a life that more than lives up to the book’s title.
Is a billionaire space race good for the industry?
Jeff Bezos revealed last week that he’ll go on the first crewed New Shepard flight next month, helping skyrocket bids for a seat on the flight. Jeff Foust reports on how a new competition between Bezos and Richard Branson to be the first to go to space may be brewing, one that has both benefits and risks for the industry.
Giant ferocious steps from Jeff Bezos
Blue Origin’s motto, in English, is “step by step ferociously.” Sam Dinkin argues that the company’s steps in both suborbital spaceflight and lobbying Congress for the Human Landing System have become more ferocious.
Sword and shield: defending against an American anti-satellite weapon during the Cold War
In the early 1980s, the CIA studied potential Soviet responses to an air-launched ASAT weapon the US was then developing. Dwayne Day examines what that newly declassified report revealed about the CIA’s thinking, some of which remains applicable nearly 40 years later.
Review: Losing the Sky
Two years after astronomers became alarmed about the impacts of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, megaconstellations remain a concern for the field. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explains the effects such satellites could have on astronomy and ways to address the problem.
Peeking behind the iron curtain: National Intelligence Estimates and the Soviet space program
During the Cold War, the CIA produced a regular series of reports on the Soviet space program, which are now being gradually declassified. Dwayne Day examines what is new in a pair of such reports that went through a second declassification review.
Venus is hot again
Last week, NASA selected proposals for two Venus spacecraft as the next in its Discovery program of planetary science missions. Jeff Foust reports on how exploration of the planet is making a comeback after a long hiatus.
Revisiting the past’s future: ongoing ruminations about “For All Mankind”
“For All Mankind,” the television series about an alternate history of space exploration, recently concluded its second season. Emily Carney and Dwayne Day discuss some of the storylines and other topics about the series.
Review: Light in the Darkness
Two years ago, scientists celebrated the first image of a black hole, the product of a large team of scientists spanning the globe. Jeff Foust reviews a book by one of the leading scientists of the Event Horizon Telescope about that project and studies of black holes in general.
An aggressive budget for more than just Earth science
The Biden Administration had long made clear that climate change would be a priority, but what that meant for NASA’s Earth science programs was unclear. Jeff Foust reports on what we now know about new Earth science missions in NASA’s budget proposal and the implications for other parts of NASA’s science portfolio.
Should India join China and Russia’s Lunar Research Station?
China and Russia are seeking potential partners for a lunar exploration effort that may one day include a crewed base at the south pole of the Moon. Ajey Lele examines if India should consider cooperating on that effort.
The revival of the suborbital market
Blue Origin is currently auctioning the first seat on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, while Virgin Galactic took a step closer to finally beginning commercial service with a test flight last month. Sam Dinkin analyzes the implications for space tourism.
One of the times the original Space Race was truly a neck-and-neck race was when the United States and Soviet Union were preparing to launch the first people into space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a dramatic account of the months leading up to Yuri Gagarin’s orbital spaceflight.
Necessary but not sufficient: Presidents and space policy 60 years after Kennedy
Sixty years ago this week, President Kennedy made his famous speech about sending humans to the Moon, the high-water mark in presidential influence on space policy. Wendy Whitman Cobb discusses how, in the decades since that speech, presidential support for space policy has become a key factor, but hardly the only one, in shaping policy.
Red planet scare
Many hailed the landing this month of a Chinese rover on Mars as a major achievement for China’s space program. Jeff Foust reports that, in US policy circles, it’s seen more as a symbol of the growing competition perceived between the US and China in spaceflight.
Why the US should ban kinetic anti-satellite weapons
Most in the space community are aware of the hazards posed by kinetic ASAT weapons, but little has been done to address them. Matthew Jenkins argues that the United States should take a leading role since it has the most to lose.
Review: Amazon Unbound and its insights into Blue Origin
A new book goes behind the scenes of Amazon.com and its founder, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man. Jeff Foust reviews the book for the insights it offers about Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin, and why it is lagging behind competitors like SpaceX.
Redundancy now, or redundancy never?
The two companies that lost to SpaceX in NASA’s Human Landing System program have filed protests with the GAO, and a Senate bill would direct NASA to make a second HLS award. Jeff Foust reports on the cases the companies and their congressional advocates are making, and both the benefits and costs of redundancy.
Build back better
The first successful flight of SpaceX’s Starship to an altitude of ten kilometers earlier this month provided new momentum for the company’s plans to revolutionize space access. Robert Oler examines what it could mean for both NASA and other space companies.
Why the China-Russia space alliance will speed up human exploration of Mars
Chinese and Russian officials signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year that could lead to joint missions to the Moon and perhaps even Mars. John Wolfram argues this could provide new incentive for the US to remain at the forefront of human space exploration.
Review: Developing Space and Settling Space
A true spacefaring civilization needs more than low-cost access to space. Jeff Foust reviews a pair of books by the same author that examines a wide range of technologies needed for humans to survive and thrive on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere.
Spybirds: POPPY 8 and the dawn of satellite ocean surveillance
A launch in 1969 represented a turning point in the use of American signals intelligence satellites. Dwayne Day examines how POPPY 8 marked the beginning of using such data in near realtime to support military forces.
Retaining both space policies and processes
The Biden Administration has made clear in its first months that it would retain key space policies of the Trump Administration, from Artemis to the Space Force. Jeff Foust reports it’s also embracing one of the ways the previous administration developed those policies, the National Space Council.
To catch a star: the technical and geopolitical arguments for autonomous on-orbit satellite servicing
The recent docking of a Northrop Grumman satellite life extension vehicle with an Intelsat spacecraft is another milestone for the emerging satellite servicing industry. Matthew Jenkins cautions that the field still needs to grapple with both technology and policy issues to be successful in the long term.
Review: Test Gods
Virgin Galactic may soon resume test flights of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle after the latest in a long series of delays. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a behind-the-scenes account of the company’s progress and setbacks, including one test pilot seeking to finally achieve his dreams of spaceflight.
Let’s take down the menace to our space dreams
Most in the space industry agree that orbital debris is a growing problem, but few agree on the best approach to solving that problem. Alfred Anzaldúa offers concepts for legal and regulatory structures that could provide mechanisms for addressing orbital debris within existing treaties.
The little Mars helicopter that could
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has made four successful flights on Mars, and the agency said last week the project will now shift into a new, extended mission. Jeff Foust reports on the achievements of Ingenuity, which have come despite past opposition to including it on Perseverance and uncertainty about when the technology might be used in the future.
Don’t make space harder than it needs to be
The Space Force has tried to justify its existence with detailed doctrinal documents. Matthew Jenkins argues that, for the public to understanding the importance of the new service, they need to first understand the importance of space.
Review: A Man on the Moon
Andrew Chaikin’s classic book about the Apollo missions is out in a new, premium collector’s edition. Jeff Foust reviews what’s new, and what’s unchanged, about this version.
With Starship, NASA is buying the Moon, but investing in Mars
NASA’s selection of SpaceX’s Starship for the Human Landing System is designed to allow astronauts to return to the Moon. Casey Dreier and Jason Davis describe how it also paves the way for human missions to Mars by both organizations.
A message of continuity from NASA’s next administrator
The Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing last week for Bill Nelson, a former committee member who is the White House’s nominee for NASA Administrator. Jeff Foust reports that Nelson wasn’t exactly grilled by his former colleagues.
Russian officials have recently suggested they could pull out of the International Space Station partnership as soon as 2025, putting the station’s future in jeopardy. A.J. Mackenzie argues that such a threat might be a good thing, based on what happened when another Russian politician made similar threats seven years ago.
Review: Not Necessarily Rocket Science
The space field has long attracted scientists and engineers, but those professions alone are insufficient for a growing commercial space industry. Jeff Foust reviews a book where one young professional describes her unconventional career path and how others can find their own way into the industry.
All in on Starship
NASA announced Friday that it had selected SpaceX as the sole company to win a contract to develop and demonstrate crewed lunar landers for the Artemis program. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA’s human space exploration program has become intertwined with SpaceX’s ambitions.
Higher burning: The Air Launched Sortie Vehicle of the 1980s
The TV series “For All Mankind” recently featured a shuttle-like vehicle launching from atop a C-5 cargo plane. Dwayne Day explores how that was based on concepts studied in the early 1980s by the Air Force for a spaceplane that could launch from a Boeing 747.
Putting SpaceX’s Starship program in the proper context
SpaceX’s Starship vehicle has attracted attention and scrutiny for its unconventional approach to vehicle development. Wayne Eleazer explains just how much it stands out in the long history of launch vehicle projects.
Review: The High Frontier
Gerard K. O’Neill is revered figure among many space advocates, but largely forgotten outside of the field. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that attempts to revive interest in the person who, a half-century ago, popularized the concept of space settlements.
For human spaceflight, better late than never
For years, the space community has been awaiting a future with multiple providers transporting government astronauts and private individuals to space. Jeff Foust reports that, on this anniversary of the flights of Yuri Gagarin and the first shuttle mission, that future is finally arriving.
A Moonshot to inspire: Building back better in space
A key theme of the Biden Administration is to “build back better.” Alan Stern argues that it creates an opportunity for the president to offer a bold new vision for space, much as President Kennedy did six decades ago.
Why venture? A memo for the Biden Administration
The Biden Administration is continuing many existing programs in space exploration, but looks to make its own stamp on them. Derek Webber describes how space exploration activities, human or robotic, need to fall into one of several categories.
Review: Institutions That Shaped Modern India: ISRO
India is set to join the exclusive club of nations with human spaceflight capabilities in the next couple of years, a sign of the country’s growing space capabilities. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a brief history of India’s space program.
The status of Russia’s signals intelligence satellites
While Russia has been making progress building up its military space capabilities in some areas, it is lagging in others. Bart Hendrickx examines long-running efforts by the Russian military to develop a series of signals intelligence satellites.
The Paper Chase: declassifying and releasing space history documents from the Cold War
Historians have taken advantage of declassified archives and other resources to reveal new details about the early Space Age. Dwayne Day talks with Asif Siddiqi to share their wish lists for documents they would like to see to learn more about those programs.
NASA revises its low Earth orbit commercialization plans
One element of NASA’s low Earth orbit commercialization strategy announced nearly two years ago had support for commercial space stations, but a lack of funding slowed that effort. Jeff Foust reports on how the agency is revamping its approach to assisting the industry on the development of stations that could one day succeed the ISS.
Review: Lunar Outfitters
NASA is embarking on the development of lunar spacesuits, more than half a century after it picked a small Delaware company to build the suits for the Apollo missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts the efforts by ILC to build those Apollo suits.
The growing case for active debris removal
Two satellites broke up in orbit in the last month, adding to the population of debris that poses a danger to space operations. Jeff Foust reports on the increasing call for efforts to remove existing debris, not just limit the creating of new debris.
Space Force sounds like a joke thanks to pop culture: how that could be a problem for an important military branch
The US Space Force has an important mission protecting the country’s interests in space, but to many people, it sounds like a bad joke. Wendy Whitman Cobb explains how science fiction and comedy have shaped the public’s perceptions of the new service.
Sustainable space manufacturing and design will help get us to the Moon, Mars, and beyond
Much of the focus of the space industry has been on new launch vehicles and related technologies that promise to lower the cost and increase the frequency of space access. Dylan Taylor discusses why advances in in-space manufacturing technologies are also critical for humanity’s long-term future in space.
Astronauts training for long-duration spaceflight not only have to get ready for their missions but also prepare for extended separation from their families. Jeff Foust reviews a movie that examines the bonds between a mother and daughter as that mother prepares for a mission to the space station.
Back to the future
A former senator who, a decade ago, played a major role in shaping NASA’s human spaceflight programs is heading to the agency as its next leader. Jeff Foust reports on the nomination of Bill Nelson as NASA administrator and its implications for programs like the Space Launch System.
This woman’s work: “For All Mankind” and women’s pain
The second season of the alternate-history TV series “For All Mankind” moved ahead to the 1980s. Emily Carney examines how the female characters of the show deal with physical and emotional pain, often by denying it.
The politics of settling space
Exactly when, and how, humans establish settlements beyond Earth will be shaped by the politics of the era. Gregory Anderson explores some of those potential political issues and their solutions.
Review: Star Settlers
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos generate headlines for their views and actions about humanity’s future in space, but they are just the latest in a long line of thinkers and doers contemplating that subject. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines both those visionaries and their rationales for humanity’s expansion into space.
Spaceport traffic management
Cape Canaveral has been very busy recently, thanks in large part to a steady stream of Falcon 9 launches. Jeff Foust reports on how the range is working to deal with that increased launch demand and how it can cope with more users and more launches in the future.
The case for scrapping the Space Launch System
Dueling editorials in recent weeks have argued for and against the SLS. Ajay Kothari argues against the SLS because of not just its cost and schedule problems but also because there is a better approach for opening up the solar system.
Mobility and surface access lessons for the Artemis lunar lander
NASA will soon select designs for crewed lunar landers for the Artemis program. Philip Horzempa turns to proposals for past lunar lander designs for lessons that could inform the design of these new landers.
Review: Three Sigma Leadership
NASA projects are among the most technically challenging in the world, and also bring with them their share of managerial problems. Jeff Foust reviews a book written by someone who has served as a chief engineer within the agency and offers advice that can serve audiences beyond those at NASA.
Putting the SpaceX-FAA dispute in context
A SpaceX Starship prototype launched and landed—and exploded—last week, but without the drama of the regulatory dispute with the FAA seen a month earlier. Wayne Eleazer explains the origins of the rule that led to the battle between SpaceX and the FAA.
The new era of private human orbital spaceflight
It’s been more than a decade since the last private astronaut flew in orbit, but that is set to change later this year. Jeff Foust reports on recent developments from commercial Crew Dragon missions to a proposed Starship flight around the Moon.
The enduring fantasy of space hotels
A proposed rotating space hotel, complete with luxury suites and gourmet restaurants, made headlines last week. A.J. Mackenzie argues it’s just the latest in a long line of space hotel concepts whose visions failed to match reality.
Review: First Light
One of the big unanswered questions in astrophysics is when and how the first stars formed in the early universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines what we know, and don’t know, about that topic as well as related issues in astronomy.
Waiting is the hardest part
Last week, three very different space projects announced delays ranging from weeks to a year or more. Jeff Foust reports on these slips and what they say about the space industry’s struggles to stay on schedule.
Don’t move US Space Command
In January, the Air Force announced it would move the headquarters for US Space Command from Colorado Springs to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. Matthew Jenkins argues that the proposed move is unwise from both fiscal and operational perspectives.
India’s foray into the commercial space market
An Indian rocket launch over the weekend carried not just nearly 20 satellites, but also marked the beginning of a new phase of Indian space activities. Ajey Lele describes how the launch is part of a broader space commercialization effort by the Indian government.
Review: Apollo 11: Quarantine
The makers of the 2019 hit documentary Apollo 11 are back with a shorter found-footage piece on the quarantine period the crew experiences after returning from the Moon. Christopher Cokinos finds that this short film is not as interesting as its predecessor.
SpaceX has reshaped the space industry, but in its early years it struggled to get rockets off the pad and to survive. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides the most detailed examination yet of the early days of SpaceX and the engineers who helped make the company what it is.
It only looks easy: Perseverance lands on Mars
All went according to plan last week as the Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars. Jeff Foust reports that the landing was harder than it might have looked, and its success a relief for NASA’s future Mars exploration plans.
NASA tests the perseverance of some space enthusiasts
After the successful landing of Perseverance, space enthusiasts waited for a stream of raw images like those from previous missions, but instead only saw a trickle. Svetoslav Alexandrov explains why that could prove counterproductive for NASA.
The promise of return on investment does not disappear in cislunar space and beyond
One of the key problems for those seeking investment for in-space infrastructure, including on the Moon, is the long time horizons associated with any return. Vidvuds Beldavs discusses approaches for improving those prospects without relying on uncertain government programs.
In memoriam: Taylor Dinerman
Taylor Dinerman, an early and longtime contributor to The Space Review, recently passed away. Christopher M. Stone recalls his contributions to space policy analysis over the years.
Space investors head to the exits, at last
While investors have put billions of dollars into space companies in recent years, there had been few opportunities for them to get a return. Jeff Foust reports that those investors are finally seeing long-awaited exits in the form of mergers and companies going public.
Reflecting core American values in the competition for the final economic frontier
Some see a new competition emerging between the United States and China in space, with implications for the principles that will guide humanity’s future beyond Earth. Josh Carlson describes how a new report offers a blueprint for the US to win a competition like that.
Global navigation satellite systems: a Symbiotic Realist paradigm
Satellite navigation systems have geopolitical implications, from the UK’s loss of access to Galileo because of Brexit to Chinese efforts to get countries to use Beidou. Nayef Al-Rodhan argues for the need for better coordination among these satellite systems.
Review: Cosmic Careers
The growth of the space industry has opened up new employment opportunities for engineers as well as many other fields. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to see what the space jobs of the future might be, some day.
EKS: Russia’s space-based missile early warning system
Russia is in the process of modernizing its fleet of satellites used to provide early warning of missile launches. Bart Hendrickx examines what is known about those satellites and plans for future spacecraft.
How can you improve the Outer Space Treaty?
The Outer Space Treaty is the foundation of international space law, but some fear it’s not keeping up with the key issues in space. Jeff Foust reports on a panel discussion that raised various ways to modernize the treaty without abandoning it outright.
It is very cold in space: Season 2 of “For All Mankind”
The second season of the AppleTV+ series “For All Mankind” debuts later this month. Dwayne Day says the series, while set in an alternate history, gets the feel of the space program better than other TV shows or movies.
Review: The Mission
Getting approval for a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa involved a unique set of political, technical, and bureaucratic challenges. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines how the advocates for Europa Clipper overcame the many obstacles in their path.
“Space ethics” according to space ethicists
Some recent essays have posed questions regarding the ethics of space exploration. James S.J. Schwartz and Tony Milligan discuss how “space ethics” is not a new topic, and why it is important to humanity’s future in space.
The secret history of Britain’s involvement in the Strategic Defense Initiative
Historical accounts of the 1980s portrayed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as opposed to SDI until the US offered research funding to participate. Aaron Bateman examines recently declassified accounts to find that Thatcher was, in fact, a much stronger proponent of SDI from the program’s beginning.
A long journey but a short stay on Mars
NASA concepts for the first human missions to Mars projected extended stays on the Red Planet, lasting up to a year and a half. Jeff Foust reports on how the agency is instead looking to speed up that first mission with an alternative approach that spends just a month there.
What to do with that olde space station
While the International Space Station will likely continue to operate, and even be expanded, over the next decade, it will eventually reach the end of its life. Eric Choi describes some options for the ISS when it comes time to retire it.
Smallsat launch: big versus small
This month has seen both the successful debut of a new small launch vehicle as well as a new record for the most satellites launched on a single rocket. Jeff Foust reports on the competing visions for smallsat space access offered by Virgin Orbit and SpaceX.
Soyuz plans unclear as the 60th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight approaches
This milestone year for Russia’s human spaceflight program is supposed to include the first all-Russian crew to the International Space Station and the flights of tourists and even an actress. However, Tony Quine finds that there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how those flights will be carried out.
Terrain analysis for space warfare
How applicable are models of terrestrial warfare to space? D. Grant Greffey examines how one approach used for land warfare could be applied to space operations.
In memoriam: Kellam de Forest, who gave us Stardates and the Gorn
A little-known figure in the early history of Star Trek recently passed away. Glen Swanson remembers the researcher responsible for the show’s unique calendar and one of its most memorable aliens.
Review: Envisioning Exoplanets
Given the limits of even state-of-the-art telescopes, we can only guess what exoplanets that can’t be directly seen look like. Jeff Foust reviews a book that mixes the science of exoplanets with artistic interpretations of what some of those worlds might be like.
Green Run, yellow light
Saturday’s Green Run static-fire test was supposed to mark the successful conclusion of a long-running test campaign for the Space Launch System and clear the way for a launch late this year. Instead, Jeff Foust reports, the truncated test raised new questions about the vehicle and its future.
Comparing the 2010 and 2020 National Space Policies
The White House issued a new national space policy last month, the first update in a decade. Laura Brady and Charles Ellzey compare the 2010 and 2020 policies and find both commonality as well as some key differences.
A review of space strategy worldviews (part 1): 2011 National Security Space Strategy
Policies are often based on certain worldviews that may not be universally shared. Christopher Stone examines how a 2011 strategy document on national security space, intended to deter hostile activities in space, may not be effective.
A possible Biden space agenda
The incoming Biden Administration has said little about space policy so far, but faces several major issues in the field. Roger Handberg suggests a couple courses of action to address the future of the International Space Station and cislunar transportation.
European space in a time of transition
Europe is entering not just a new year but also a new era in space, with changes ranging from the UK’s departure from the European Union to a new head of the European Space Agency. Jeff Foust reports on this ongoing transition in European space programs.
What will space security look like in 2021?
Last year saw a number of developments in space security, from the rise of the US Space Force to tests of antisatellite weapons. Nayef Al-Rodhan examines the implications of these and other activities for the coming year.
Arecibo telescope’s fall is indicative of global divide around funding science infrastructure
The collapse of the giant radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in December was a loss for astronomy. Raquel Velho argues it also illustrates the financial challenges and other controversies that scientific facilities face.
In 2017, astronomers discovered an object passing through our solar system which most concluded was the first interstellar asteroid. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a Harvard astronomer who tries to make the case that the object is instead an alien artifact.
Can space bridge a widening partisan divide?
Some in the space industry hope that a new Congress, which convened this week, will pick up where the last one left off on legislation like a NASA authorization bill. Jeff Foust reports that may be difficult given a growing partisan divide that may affect even the traditionally bipartisan issue of space policy.
Catalonia’s space ambitions
In the fall, the government of the Spanish region of Catalonia announced it would form its own space agency, leading to headlines about the “Catalan NASA”. Marçal Sanmartí discusses what is driving Catalonia’s interest in space.
Why I’m flying to space to do research aboard Virgin Galactic
NASA announced in October it was for the first time funding the flight of a scientist on a commercial suborbital spacecraft. Alan Stern, that scientist, explains why the selection is a breakthrough for researchers like him.
Review: Stephen Hawking: A Memoir of Friendship and Physics
Stephen Hawking was one of the most famous scientists in the world for decades, but few people got to the opportunity to truly know him well. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir by one physicist who collaborated with him on books and, in the process, got to truly appreciate him.
From TACSAT to JUMPSEAT: Hughes and the top secret Gyrostat satellite gamble
In the late 1960s, Hughes was becoming a major player in satellite communications, but was looking to get into intelligence satellites. Dwayne Day and Nicholas Watkins describe how the company leveraged its technology for one project to combine signals intelligence and infrared missile tracking payloads.
Twilight for Trump space policy
The Trump Administration is in its final weeks, but its efforts in space policy have not been slowing down. Jeff Foust reports on the release this month of both a new national space policy and a national strategy for space nuclear power and propulsion.
Candy CORN: analyzing the CORONA concrete crosses myth
Several years ago, a news report claimed that unusual sets of concrete crosses found in the Arizona desert were calibration targets for the CORONA spy satellites. Joseph T. Page II discusses why that explanation doesn’t hold up.
Creating an inspector “mascot” satellite for JWST
The James Webb Space Telescope is one of the most complex scientific spacecraft yet built, with dozens of deployments required after launch. Philip Horzempa explains why it would be wise to have a small satellite accompany JWST to watch over those deployments and troubleshoot any issues.
Review: Cosmic Odyssey
For much of the latter half of the 20th century, Palomar Observatory was at the leading edge of observational astronomy, thanks to its 200-inch main telescope and several smaller ones. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the astronomy that those telescopes enabled, from the solar system to distant galaxies.
Big bird, little bird: chasing Soviet anti-ballistic missile radars in the 1960s
In the 1960s there was concern in the US intelligence community that the Soviet Union was establishing a new anti-ballistic missile capability. Dwayne Day describes the role the NRO played by developing satellites to look for radars that would be used by those missile systems.
Last week, a SpaceX Starship prototype flew its first high-altitude test flight, which was either a major success or an explosive failure, depending on your point of view. Jeff Foust reports on how Starship is full of contradictions.
Beyond Apollo: guiding the next Moon landing
NASA is working with companies to develop landers to return humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo. Alan Campbell explains why those new landers will have capabilities far greater than those used on the Apollo missions.
More space on the ground: trendy analogues vs. an unpleasant reality
There’s been a increase in interest in recent years in “analogue” missions, where people practice Moon or Mars missions on Earth. Ilaria Cinelli cautions that, if not properly designed, such missions can do little to advance actual space exploration.
Review: How to Astronaut
While many astronauts follow familiar paths in telling their life stories, others take a less conventional approach. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former NASA astronaut who discusses his career through a series of short essays on various spaceflight topics.
The future of Mars exploration, from sample return to human missions
With Mars 2020 en route to the Red Planet, NASA and ESA are moving ahead with future sample return missions. Jeff Foust reports on the challenges that effort faces, along with other issues for future robotic and human Mars missions.
The cloth of doom: The weird, doomed ride of Ariane Flight 36
In 1990, an Ariane rocket failed when a cloth left behind in a coolant tube caused an engine to malfunction. Francis Castanos describes how that was just one of many strange turn of events that doomed that mission and its satellite payload.
Learning from Chandrayaan 2 for India
With the Chang’e-5 mission, China has now landed three times on the Moon successfully, while India’s only attempt crashed last year. Ajay Kothari discusses how India can learn from that failure on its next mission to the Moon.
Review: The Art of NASA
NASA and the companies working for the agency have long produced art depicting various missions. Christopher Cokinos reviews one book that compiles some of the most stunning examples of artwork involving spacecraft of the past and future.
Review: Operation Moonglow
The early Space Age featured not just a race to the Moon between the United States and the Soviet Union but also an effort to win hearts and minds around the world. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines how the US used the space program as a tool of public diplomacy.
Rolling the dice on Apollo: Prospects for US-Soviet cooperation in the Moon program
President Kennedy surprised many in 1963 when, in a UN speech, he proposed cooperating with the Soviet Union on sending humans to the Moon. Dwayne Day examines a report written not long after that speech for insights into that sudden, but short-lived, shift from competition to cooperation.
The case for Apophis
In April 2029, the asteroid Apophis will pass close to the Earth, posing no threat of impact but instead offering an opportunity for scientists. Jeff Foust reports on discussions at a recent workshop on the potential missions that could be flown during the flyby and the rationales for them.
A 4G network on the Moon is bad news for radio astronomy
NASA recently awarded a contract to Nokia to study the development of a 4G wireless network on the Moon. Emma Alexander warns that such a network might benefit exploration but could harm radio astronomy.
Chesley Bonestell and his vision of the future
Chesley Bonestell is widely known in the space community for his spaceflight art at the dawn of the Space Age, but for much of his career he was known for other kinds of artwork. A biography of Bonestell now streaming, Jeff Foust notes, offers an overview of his life and the artwork that inspired many.
Review: Black Hole Survival Guide
Odds are you’ll never encounter a black hole, but it never hurts to be prepared. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a “survival guide” to black holes as a means to help people understand these enigmatic objects.
We were heroes once: National Geographic’s “The Right Stuff” and the deflation of the astronaut
A new version of “The Right Stuff” is now on the streaming service Disney+, telling the story of the Mercury 7 in a new way. Dwayne Day discusses how the series differs from the original book and movie, and what it says about our views of astronauts and heroes.
An iconic observatory faces its demise
The National Science Foundation announced last week it would seek a “controlled decommissioning” of the giant Arecibo radio telescope after it suffered damage in recent months. Jeff Foust reports on the rationale behind that decision and the telescope’s legacy.
The space resources debate pivots from asteroids to the Moon
Five years ago this week, President Obama signed into law a bill that granted companies rights to space resources they extracted. Jeff Foust describes how that effort, intended to enable asteroid mining, has evolved to support the use of lunar resources as part of Artemis and related initiatives.
In the new spectrum of space law, will Biden favor the Moon Treaty?
How might the Biden Administration deal with issues like the Artemis Accords and rights to space resources? Dennis O’Brien examines the proceedings of a recent conference, and Biden’s views on an analogous issue, for insights.
Review: Spacepower Ascendant
This week’s launch of the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission by China will likely reinvigorate arguments of a space race between China and the United States, one that some see the US losing. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a theory of space development and applies it to that competition to offer approaches for the US to win.
From development to operations, at long last
On Sunday night, a Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four NASA and JAXA astronauts lifted off on the first “operational” commercial crew mission to the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports that the launch, and some paperwork days earlier, marked a long-awaited transition in commercial spaceflight.
Spooks and satellites: the role of intelligence in Cold War American space policy
Intelligence about Soviet efforts to develop anti-satellite weapons shaped US space policy in the 1970s and 1980s. Aaron Bateman examines what’s known from archival materials about how that intelligence is linked to US decisions on ASAT development and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Lunar commerce: a question of semantics?
Many space advocates envision a future of commercial space activities on the Moon, but what does that really mean? Derek Webber discusses what lunar markets might have government versus commercial customers in the near and long term.
The need for US leadership in remediating space debris
While most people agree that something should be done to remove orbital debris, there’s a lack of consensus about how it should be done. Jessica Duronio argues that it’s time for the US to take a leadership role on the issue.
George Low made the hard choices on Apollo: a review of “The Ultimate Engineer”
One of the key, yet underappreciated, figures in the Apollo program was NASA’s George Low. Emily Carney and Dwayne Day review a biography of Low that also serves as a leadership primer.
The Trump Administration called for a human return to the Moon by 2024, a goal that many were skeptical about before the election and now seems increasingly unlikely. Jeff Foust reports on how plans to return humans to the Moon might change under a new administration.
Closing the business case
As the Biden administration prepares to take office, it faces decisions on its next steps in space policy. Robert Oler discusses why it should focus on measures to close the business case for human spaceflight.
How ISRO handled the pandemic
India conducted its first launch of 2020 on Saturday after a long hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Ajey Lele argues India’s space agency did not handle the pandemic as well as its counterparts in other nations.
Russia looks for actress to steal Tom Cruise space movie thunder
Tom Cruise is reportedly interested in filming a movie on the International Space Station as soon as next fall, but a Russian project could get there first. Tony Quine examines what is known about this Russian movie set to film on the station next year, including the unusual approach the project is taking to select its lead actress.
Review: Luna Cognita
It might seem difficult to write a single definitive book about the Moon. Joseph Page II reviews one book that tries to do so, even if it spans three volumes.
A dynamic ISS prepares for its future, and its end
Today marks the 20th anniversary of a continuous human presence on the International Space Station, a milestone hailed by NASA and its partners. But, as Jeff Foust reports, it’s unlikely the ISS will be around for 20 more years, putting pressure on NASA and the space industry to make the transition to commercial space stations.
Russia gears up for electronic warfare in space (part 2)
In the conclusion of his two-part study of Russian space electronic warfare efforts, Bart Hendrickx examines proposals to conduct electronic warfare from space and efforts to protect Russian satellites from such attacks.
US space missions require bipartisan support for optimal long-term success
A potential change administrations raises questions about the future of NASA’s Artemis program and other space initiatives. Namrata Goswami says that the US needs to maintain bipartisan support for those efforts to remain competitive.
The Green New Deal for space
A Biden Administration might push for a “Green New Deal” to combat climate change. Mike Pavelec argues that spaceflight can support those efforts by opening up access to new resources and reducing the use of greenhouse gases.
Review: Star Crossed
One of the most notorious incidents in the history of NASA’s astronaut corps took place more than a decade ago when Lisa Nowak confronted a romantic rival in an airport parking lot. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a comprehensive, but not complete, accounting of what happened.
Russia gears up for electronic warfare in space (part 1)
The Russian military has been developing a series of systems designed to counter American and other satellites through electronic warfare. Bart Hendrickx describes what we know about some of these capabilities in the first of a two-part report.
Swords into plowshares: the top secret PERCHERON project
In the 1960s, a company doing work for the NRO sought permission to offer some of those spacecraft systems to NASA. Dwayne Day describes that effort, and how it ended badly.
The Artemis Accords take shape
Earlier this month seven countries joined the United States as the first to sign the Artemis Accords. Jeff Foust reports on what’s in the accords and some of the praise and criticism they’ve received.
From the Truman Proclamation to the Artemis Accords: steps toward establishing a bottom-up framework for governance in space
The signing of the Artemis Accords comes as others seek to push for alternative approaches, like the Moon Agreement. Alfred B. Anzaldúa and Cristin Finnigan discuss whether a bottom-up or top-down approach to governance works best to enable sustainable lunar exploration.
If we are going forward to the Moon, don’t go back to Apollo
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine recently suggested that the first human lunar landing since Apollo might not go to the south pole of the Moon but instead to an Apollo site. Christopher Cokinos argues that, if the south pole is ruled out, there are better places to go than somewhere we’ve already been.
Applied witchcraft: American communications intelligence satellites during the 1960s
Starting in the early 1960s, the National Reconnaissance Office flew a series of missions to perform what’s known as communications intelligence, seeking to understand patterns of communications within the Soviet Union. Dwayne Day examines what’s known about those early missions.
TAG, Bennu, you’re it
On Tuesday, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to touch down on the surface of asteroid Bennu and collect samples for return to Earth. Jeff Foust reports on how this effort, already technically challenging, has turned out to be even more difficult than originally expected.
Rock-solid (Blue) Cube: Galileo and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake
Thirty-one years ago, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay Area, including a military space control center. Joseph Page II recounts how that facility still managed to remain operational to support a shuttle launch the next day.
Is the New Zealand commercial space success story a model for other countries?
New Zealand has in recent years developed a small but growing space industry in fields from Earth observation to launch. Marçal Sanmartí explores if the factors that supported that growth can be replicated in other countries.
Review: Canadarm and Collaboration
More than anything else, Canada’s space program is known for its series of robotic arms for the shuttle, space station, and soon the lunar Gateway. Jeff Foust reviews a book that describes how those Canadarms also helped create and shape a human spaceflight program in the country.
Semantics in lexicon: Moving away from the term “salvage” in outer space
It’s not uncommon to hear proposals for the “salvage” of derelict satellites and debris. Michael Listner explains why that term is not accurate for space, and offers an alternative.
The three administrators
Last week, three former NASA administrators gathered for a rare discussion about some of the issues facing the agency. Jeff Foust recaps the discussions on topics ranging from cooperation with China to the challenges of commercialization.
In the paler moonlight: the future’s past in “For All Mankind”
The second season of the alternative history TV series “For All Mankind” jumps forward a decade to a time when the US and USSR have dueling lunar bases. Dwayne Day discusses how the show can illuminate modern-day issues, but also has its limitations.
Space entrepreneurs need to look to the stars but keep their feet on the ground
Many in the space industry are motivated primarily by technologies, be they satellites or launch vehicles. Nicholas Borroz argues that, for space startups to be successful, they have to avoid pursuing technologies simply because they are interesting and instead use them to solve problems.
Review: Neutron Stars
Black holes may have won the Nobel Prize in Physics last week, but neutron stars are just as important to understanding the universe, and just as enigmatic as well. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines what we know, and don’t know, about these objects.
Mars ain’t the kind of place to take your kid: Netflix’s “Away”
The new Netflix series “Away” is about the first human mission to Mars. Or rather, as Dwayne Day describes, it’s more like a Lifetime movie in space, one where the Red Planet gets little more than a cameo.
Battle of the Titans (part 2)
Around the time the Air Force was moving ahead with what would become the Titan IV, it was making plans to bring back another Titan vehicle. Wayne Eleazer examines how converting the Titan II from ICBMs to space launch vehicles turned out to be more expensive than promised.
Commercial space, and space commercialization, weather the pandemic
While the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has severely hurt many industries, space has avoided the worst of those effects. Jeff Foust reports on how the industry has fared, including how new initiatives have continued amid the crisis.
Why addressing the environmental crisis should be the space industry’s top priority
The theme of World Space Week, being celebrated this week, is “Satellites Improve Life”. Loïs Miraux argues that the space industry will have to adapt to remain relevant in a future where climate change and other environmental issues play an increasingly central role.
Review: Space Is Open for Business
There’s been a surge of space startups in recent years that have benefited from investment despite uncertainty about the size and sustainability of their markets. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an advocate of, and investor in, space startups who makes the argument there’s a bright future ahead for commercial space.
India’s Mars orbiter completes six years at the red planet, but where is the science?
Six years ago, India’s first Mars mission, known as Mangalyaan, successfully entered orbit around Mars, a major achievement for the country’s space program. Jatan Mehta describes how, since then, the mission has been a scientific disappointment.
A reality TV show is reportedly in the works that would send the winner to the International Space Station. Dwayne Day notes this is a latest in a long line of such ventures, which so far have all failed to send anyone into space.
Battle of the Titans (part 1)
In the 1980s, the Air Force pursued a new launch vehicle as a backup to the Space Shuttle. As Wayne Eleazer recounts, what would become the Titan IV had its challenges both before and after it won the competition.
Photons and phosphine
A month ago, Rocket Lab not only returned its Electron rocket to flight, but also flew its first Photon satellite. Jeff Foust reports on the development of the spacecraft and how it could enable plans for a privately backed mission to Venus.
Review: China in Space
China’s space ambitions have been the subject of much speculation, and sometimes hyperbole, in the West over the years. Dwayne Day reviews a book that provides a clear assessment of what the country is doing in space and plans to do in the coming years.
Where will Artemis 3 land? And when?
Last week, NASA officials appeared to suggest they were considering alternatives to the south pole of the Moon as the Artemis 3 landing site. Jeff Foust reports that while the agency now says that was a misunderstanding, it’s still facing a challenge to keep the mission funded and on schedule.
Why the detection of phosphine in the clouds of Venus is a big deal
Last week, scientists announced they had detected phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus, a finding that could be evidence of life there. Paul Byrne explains why the discovery can be a catalyst for a new round of exploration of the planet.
Venus: science and politics
Even the discovery of a potential biosignature in the atmosphere of Venus cannot escape geopolitics. Ajey Lele discusses a claim made after the discovery by the head of Roscosmos that Venus is a “Russian planet.”
Review: Orphans in Space
Lost among the major documentaries and blockbuster films are many small films about space that might easily be lost. Glen Swanson explore a two-DVD set that assembled an obscure set of short films, from early computer-generated imagery to in-house company footage.
Review: The Last Stargazers
Astronomy has changed dramatically over the last century, from astronomers peering into eyepieces in cold observatory domes to managing observations from the comfort of their homes. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines those changes, and what might be lost among those advances.
Moon and Mars advocates find peace
For decades, space advocates have battled over whether humans should first return to the Moon or instead go directly to Mars. Jeff Foust reports there’s growing agreement on a Moon-to-Mars strategy, if it can maintain political support.
Launch failures: fill ’er up?
Just as a car can run out of gas, some launch failures can be traced to running out of propellant before reaching orbit. Wayne Eleazer discusses why that can happen for some vehicles, or why, in other cases, failures can be traced to having too much fuel.
Star children: can humans be fruitful and multiply off-planet?
Human reproduction is one of the key issues for a long-term human presence beyond Earth, but is also a topic space agencies have been reticent to study. Fred Nadis examines what research has been done, including an unusual recent private initiative.
The West needs bold, sustainable, and inclusive space programs and visions, or else
China is developing a comprehensive vision for human exploration of the Moon and utilization of its resources. Giulio Prisco argues it’s time for the US and its international partners to develop their own bold, inclusive vision of space or risk losing the future.
Review: Space Dogs
Laika is famous for being the first dog in space, but died not long after reaching orbit. Jeff Foust reviews a film that attempts to tell the story of Soviet flights of dogs mixed with contemporary scenes of strays like Laika.
The future on hold: America’s need to redefine its space paradigm
American economic growth in recent decades has been very different than what the country enjoyed in the previous century. Stephen Kostes argues that space exploration and commercialization can help restore that traditional, stronger growth.
Making the transition from the ISS
NASA is emphasizing its low Earth orbit commercialization effort in order to create commercial facilities that can one day succeed the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports that effort faces challenges, including concerns some might seek to end the ISS too soon.
The Artemis Accords: a shared framework for space exploration
NASA’s Artemis Accords have attracted attention and, in some cases, controversy. Paul Stimers and Abby Dinegar explains why the accords should be seen as an essential part of international cooperation in space exploration.
Walking through the doors of history: unlocking a space tradition
For decades, astronauts launching on NASA missions have walked through the same doorway at a Kennedy Space Center building, one that has become adorned with stickers from those missions. Kirby Kahler examines that lineup of logos, including those missions that are missing and some of the mysterious patches found there.
Review: The Smallest Lights in the Universe
Scientists studying the universe are also people whose personal struggles shapes their lives and careers. Jeff Foust reviews a memoir by one astronomer balancing a study of exoplanets with a life turned upside down by a tragedy.
Pick an agency, any agency
Space Policy Directive 3 gave the Commerce Department responsibilities for civil space traffic management in 2018, but congressional disagreements have kept the agency from making much progress. Jeff Foust reports on a new report, requested by Congress, that affirms the administration’s decision.
Outer space needs private law
NASA’s proposed Artemis Accords, a means to enforce good behavior among partners in the Artemis program, has attracted controversy. Alexander William Salter describes an alternative to space governance that doesn’t require governments.
Collaboration is the cornerstone of space exploration
While competition drove the original Space Race, there’s a growing emphasis now on cooperation in space exploration. Dylan Taylor discusses how cooperation can be leveraged to enable the exploration of Mars and much more.
From SSA to space recon: Setting the conditions to prevail in astrodynamic combat
The US military has shifted from discussing “space situational awareness” to “space domain awareness” recently, reflecting growing concerns about threats to military assets in orbit. James Kirby argues that a “space reconnaissance” mindset is now needed in order to properly react to those threats.
Review: The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)
Many astronomers study how the universe began, but others are curious about how it might end some day. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at the various potential fates of the universe in the (mostly) far future.
Losers and (sore) winners
Earlier this month the Air Force announced it was awarding a new round of launch contracts for national security payloads to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. Jeff Foust reports that, despite winning an award, SpaceX is still unhappy with how the competition unfolded.
The National Aeronautics and Space and Arms Control Administration (NASACA)?
As NASA achieved the Apollo program’s goal of landing astronauts on the Moon, it was concerned about its future. Dwayne Day uncovers a proposal in historical documents where NASA sought to play a role in arms control.
NASA’s Artemis Accords: the path to a united space law or a divided one?
The proposed Artemis Accords for countries that want to cooperate on NASA’s lunar exploration plans has attracted interest, but also some criticism. Guoyu Wang examines the various elements of the accords and the effect they could have on international space law.
Reaching for the stars: structural reform in the private space sector in India
The Indian government has announced a series of initiatives to support the development of a private space industry in the country. Anirudh Rastogi and Varun Baliga discuss what the government has announced, and what more it needs to do.
Review: Shuttle, Houston
NASA’s Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center has developed expertise over the decades in managing human spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a longtime flight director there who recalls his experiences in Mission Control and the wisdom gained from that experience.
Upgrading Russia’s fleet of optical reconnaissance satellites
Russia has few operational reconnaissance satellites today, and those in service are thought to be beyond their design life. Bart Hendrickx examines efforts in Russia to develop a new generation of imaging satellites.
After the fire: a long-lost transcript from the Apollo 1 fire investigation
There were conspiracy theories surrounding the Apollo 1 accident, particularly after one worker who testified to Congress about problems later died and his testimony lost. Dwayne Day provides a copy of that testimony, uncovered two decades ago during production of a radio program.
Virgin Galactic, still awaiting liftoff, spreads its wings
In recent weeks Virgin Galactic has announced a number of new initiatives, from the design of a supersonic aircraft to orbital spaceflight. Jeff Foust reports that these projects come despite the fact that the company has yet to complete development of its core business, suborbital spaceflight.
Orbital space tourism set for rebirth in 2021
It’s been more than a decade since a space tourist flew to orbit. Tony Quine explains why that dry spell is likely to end next year as two companies plan three different commercial missions, assuming they have customers for them.
Review: War in Space
Increased antisatellite testing has raised new concerns about conflict breaking out in space. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that offers a new model for thinking about “spacepower” and how it relates to policy, and war, on Earth.
On Sunday afternoon, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft completed its Demo-2 mission with a splashdown that successfully returned two NASA astronauts to Earth. Jeff Foust reports on the end of a mission that was a long-awaited milestone for NASA’s commercial crew program.
How the “Department of Exploration” supports Mars 2020 and more
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission that launched last week included a role for the Department of Energy, both for the rover’s power supply and its instruments. Paul Dabbar explains how his department supports Mars 2020 and other space science and exploration missions.
Propelling Perseverance: The legacy of Viking is helping NASA get to Mars
NASA’s latest mission to Mars has an unexpected link to the first NASA mission to land on the planet nearly 45 years ago. Joe Cassady describes how a thruster used on Viking is still in demand on Mars missions today.
Mars race rhetoric
The wave of missions launched to Mars in recent weeks have led some to claim there’s a new “race” involving the Red Planet. Ajey Lele argues that the countries embarking on Mars missions are doing so for different reasons and with different capabilities that rules out any real competition.
Sending Washington to the Moon: an interview with Richard Paul
The radio show “Washington Goes to the Moon” two decades ago shed new light on the political battles around the Apollo program, and provided a wealth of material for later historians. Dwayne Day interviews the man who wrote and produced the show.
Irregular disorder and the NASA budget
The House is scheduled to vote this week on a “minibus” appropriations bill that would provide NASA with the same overall funding as 2020. Jeff Foust reports that the bill’s limited funding for lunar lander development puts the goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024 into question.
National spaceports: the future
Oversight of the Eastern and Western Ranges will now be a responsibility of the Space Force. Wayne Eleazer argues the new service may finally be able to give spaceports the attention the Air Force never could.
Highway to the Danger Zone: The National Reconnaissance Office and a downed F-14 Tomcat in Iraq
The NRO is usually associated with collecting satellite imagery, but it once helped in the rescue of naval aviators. Dwayne Day recounts the NRO’s role in that rescue during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
What you should learn from Comet NEOWISE
The passing Comet NEOWISE, on display in the night sky in recent weeks, can seem like little more than a brief diversion from our problems on Earth today. Hariharan Karthikeyan argues it’s a reminder to look up and think big.
Review: Promise Denied
One of the reusable launch vehicle programs NASA was pursuing a quarter-century ago was the X-34, but that program was overshadowed by the failure of the larger, more expensive X-33. Jeff Foust reviews a new NASA history of the X-34, which was cancelled by NASA just as it was getting ready for a first flight.
Handshakes and histories: The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, 45 years later
For the 45th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Roscosmos released documents about Soviet preparations for the mission. Asif Siddiqi and Dwayne Day examine the insights the documents provide that help put the mission into a new perspective.
The pandemic’s effect on NASA science
Last week, NASA announced another delay in the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, which the agency said was at least in part because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Foust reports that JWST is not the only NASA science mission or research program affected by the pandemic.
Tracking off-the-books satellites with low perigees
Some objects in orbit aren’t included in an official Defense Department catalog, even those that can pose a reentry risk. Charles Phillips discusses efforts to track those objects with low perigees to see when they might reenter.
Review: Once Upon a Time I Lived on Mars
Planning for human missions to Mars goes beyond the development of key technologies. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a participant in a Mars analog mission in Hawaii who examines issues ranging from isolation and boredom to what they’ll eat.
What’s in a name when it comes to an “accord”?
Two months ago, NASA announced the Artemis Accords, a set of agreements countries would have to sign on to in order to participate in the Artemis program. Jeff Foust reports on the purpose of the accords and the various issues some in the space community have raised about them.
CSI: Rocket Science
What happens when a rocket test goes awry? Jeff Smith uses the example of a problem during a test last year of a solid rocket motor being developed for Northrop Grumman’s OmegA rocket of how such problems are investigated and resolved.
Not so dark skies
A recent book makes the argument that space settlement could be so detrimental to humanity it shouldn’t be attempted. Al Globus makes the case that the book’s analysis, done correctly, should reach just the opposite conclusion.
Enhancing space deterrence thinking for nuclear threshold threats (part 3)
In the conclusion of his analysis of space deterrence strategy, Christopher Stone offers recommendations for how the United States should respond to emerging space threats.
Review: The Sirens of Mars
A new fleet of spacecraft launching to Mars this month is propelled, in a sense, by the desire to know if Mars once had, or might still today have, life. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a planetary scientist who combined the history of those studies with her own personal journey.
National spaceports: the past
The Defense Department is considering concepts for “national spaceports” at the existing launch ranges in Florida and California. Wayne Eleazer looks at how the ranges were managed in the past as a guide for the future.
It’s (small) rocket science, after all
Rocket Lab, the leader among small launch vehicle startups, suffered a setback over the weekend when an Electron launch failed. Jeff Foust reports other small launcher companies have also struggled technically, even as US government agencies offer new contract opportunities for them.
“Artemis 8” using Dragon
Could a Crew Dragon spacecraft be sent to the Moon? Robert Zubrin lays out the case for how a version of the Apollo 8 mission could be done with existing spacecraft and launch vehicles.
Enhancing space deterrence thinking for nuclear threshold threats (part 2)
In the second part of his examination of space deterrence strategy, Christopher Stone uses the example of North Korea as a way to explore the threats facing the US, and US space systems in particular.
Review: The Little Book of Cosmology
Cosmology can be a complex, intimidating subject, but it’s possible to discuss it in a concise, straightforward manner. Jeff Foust reviews one book that does so by explaining how the cosmic microwave background sheds light on the origins of the universe.
Sausage making in space: the quest to reform commercial space regulations
The administration has made regulatory reform one of its space policy priorities, but that effort has faced challenges. Jeff Foust reports on the outcome of one effort to revise commercial remote sensing regulations and an ongoing effort regarding commercial space transportation rules.
THESEUS: a high-energy proposal for a medium-sized mission
In the conclusion of a three-part examination of proposed ESA space science missions, Arwen Rimmer discusses a concept for a mission to detect and precisely locate gamma-ray bursts that could support a wide range of astronomical research.
The Artemis Accords: repeating the mistakes of the Age of Exploration
NASA’s proposed “Artemis Accords” is intended to provide a framework for cooperation in space exploration, including on the Moon, through a series of principles. Dennis O’Brien argues that the proposed accords ignore an alternative, more inclusive approach.
Enhancing space deterrence thought for nuclear threshold threats (part 1)
American military satellites could face a wide range of threats in a conflict. Christopher Stone begins a look at some of those threats and implications for military strategy.
Review: The Search for Life on Mars
Over the next month the latest wave of Mars missions will launch, motivated at least in part by the desire to find evidence of past or present life there. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the long history, and false alarms, of efforts to find life on the Red Planet.
Stability and certainty for NASA’s exploration efforts
Earlier this month NASA selected Kathy Lueders as its new associate administrator for human exploration and operations, the fourth person to hold that position on a permanent or acting basis within the last year. Jeff Foust reports that, now more than ever, leadership stability is needed to keep NASA’s exploration ambitions on track.
Orbital use fees won’t solve the space debris problem
One proposal for mitigating the growth of orbital debris is to require satellite operators to pay a “use fee” if they want to launch new satellites. Ruth Stilwell argues this approach addresses the wrong part of the orbital debris problem.
Spaceflight after the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic will have effects on the space industry long after the pandemic itself is over. Eric Hedman discusses what some implications for the space industry will be, from human spaceflight to doing biomedical research in space.
Distributors should unplug the Earth imagery bottleneck
Commercial Earth observation, and applications of such data, have shown considerable growth in recent years. Nicholas Borroz says that, for that growth to continue, there’s a need for improved distribution of usable data.
Review: Cosmic Clouds 3-D
Nebulae are among the most colorful and intricate objects visible in the night sky. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a new dimension—literally—of imagery of various types of nebulae.
Peresvet: a Russian mobile laser system to dazzle enemy satellites
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed “significant progress in laser weapons” in a speech two years ago. Bart Hendrickx describes what that progress is, particularly involving a system intended to blind satellites as they fly overhead.
The Eagle, the Bear, and the (other) Dragon: US-Russian relations in the SpaceX Era
The success so far of SpaceX’s Demo-2 commercial crew mission means that the US will soon be able to end its reliance on Russia for accessing the International Space Station. Gregory Miller examines some of the geopolitical implications of that shift.
Hugging Hubble longer
While NASA’s future space telescopes run into delays or other problems, the Hubble Space Telescope continues to work well 30 years after its launch. Jeff Foust reports about how one former astronaut with plenty of experience repairing Hubble wants NASA to consider another mission to service the telescope.
How has traffic been managed in the sky, on waterways, and on the road? Comparisons for space situational awareness (part 2)
In the concluding section of their examination of space traffic management approaches, Stephen Garber and Marissa Herron explore what lessons can be learned from how air, sea, and motor vehicle traffic is managed when considering improvements to space traffic management.
Review: Chasing the Dream
The history of spaceflight is full of launch vehicle and other spacecraft concepts that, if successful, could have altered the trajectory of the Space Age. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a retired engineer who discusses many of those efforts, including those he worked on, and his thoughts of what the future of spaceflight might hold.
Imagining safety zones: Implications and open questions
One aspect of NASA’s proposed “Artemis Accords” for international lunar cooperation involves avoiding harmful interference through the use of safety zones. Jessy Kate Schingler describes how such safety zones could work and the policy issues they present.
How has traffic been managed in the sky, on waterways, and on the road? Comparisons for space situational awareness (part 1)
The growing number of active satellites and debris in low Earth orbit is forcing changes in how satellite operators receive and deal with warnings of potential collisions. In the first of a two-part article, Stephen Garber and Marissa Herron discuss the current state of space traffic management and the roles played by both government agencies and the private sector.
Be careful what you wish for
Space advocates have long desired that presidents be more involved in space policy. Jeff Foust reports that has become the case for the Trump Administration, but the close connections between space and this administration could have repercussions in the future.
Space alternate history before For All Mankind: Stephen Baxter’s NASA trilogy
While the TV series For All Mankind has attracted attention for its alternative history of NASA and the Space Race, it’s hardly the first such fictional account of what could have been. Simon Bradshaw examines how one British science fiction author explored different futures for NASA in a series of novels.
Review: After LM
NASA’s award in April of contracts for lunar lander studies is the latest in a long line of efforts to develop landers to carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a NASA publication that offers a detailed look at many of those earlier concepts.
A shaky ride to a smooth launch
On Saturday, human orbital spaceflight returned to the United States after a nearly nine-year gap with the successful Demo-2 commercial crew launch. Jeff Foust reports that, after a decade of difficulties, the launch itself was remarkably smooth.
NASA will not save 2020
The Demo-2 commercial crew launch took place amid a pandemic as well as protests in many American cities, leading some to believe the launch could be a beacon of hope, like Apollo 8 in 1968. A.J. Mackenzie argues that’s asking too much of NASA.
The genre-defining astronaut/ex-astronaut autobiographies
Many astronauts have written memoirs, but a few in particular stand out. Emily Carney reviews four such books that, over the years, set new standards for describing careers that either took them to the Moon or never got off the ground.
Is open sourcing the next frontier in space exploration?
The use of open source in software and other technologies has increasingly become a part of terrestrial industries. Dylan Taylor discusses how it can also advance spaceflight.
Astrobiotechnology: molecular steps towards the boundaries of space exploration
The application of biotechnology to space research, or astrobiotechnology, opens up new opportunities. Three researchers discuss how astrobiotech can advance space exploration and improve life on Earth.
Commercial crew’s day finally arrives
Weather and technology permitting, a Falcon 9 will lift off Wednesday afternoon, sending a Crew Dragon spacecraft with two NASA astronauts on board into orbit. Jeff Foust reports on this culmination of the commercial crew program amid some last-minute hiccups.
Space resources: the broader aspect
Recent policy actions by the US government have reinvigorated the debate about space resources. Kamil Muzyka argues that the issue is not just the resources themselves, but how they’re used.
Cyber security and space security: What are the challenges at the junction of cybersecurity and space security?
The distinctions between cybersecurity and space security are becoming blurred amid risks that hackers could interfere with or even take control of satellites. Nayef Al-Rodhan examines the policy issues where these two topics meet.
A new use for InSight’s robotic arm
The robotic arm on NASA’s InSight Mars lander has been busy deploying instruments and helping get one of the them, a heat flow probe, into the surface. Philip Horzempa describes how the arm can also be used for another scientific investigation similar to that done on some other lander missions.
Review: The View from Space
NASA’s human spaceflight program is getting a lot of attention this week, but in the long run its Earth science program may be just as significant. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines how NASA’s modern Earth science program took shape amid political and budgetary pressures in the 1980s and 1990s.
Worms and wings, meatballs and swooshes: NASA insignias in popular culture
NASA is bringing back the “worm” logo for the upcoming SpaceX commercial crew flight, placing it alongside the “meatball” logo. Glen Swanson explores the history of NASA’s various logos and the controversy they have sometimes generated.
Can NASA land humans on the Moon by 2024?
NASA recently awarded contracts to three companies for initial work on lunar lander concepts to support the agency’s goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024. Jeff Foust reports on NASA’s optimism that the goal is achievable, and the skepticism many outside the agency have about meeting that deadline.
When Washington went to the Moon: An interview with Glen Wilson
In the last in a series of interviews made two decades ago, Dwayne Day examines what a 1960s Senate staffer thought of the Apollo program, including proposals to delay the landing past 1969 and the leak of memos critical of the program to Walter Mondale.
Explaining China’s space ambitions and goals through the lens of strategic culture
The recent successful launch of a Long March 5B rocket allows China to proceed with development of a permanent space station, among other projects. Namrata Goswami discusses why Chinese space efforts should be understood through the lessons of Chinese history, rather than grafting Western rationales onto it.
Review: The Cosmic Revolutionary’s Handbook
The Big Bang is the best explanation to date for the origin and evolution of the universe, but it’s not without its critics who offer alternative models. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two astrophysicists who offer guidance for those who want to take on the Big Bang.
“Maybe you were put here to be the answer”: Religious overtones in the new Space Force recruitment video
The US Space Force released its first recruitment ad last week, a 30-second commercial that said that, “Maybe your purpose on this planet isn’t on this planet.” Deana Weibel explores the imagery and language of the ad and its religious influences.
Astronauts, guns, and butter: Charles Schultze and paying for Apollo in a time of turmoil
The budget director for President Johnson suggested delaying the Apollo landings into the 1970s as a way to cut spending. Dwayne Day provides an interview with Charles Schultze that offers insights into why Schultze sought to defer the landing.
The launch showdown
In the next few months, the US Air Force will award contracts to two companies to perform national security launches for the next five years. Jeff Foust reports on the assessments the Pentagon is using to justify awarding two contracts as four companies submit bids.
Reinvigorating NASA’s lunar exploration plans after the pandemic
NASA may face budget pressures in the coming years as Congress adjusts to massive spending required by the coronavirus pandemic. Ajay Kothari suggests that NASA’s exploration efforts can maintain funding if the agency revamps and recasts the program.
Toward a brighter future: Continuity of the Artemis program
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed some elements of NASA’s Artemis program. Jamil Castillo argues that moving forward on the program can provide a message of hope in a difficult time.
Working in the shadow space program: A General Electric engineer’s work on MOL and other space programs
Richard Passman was an engineer who worked on a number of classified space programs, including the Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Dwayne Day interviewed Passman about his career shortly before Passman’s death last month.
Commercial crew safety, in space and on the ground
NASA once thought that hundreds of thousands of people would come to Florida for the first commercial crew launch. Jeff Foust reports that while that scenario is now unlikely, the agency and SpaceX are still focused on getting the Demo-2 mission launched safely and successfully.
In the recession, space firms should focus on Earth imagery
The severe economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic has affected many companies in the space industry. Nicholas Borroz argues that companies best placed to survive and even thrive in this environment are those that provide Earth imagery or analysis of it.
SPICA: an infrared telescope to look back into the early universe
One of the finalists for ESA’s next medium-class space science mission is an infrared space telescope called SPICA. Arwen Rimmer describes the science the proposed mission could accomplish, and how the pandemic has affected work on it.
Review: Alien Oceans
Some scientists believe that “ocean worlds” like Jupiter’s moon Europa are the best places in the solar system to look for life beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book by one of those scientists that lays out the case for life within Europa and other icy moons of the outer solar system.
Putting the White House executive order on space resources in an international context
An executive order on space resource rights issued by the White House in early April generated debate and controversy regarding national policy on the topic. Ian Christensen and Christopher Johnson examine the order from an international perspective.
Burevestnik: a Russian air-launched anti-satellite system
An image of a Russian fighter with a large missile mounted underneath it prompted speculation that the Russian military was working on a new anti-satellite weapon. Bart Hendrickx reveals new details about an effort that includes both an air-launched rocket and small, maneuverable satellites.
Taking on the challenge of Mars sample return
Mars sample return is a long-standing goal of many planetary scientists, but difficult and expensive to achieve. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA and ESA are firming up plans to do so over the next decade, despite many uncertainties.
Draft Moon Village Association Principles: creating best practices for sustainable lunar activities
The Moon Village Association recently released a draft set of principles regarding best practices for future lunar development. Giuseppe Reibaldi and Mark Sundahl discuss the formation of the principles and their request for feedback about them.
The Lunar Development Cooperative: A new idea for enabling lunar settlement
Management of lunar activities in a way that is consistent with existing treaties had long been a challenge. A group of authors offer a concept that they believe can effective coordinate various activities in a sustainable way.
To attack or deter? The role of anti-satellite weapons
Russia’s test of an anti-satellite weapon last week has reinvigorated debates about the utility of such weapons. Dwayne Day discusses a historical case where the US proposed developing ASATs to shed light on on their roles today.
The FCC takes a leadership role in combating orbital debris
The FCC is scheduled to vote this week on new regulations intended to mitigate the creation of orbital debris, which some in industry oppose. Three experts explain why the regulations are a good idea even if the implementation leaves something to be desired.
The President’s space resources executive order: a step in the right direction
In early April, the White House issued an executive order reiterating policy regarding rights to space resources. Paul Stimers argues that the policy is a good step towards building an international consensus on the issue.
Cost versus control in the small launch market
Some smallsat launch customers are willing to pay a premium in order to get their payload into their desired orbit on their own schedule. Jeff Foust reports on whether there are enough such customers out there to sustain small launch vehicle companies that emphasis flexibility over price.
“Space, the final frontier”: Star Trek and the national space rhetoric of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and NASA
While “Star Trek” has been an inspiration for many who pursued space careers, the show’s origins has its links to the early space program. Glen Swanson examines the various connections between the show and the early Space Age.
Review: John Houbolt: The Unsung Hero of the Apollo Moon Landings
Sixty years ago, NASA was starting to plan how to get humans to the Moon but wasn’t sure of the best way to do so. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts how one person at NASA advocated, and eventually won support, for the approach ultimately used by the Apollo missions.
Trends in NASA’s robotic planetary exploration program as revealed in a new dataset
Comparing budgets from year to year among NASA planetary science program can be difficult. Casey Dreier discusses a new dataset on those budgets he has compiled, and trends apparent in the analysis of that data.
Planning the next decade of planetary science missions
Despite the ongoing pandemic, work is getting started on the next planetary science decadal survey. Jeff Foust reports on what will be different about the next decadal, and how its recommendations can still lead to struggles regarding how to fund missions.
The role of global cooperation in space after COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic may force countries to delay or cancel space projects in order to pay for the relief effort. Ajey Lele argues that it provides an opportunity for greater international cooperation in future space projects.
Hard law or soft law? The debate about the future of space law
Last week the White House issued an executive order calling on the State Department to seek international support for its stance on space resource rights. Dennis O’Brien recalls a recent space law conference that debated whether informal agreements or new, binding treaties were needed for the future of lunar exploration and utilization.
Justifying the difficulty and expense of human spaceflight has been a longstanding challenge for space advocates. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers an examination of how humanity can expand into the solar system, but not necessarily a compelling reason why.
Rashomon’s fire: another perspective on Apollo 1 from NASA official Paul Dembling
Different people involved in historical events have different recollections of what happened. Dwayne Day demonstrates that from an interview with another NASA official who was at an infamous Senate hearing after the Apollo 1 accident.
What is the future for commercial suborbital spaceflight?
Earlier this year, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic appeared to be finally ready to start flying people to space by the end of the year. Jeff Foust reports that the pandemic has put those plans into question.
The US Space Force’s long war
The Space Force has had some stumbles in the months since its establishment, but appears to have general public support. John Hickman argues one challenge the Space Force faces is changing how the public perceives spaceflight itself.
Space Force: the struggle continues
While the US Space Force was formally established last December, it’s still struggling with some organizational and policy issues. Taylor Dinerman discusses some of those issues and their importance to the nascent service.
It’s been 70 years since Enrico Fermi’s question became the paradox that bears his name about the existence of other civilizations. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of SETI and offers some potential answers to the Fermi Paradox.
Stars and Starlink
With OneWeb’s bankruptcy filing, astronomers may have one less satellite constellation to worry about disrupting their observations. But, as Jeff Foust reports, they are still working with SpaceX to find ways to mitigate the effects of the Starlink satellites.
And that’s the way it was on the way to the Moon: an interview with Walter Cronkite
Besides being one of the most trusted people in America in the 1960s, Walter Cronkite was also a space buff who closely followed, and covered, the Apollo program. Dwayne Day finds an interview from decades later where Cronkite discussed how critical his coverage of the program was.
The decade of Venus: an interview with David Grinspoon
A new series of missions may be bound for Venus in the coming decade by NASA and other space agencies. Arwen Rimmer talked with planetary scientist and astrobiologist David Grinspoon on why renewed studies of Venus can help us not just understand our nearest planetary neighbor but also worlds around other stars.
Why a business case for Mars settlement is not required
One obstacle to a permanent human settlement on Mars, in the minds of many, is how such a settlement could be economically viable. John Strickland argues that a business case isn’t essential to a Mars settlement, at least during its formative phase.
Review: For All Humankind
Most histories of the Apollo program are written from an American perspective, but the program, especially the Apollo 11 landing, was a worldwide phenomenon. Jeff Foust reviews a book where people around the world discuss their memories of the first Moon landing and how it inspired them.
Space in uncertain times
Much of the space industry, like the broader economy and society, has ground to a halt in the last few weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Foust reports on what has shut down and what is continuing more or less as usual in spaceflight, at least for now.
Capabilities on the cusp: the impact of a responsive, flexible launch challenge with no winner
The DARPA Launch Challenge ended earlier this month without a winner when the last remaining company scrubbed their final launch attempt. Todd Master, manager of the competition, explains how the DARPA Launch Challenge evolved and offers lessons learned for the future of responsive launch.
Capsule on fire: An interview with Robert Seamans about the Apollo 1 accident
Robert Seamans was deputy administrator of NASA during the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, and was one of the officials who testified at a Senate hearing about it months later. Dwayne Day finds new insights about Seamans and his relationship with administrator James Webb in an interview from more than 20 years ago.
Magnificent isolation: what we can learn from astronauts about social distancing and sheltering in space
Calls for self-quarantine and “social distancing” in response to the pandemic have some people seeking to learn from the experience of explorers. Deana Weibel examines what astronauts, including the late Al Worden, can teach us about handling isolation in extreme circumstances.
Another look at The Vinyl Frontier
Glen Swanson offers a more through examination of a recent book about the creation of the “golden records” that flew on the Voyager spacecraft with photos and sounds representing Earth.
When Senator Walter Mondale went to the Moon: the Apollo 1 fire and the myths we create
Sen. Walter Mondale’s questioning of NASA in a hearing after the Apollo 1 fire led to his portrayal as a critic of the agency opposed to Apollo. Dwayne Day unearths an interview with Mondale that offers a different perspective on Mondale’s views about the program.
Mars in limbo
Last week the European Space Agency announced it was postponing the launch of its ExoMars rover mission from 2020 to 2022 because of technical problems. Jeff Foust reports on that delay and potential risks to other Mars missions scheduled for launch this year because of matters beyond their control.
Space security: the need for a monitoring mechanism
Efforts to create treaties or other international agreements to keep space from becoming weaponized have failed to gain traction. Ajey Lele says an international organization, separate from any treaty regime, might be able to make progress on space security.
Private options, private risks: the future of US spaceflight
Later this year NASA astronauts will fly to the International Space Station on commercial crew vehicles. Roger Handberg discusses how that is reopening debates about the role NASA should play in overseeing the safety of such spacecraft.
Responsive launch is still not quite ready for prime time
The DARPA Launch Challenge ended last week without a winner as the sole remaining team failed to launch within the competition window. Jeff Foust reports on how Astra was less than a minute away from launching when it had to scrub its launch, and what it means for the long-running effort to demonstrate responsive launch.
Space reconnaissance and Anglo-American relations during the Cold War
The special relationship between the United States and United Kingdom extended to access to reconnaissance satellite imagery during the Cold War. Aaron Bateman examines how that influenced policy in the UK regarding arms control and anti-satellite weapons in the 1980s.
Wasn’t the future wonderful? For All Mankind and the space program we didn’t get
One of the shows on the Apple TV+ streaming service is For All Mankind, which examines an alternative history based on the Soviets landing a man on the Moon before the US. Dwayne Day discusses the strengths and weaknesses of that alternative history that many space advocates have desired.
Review: The Vinyl Frontier
One of the best known aspects of the Voyager missions is the “golden record” included on the two spacecraft with photos and audio from Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts how that album came together.
Racing to where/what/when/why?
It’s common today to see mentions of a new “space race” involving the United States and China. Dwayne Day argues that term doesn’t make sense, since there’s no agreement on where they are racing, when, or why.
Handicapping the megaconstellations
OneWeb and SpaceX are shifting into high gear to deploy their broadband satellite constellations, with more systems proposed and in development. Jeff Foust reports on what industry expects think are the prospects for success for these systems, given the business and other challenges they face.
EnVision and the Cosmic Vision decision
A Venus orbiter called EnVision is among the finalists for the next medium-class science mission by the European Space Agency. Arwen Rimmer explains why scientists, meeting at a conference in Paris last month, believe the mission is vital for ESA to pursue.
Review: What Stars Are Made Of
In early 20th century astrophysics, one of the most important discoveries was that stars were made primarily of hydrogen and helium, yet few people know the astronomer who made that discovery. Jeff Foust reviews a book about the life and career of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, who overcame major obstacles on the path to that achievement.
The United States is losing its leadership role in the fight against orbital debris
The US government released updated orbital debris mitigation guidelines in December, the first update to those guidelines in nearly two decades. Brian Weeden explains why the few changes in the new guidelines are disappointing and a sign that the US may no longer be a global leader in dealing with orbital debris.
Making the funding case for commercial space stations
NASA awarded Axiom Space an agreement in January that gives the company the opportunity to attach a commercial module to an International Space Station docking port. Jeff Foust reports that, despite this milestone, there’s still uncertainty about the business plans of such companies and NASA’s ability to provide financial support for them.
Passive space debris removal using drag sail deorbiting technology
Spacecraft engineers are studying a variety of approaches for deorbiting satellites at the end of their lives to minimize the growth of orbital debris. Rebecca Hill discusses one concept being studied that adapts solar sail technologies to bring down satellites.
Review: Handprints on Hubble
The Hubble Space Telescope, approaching its 30th anniversary, has a legacy enabled by the ability to repair and upgrade the observatory over the years. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a NASA astronaut who played a key role ensuring the telescope could be repaired by later shuttle missions.
Will we hit the snooze button on an orbital debris wakeup call?
Last month, two defunct satellites missed colliding with each other by only meters, an event widely seen as a wakeup call about the dangers of orbital debris and the need to take action. Jeff Foust reports that while that incident might have raised awareness, it won’t necessarily translate into near-term action.
Why the International Lunar Decade still makes sense
In a recent commentary, Louis Friedman argued against NASA racing back to the moon, saying its energies are better placed for going to Mars. Four authors note that Friedman once backed the concept for an “International Lunar Decade,” a concept that is still worth pursuing today.
Democratizing space exploration with new technologies
Advances in satellite and launch technologies are often touted as opening space for new and expanded business opportunities. Dylan Taylor argues that such technologies also democratize space, making it available to more people around the world.
Review: Fighting for Space
Six decades ago, a group of women later known as the “Mercury 13” took medical tests that demonstrated that they were just as able to handle the rigors of spaceflight as NASA’s male Mercury 7 astronauts. Jeff Foust reviews a book that profiles two of the women at the heart of that effort, which similar goals but different plans to achieve them.
Starliner software setback
One software error truncated an uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in December, but last week a safety panel revealed there was a second problem that could have caused a “catastrophic” failure. Jeff Foust reports on that new problem and its implications for Boeing’s commercial crew vehicle.
Alternative financing for lunar mining exploration
Despite the long-term promise of extracting water ice and other resources from the moon, such efforts, done commercially, face the daunting challenge of raising funding. Blake Ahadi suggests some alternative approaches, drawn in part from similar issues faced in terrestrial mining, to help fund lunar resource extraction.
The US Space Force and international law considerations
The establishment of a Space Force in the US has raised questions about international law provisions that prohibit some military activities in space. Bharatt Goel notes that while the militarization of space is hardly new, the Space Force could heighten debates about the roles of militaries in space.
Review: Rise of the Space Age Millennials
Millennials are a growing part of the space community, but are their views of what they want to do in space, and why and how, that different from previous generations? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers insights based on interviews with 100 millennials in the field.
New challenges for NASA’s Moon 2024 goal
As the White House prepares to release a budget proposal that will include a cost estimate for NASA’s Artemis program, the House Science Committee took up a NASA authorization bill that could make significant changes to it. Jeff Foust reports on the debate about the bill and its importance versus the upcoming budget and appropriations process.
Target Moscow (part 2): The American Space Shuttle and the decision to build the Soviet Buran
A report by two Soviet academicians in the 1970s, which argued that the Space Shuttle that the US was developing could be used as a bomber, is widely thought to have spurred development of the Buran shuttle. Bart Hendrickx and Dwayne A. Day examine that claim and find that the report likely only reinforced an earlier decision regarding Buran.
Suborbital refueling: a path not taken
Launch vehicle developers have for decades struggled to come up with approaches to enable frequent and cost-effective access to space using spaceplanes. Francis Castanos advocates for an alternative approach.
Review: The Contact Paradox
The search for “technosignatures” of civilizations beyond Earth is winning new support, including positive language in a House NASA bill. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that it’s time for a new strategy for such search efforts based on the proliferation of new approaches and the failures of past efforts.
Target Moscow: Soviet suspicions about the military uses of the American Space Shuttle (part 1)
Russian historians recently uncovered a Soviet report from the 1970s that studied whether the Space Shuttle could be used as a bomber to attack Moscow. Bart Hendrickx and Dwayne Day study that report in more detail to better understand its logic, and its flaws.
Assessing China’s commercial space industry
Outside the United States, the country with the most vibrant commercial space startup industry may be China, with dozens of firms established in just the last few years pursuing launch vehicles, satellites, and more. Jeff Foust examines a report that offered detailed insights on the size and growth potential of Chinese entrepreneurial space.
Forty years of revolution, ten years of spaceflight
Iran is preparing to attempt another satellite launch in the coming days, amid tensions about its nuclear programs. Henk Smid discusses the history of both Iran’s ballistic missile and space launch vehicle programs to better understand if the latter helps the former.
Review: Leadership from the Mission Control Room to the Boardroom
NASA’s Mission Control in Houston has developed a reputation for rigorous decision making needed for the safety and success of human spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former director describing how the management of the organization that runs Mission Control needed to be overhauled.
Panchromatic astronomy on a budget
At the end of this month, NASA will decomission the Spitzer Space Telescope, the second of the original four Great Observatories to go dark. Jeff Foust reports on what astronomers think NASA should do to continue the promise of the Great Observatories to enable space-based observations over a wide range of wavelengths.
A national treasure turns 90
Today is the 90th birthday of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Eric Hedman reflects on Aldrin’s influence on his own life.
All these moments will be lost…
Seventeen years ago this month, Columbia lifted off on its final, ill-fated flight. Dwayne Day explains how a fictional story may stir up very real feelings about the mission.
Review: Final Frontier: India and Space Security
One of India’s biggest space achievements last year was a military one: the successful test of an anti-satellite weapon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines India’s changing views of space security.
Balancing astronomical visions with budgetary realities
The long-delayed James Webb Space Telescope should finally approach completion this year, as work ramps up on NASA’s next major space telescope, WFIRST. Jeff Foust reports these missions are providing lessons, good and bad, on how to manage flagship missions as astronomers weigh what should come next.
You can’t take the sky from me
Plans by SpaceX and other companies to deploy megaconstellations of satellites have alarmed astronomers, who worry that such satellites could interfere with their observations. Arwen Rimmer argues that such satellites should be a concern to anyone who looks up into the night sky, not just professional astronomers.
China’s space dream on track
China’s Long March 5 rocket successfully returned to flight in late December after a failure nearly two and a half years ago. Namrata Goswami explains that this shows that that country’s lunar ambitions, including eventual human missions to the Moon, need to be taken seriously.
Why improved registration is essential for public and private activities on the Moon
Existing treaties may be ill-equipped to deal with the surge in both government and commercial missions to the Moon. Dennis O’Brien discusses what changes a recent white paper recommended to one agreement regarding the registration of such missions.
The challenges facing Artemis in 2020
In 2019, NASA accelerated its plans to return to the Moon under a program now called Artemis. Jeff Foust reports that NASA will have to overcome a number of challenges, financial and otherwise, to stay on track in 2020.
In the 1960s, NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office quietly cooperated on an imaging system developed for reconnaissance satellites that NASA sought to use to support lunar missions. Dwayne Day describes how the very different nature of the agencies, and changes in the program, made it difficult for them to work together.
It’s all a matter of timing
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner test flight last month was cut short because a problem linked to a timing error in the spacecraft. Wayne Eleazer explains it’s not the first mission where a timing error caused problems.
Chicken or the egg: space launch and state spaceports
While there has been a surge of spaceports proposed in recent years, the supply of such facilities doesn’t match the demand for launch services. Roger Handberg notes this is similar to another wave of proposed spaceports two decades ago.
Review: Dear Neil Armstrong
In the decades after landing on the Moon, Neil Armstrong received tens of thousands of letters, from political and business leaders to ordinary people. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a selection from that archive, and some of Armstrong’s responses.
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