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Last week, President Trump signed a space policy directive that formally made a human return to the Moon part of national policy. Jeff Foust reports that, beyond that directive, there are still few details about how and when NASA astronauts will set foot on the Moon.
The decision to end the HEXAGON film-collection spysat program, and not use shuttle capabilities to extend its lifetime, had long-term implications for military operations. Dwayne Day describes how nothing has quite replaced what HEXAGON could do.
Is it time for a distinct subfield of economics devoted to space? Vidvuds Beldavs and Jeffrey Sommers argue that such studies are required to understand if, and how, a self-sustaining space economy can be created.
In the concluding part of his examination of orbital debris and space law, Scott Kerr explores some scenarios for orbital debris incidents in orbit, which can lead to conclusions about liability that might defy expectations.
The author of The Martian, Andy Weir, is back with a tale set on the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews this hard science fiction novel with a central character different in many respects from Mark Watney, but quite similar in other ways.
Black ops and the shuttle (part 3-1): Recovering spent HEXAGON reconnaissance satellites with the space shuttle
One concept quietly studied for military shuttle missions was to recover and refurbish reconnaissance satellites. Dwayne Day examines what’s known about those studies as the national security community moved from film-based to electronic satellites.
Planetary scientists who study Venus were disappointed by the outcome of NASA’s latest Discovery competition, but are doing more than placing all their bets on the ongoing New Frontiers program. Jeff Foust reports on how smallsats may provide a new option for sending missions to the planet.
In the concluding portion of his history of the decision-making process to get humans to the Moon in the Apollo program, Carl Alessi examines how the debate on the various modes came to a head as John Houbolt lobbied for lunar orbit rendezvous.
A growing concern for those who operate satellites is potential damage from space debris, and determining who, if anyone, can be held liable for it. In the first of a two-part paper, Scott Kerr examines some of the legal issues on this subject.
How does the symbiotic relationship between spaceflight and science fiction hold up in an era of increasing commercial ventures and new space applications? Jeff foust reviews a book that combines hard science fiction short stories with essays on topics from low Earth orbit commercialization to exploration of exoplanets.
Companies in the US developing “non-traditional” commercial space missions, like lunar landers of satellite servicing, still face regulatory uncertainty. Jeff Foust reports on how companies, and one government agency, believe that uncertainty should be resolved.
The approach NASA eventually adopted for landing astronauts on the Moon for the Apollo program makes perfect sense in retrospect, but at the dawn of the Space Age had little support. Carl Alessi, in the first of a two-part article, discusses how one engineer faced an uphill battle to win backing for lunar orbit rendezvous.
Luxembourg hosted the first NewSpace Europe conference last month, bringing together European startups, investors, and government officials. Jeff Foust discusses some of the challenges European startups face in this sector and how they compete against American counterparts.
There’s no shortage of space technologies that have been proposed as revolutionary for life on Earth and beyond. Jeff Foust review a book that examines some of those technologies, along with those from other fields, that could “improve and/or ruin everything.”
Despite the large number of small launch vehicle efforts underway globally, the British space industry sees an opportunity to develop and launch such vehicles from the country. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference that discussed some of the vehicles under development and efforts by the British government to support them with funding and regulation.
In the concluding part of his analysis on the benefits and drawbacks of cooperation and competition in space, Cody Knipfer offers some examples of how such efforts would work on projects ranging from human missions to the Moon to greater engagement with China.
Earlier this month XCOR Aerospace filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, bringing a likely end to the suborbital spaceflight company. Jeff Foust reports on the fall of XCOR and its implications for the suborbital industry.
Astronomers have been scanning the sky for more than half a century to look for signals for alien civilizations, without success. Michael Morgan proposes some reasons why that’s the case in a universe that is likely teeming with life.
Scott Kelly went from someone in danger of flunking out of school to becoming a test pilot, astronaut, and holder of the US record for the longest single space mission. Jeff Foust reviews Kelly’s memoir, which tells his life story as well as goes into detail about his nearly one year on the ISS.
When should countries, including the United States, work together with other countries on space projects, and when should they compete against one another? In the first of a two-part examination, Cody Knipfer looks at some of the key factors affecting international cooperation and competition.
Earlier this month, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully completed its second glide flight, this time with a safe landing. Jeff Foust reports on how the company is confident it can press ahead with the vehicle’s development after this latest test.
As the US develops plans for a potential human return to the Moon, what’s the best way to get there? Ajay Kothari discusses how reusable vehicles and on-orbit fueling can deliver cargo to the Moon at a fraction of the cost of a conventional heavy-lift rocket.
The current international legal regime governing spaceflight is struggling to keep up with emerging actors and applications. Anne-Sophie Martin discusses the problem and ways to get those other than countries involved in rulemaking.
The shuttle program may have failed to live up to its cost and flight-rate goals, but it was a versatile vehicle that carried out a wide range of missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines those various roles the shuttle played beyond the assembly of the space space station.
An Orbital ATK Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Sunday, the rocket’s first flight in more than a year. Jeff Foust reports on the launch and the challenges that medium-class rocket is facing in the launch market.
It’s widely believed that cleaning up orbital debris requires new laws or even international treaties. However, Ram S Jakhu and Md Tanveer Ahmad argue that existing laws give the US the authority it needs to remove orbital debris.
As the National Space Council starts its work, one topic it will likely address is space traffic management. Three authors, in an open letter to the council and its chairman, suggest establishing a new agency to deal with this issue.
Some Mars exploration advocates seen a return to the Moon as an unnecessary detour. Gary Fisher proposes a lunar base that could support future Mars missions and other applications, although in a very unconventional way.
Thomas Paine served only briefly as NASA administrator, but at a key time for the agency as the Apollo Moon landing approached and the agency was planning its post-Apollo future. Jeff Foust reviews a biography of Paine that traces the arc of his career and his interest in long-term planning.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing last week for Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to become NASA administrator. Jeff Foust reports the long hearing featured a lot of criticism of Bridenstine’s views on a wide range of issues far beyond those directly linked to space policy.
“And then on launch day it worked”: Marking the 50th anniversary of the first Saturn V launch (part 2)
The concluding part of a book excerpt recounts the successful launch, 50 years ago this week, of the first Saturn V from the Kennedy Space Center.
While CubeSats are increasingly popular, many satellites that are built and launched don’t function once in orbit. Charles Phillips looks at a few examples of such satellites that malfunctioned to seek common causes.
A path to a commercial orbital debris cleanup, power-beaming, and communications utility, using technology development missions at the ISS
The growing population of orbital debris poses a problem for which there are many potential solutions. Four authors present one such solution, taking advantage of the International Space Station as a testbed to demonstrate their approach that has other applications as well.
Many astronauts have written memoirs about their lives and careers, and some have published books filled with photos they took during their missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book by former astronaut Terry Virts that offers some of both.
United States policy regarding orbital debris has evolved over time, but one issue it has yet to fully deal with is the removal of debris, versus simply limiting its creation. Brian Weeden examines national policy regarding debris and the challenges faced by government and private efforts to remove it from orbit.
“And then on launch day it worked”: Marking the 50th anniversary of the first Saturn V launch (part 1)
To mark the approaching 50th anniversary of the first launch of the Saturn V rocket, a reprint of part of a chapter of a seminal book on the Apollo program by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox about the preparations for that historic flight.
After years of staying on schedule for a 2018 launch, NASA has delayed the James Webb Space Telescope to the spring of 2019. Jeff Foust reports on the issues that led to this delay, as well as challenges facing the next big space telescope after JWST.
The threat of massive disruptions to our technology-dependent way of life caused by solar storms is something that has become increasingly clear in recent years. Robert Coker describes how the US government has, so far, done a good job dealing with this complex problem, but with far more to do to be ready to handle a trillion-dollar storm.
“Space Tapestry” is an artwork 200 meters long depicting various aspects of space exploration, with parts of it on display in two British museums. Jeff Foust reviews a book about that artwork, which includes interviews with scientists, engineers, and other involved with spaceflight.
Last week, Blue Origin announced the successful first hotfire test of its BE-4 engine. Jeff Foust reports on this and other developments as several companies work on new large engines for a variety of new vehicles.
Luxembourg’s law on space resources rests on a contentious relationship with international framework
Luxembourg recently enacted a law that, like in the United States, grants rights to space resources to the companies that obtain them. Philip De Man argues that the law, which had to be revised to win passage, might not be aligned with relevant space treaties.
In the second part of his review of the inaugural meeting of the new National Space Council, Mike Snead examines the session’s civil and commercial space panels, with an emphasis on logistics and safety.
The documentary The Farthest is an elegant story of the Voyager missions to the outer solar system. Emily Carney interviews the film’s director to discuss how it came together.
The ability to observe our planet from space has been transformative for both scientific and cultural reasons. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to take on some of the cultural and ethical aspects of Earth observation.
A perennial struggle for space advocates has been developing rationales for human spaceflight that can be sustained over the long term. Cody Knipfer argues that now is the time to reexamine those arguments, particularly given the rise of commercial human spaceflight.
With a statement by the vice president at the National Space Council meeting, NASA is back in the business of returning humans to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports on what that means for agency plans, including potentially greater roles for international and commercial partners.
When NASA transitioned from the Skylab program to the space shuttle, once piece of Skylab hardware almost found new life. Dwayne Day describes studies on adapting instrument hardware for the shuttle, and how that hardware made its way instead to the National Air and Space Museum.
The first meeting of the National Space Council earlier this month is, to many, a good start for the administration’s focus on space policy. Mike Snead offers some recommendations for the council’s upcoming activities in the first of a two-part report.
It’s been 13 years since the last suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne, and Virgin Galactic is still at least months away from flying people into space on SpaceShipTwo. Jeff Foust examines what company founder Richard Branson had to say about the company’s progress and setbacks in his new autobiography.
Last week the National Space Council held the first meeting since being reestablished earlier this year. Jeff Foust reports on what the council discussed and whether this iteration of the council will be different from its predecessors.
NASA will select several finalists this fall in the competition for the next New Frontiers medium-class planetary science mission. Van Kane examines what is known about the dozen proposals submitted for missions from the Moon to Saturn.
In the conclusion of his two-part history of the first satellite, Asif Siddiqi discusses the events leading up to the launch of Sputnik and the aftermath of its successful mission.
When Elon Musk discussed his revised BFR launch system recently, he disclosed few details about its costs. Sam Dinkin estimates the capital costs and operating costs for the BFR for use for Mars or point-to-point Earth flights.
Throughout its history, NASA has relied on internal and external advisory groups to help direct its programs. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that offers a detailed history of how such groups shaped NASA’s science programs.
This week marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, an event whose impact has been well-chronicled, even though the details of the event itself are far less known. Asif Siddiqi examines the history of Sputnik’s development in the first of a two-part article.
On the same day last week at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, SpaceX and Lockheed Martin offered updates to Mars mission architectures unveiled last year. Jeff Foust reports on the changes, and the distinct differences between the two approaches.
One of the key messages from Elon Musk’s talk at the International Astronautical Congress was his plan to focus exclusively on his BFR rocket in the future. Dick Eagleson ponders some of the implications of that decision for NASA and other companies.
The United States, Luxembourg, and other nations are interested in developing space-based resources. Peter Garretson and Namrata Goswami examine whether India has similar interests and a willingness to back that interest with policy and law.
SpaceX is not the only company pursuing reusable launch vehicles. Antoine Meunier discusses updates Blue Origin and Virgin Orbit offered at a recent conference about their partially reusable, but very different, launch systems under development.
A common theme in space missions is that spacecraft are able to do so much with so little computing power on board. Dwayne Day reflects on what happens when the computing power, and intelligence, of those missions shifts from the ground to future, more capable spacecraft.
October marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Outer Space Treaty, but some are concerned about its long-term viability. Paul Meyer suggests some diplomatic steps that can be taken to support the treaty.
As the world’s space community meets in Australia this week for the International Astronautical Congress, the country’s government made news about plans for a national space agency. Jeff Foust reports on the agency and the limited details offered to date about what that agency will, or could, do.
Interest in redirecting NASA’s human spaceflight plans back to the Moon have some worried about another fight breaking out regarding the Moon versus Mars. Chris Carberry, Joe Cassady, and Rick Zucker argue that there’s room for both, using different approaches.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the preeminent science communicators in the world, but what more can he say on well-trodden subjects like astrophysics? Jeff Foust reviews a book where Tyson offers brief overviews of some key topics, while not ignoring the bigger picture.
Some in the US and allied nations are increasingly concerned by apparent efforts by the Chinese and Russian governments to engage in provocative actions that could endanger space assets. Jana Robinson proposes a means by which the US deter those attacks without risking an escalation of space warfare.
For the second time in two months, a company showed off a full-scale model of its commercial lunar lander in Washington last week. Jeff Foust reports this comes as companies, NASA, and politicians examine potential roles such efforts might play in a broader effort to return to the Moon and access its resources.
At this year’s EAA AirVenture show in Wisconsin, the past heroes of spaceflight met the future of space transportation. Eric Hedman describes the appear of Blue Origin’s New Shepard at a show that also features a reunion of Apollo astronauts.
The Space Race between the US and USSR provided a means for peaceful competition at a time when the Cold War threatened to turn hot. David Dunlop argues that, today, increased international tensions call for greater cooperation among spacefaring nations.
Programs to track satellites and other objects in Earth orbit using radars and telescopes can be traced back decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history, and underlying technology, of some of those efforts operated out of Lincoln Laboratory.
A key artifact from the Apollo program is not in a museum but instead on the ocean floor. Dwayne Day discusses the history of a famous helicopter used to recover astronauts from several Apollo missions, and why it’s time to retrieve it from the Pacific.
The new National Space Council will include representatives of many government agencies as well as an industry group. Mike Snead says that the council also needs input from citizens to ensure it adopts policies needed to make American a truly spacefaring nation.
As NASA prepares for the end of the Cassini mission, it also spent time last week marking the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager missions, still operating today. Jeff Foust reports on those looks back at the past, as well as planning for future missions for the outer solar system using new and existing spacecraft.
Although the first satellite was launched nearly 60 years ago, no one has emerged as a key strategist yet about military space operations. Joseph T. Page II argues that, for now, one could learn lessons about the NRO has made use of space over those decades.
The Canadian space community is awaiting what new directions, if any, the government might propose for the country’s space program in an upcoming strategy. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks back at the long history of Canadian space efforts, which involve more than just astronauts and robotic arms.
Russia’s development of new launch vehicles has taken a circuitous path in recent years. Bart Hendrickx provides an update on recent developments, including plans for a new rocket and accelerated development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle.
NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn will end later this month with a plunge into the giant planet’s atmosphere. Jeff Foust examines the mission’s final days and what the spacecraft has accomplished since its beginnings three decades ago.
For the first time in nearly four years, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser test vehicle took to the skies last week above Edwards Air Force Base. Jeff Foust reports on the flight and the company’s continued hopes to one day fly a crewed version of that spacecraft.
Long-duration space travel creates human factors requirements that drive up the size,cost, and complexity of interplanetary spacecraft. Steve Hoeser describes how a form of hibernation, dubbed “biolation,” could mitigate those problems.
At the dawn of the Space Age six decades ago, many Americans relied on a German immigrant for information about space travel—and that person wasn’t Wernher von Braun. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a biography of Willy Ley, whose books and articles were essential reading in the early years of spaceflight.
The revival of the National Space Council comes at a pivotal time for commercial space efforts in the US and elsewhere. In an open letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Vidvuds Beldavs offers ideas of how the council can support US companies and the broader commercial space industry on some key issues.
Getting frequent and affordable access to space for small satellites has long been a challenge for the space industry. Karl Hoose argues that air-breathing propulsion could provide the technological solution to this problem.
A total solar eclipse last week attracted both hardcore eclipse chasers as well as more casual tourists to a path that stretched across the US. Jeff Foust recounts a road trip to South Carolina to witness the eclipse in a distinctly American setting.
Missile tests by North Korea have generated new attention regarding missile defense capabilities and needs in the US. Taylor Dinerman argues that it means, among other things, developing new space-based systems to better track those missiles.
Astronauts are adventurers, but some are more adventurous than others. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former astronaut who has flown in space and helped repair the International Space Station, in addition to climbing Mount Everest.
Growing interest in small satellites continues to fuel development of small launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on two such efforts, one from a company that appeared all but dead several months ago, and another from a company still keeping a low profile.
Space exploration as religious experience: Evangelical astronauts and the perception of God’s worldview
A number of astronauts have strong religious views, often enhanced by the experience of spaceflight. Deana L. Weibel examines these views and how they compare with the pessimism about space exploration shared by many evangelicals.
One of the highlights of last month’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was a panel discussion involving several Apollo-era astronauts. Eric Hedman recounts what the astronauts said about their missions and their legacy.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have increasingly become known as photographers, taking and tweeting images of the Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a British astronaut that compiles the images he took during his stint on the station.
The new National Space Council will have many options for issues to tackle when it starts its work in the coming weeks. Douglas Loverro argues in an open letter to the council’s incoming executive secretary that it should focus on the policies the US should promote internationally that best serve national needs.
CubeSats have become very popular in recent years as a low-cost platform for many missions, but some have found difficulties using them for certain missions where high reliability is important. Jeff Foust reports on discussions at a recent conference on efforts to improve CubeSat reliability without losing their key benefits.
The best ideas for military tactics can come not from generals but from junior officers and enlisted personnel. Joseph T. Page II describes how tactical decision games, used elsewhere in the US military, could be applied to space.
Passage of space resources laws in the US and Luxembourg have raised questions about whether treaties grant rights for extracted resources to companies or countries. Will Gray argues that those laws can become the basis for an international regime for mining claims off Earth.
One of the most important figures in the history of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been Jill Tarter. Jeff Foust reviews a new biography of Tarter that traces her influence on both SETI and society.
In the late 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office examined potential roles the space shuttle could play in launching and servicing reconnaissance satellites, or serving as a reconnaissance platform itself. Dwayne Day examines how declassified documents have shed new light on those plans.
With an executive secretary selected, the National Space Council will soon be in operation, but what should it be focusing on? Jeff Foust reports from a recent event where a number of past space policy officials offered their views on the council and its priorities.
As the reconstituted National Space Council prepares to hold its first meeting, some wonder just what it can accomplish. Roger Handberg argues that fiscal constraints and the rise of military and commercial activities may limit its effectiveness.
This year’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, had more space-related events than usual. Eric Hedman provides an overview, from the appearance of Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos to an Apollo astronaut reunion.
The International Space Station is the culmination of half a century of space station projects by both the US and the former Soviet Union. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a history of those programs, from the cancellation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory to the completion of the ISS.
As researchers make increasing use of the International Space Station, some wonder what the long-term fate of the station is. Jeff Foust reports that as NASA studies options for a post-2024 ISS transition plan, commercial users want nearer-term certainty about the station’s future.
Space is often said to be inspirational, but what exactly does that mean? Dwayne Day examines how spaceflight, and space-themed science fiction, can inspire different people in different mediums.
Iran launched a rocket last week that it said was a test of a satellite launch vehicle, but which was condemned in the West as a missile test. Ajey Lele argues that Iran’s growing capabilities present the opportunity for peaceful space cooperation, perhaps as a way to dissuade further missile development.
In May, DARPA selected Boeing to develop its Phantom Express vehicle as part of the XS-1 reusable spaceplane project. John Hollaway is unimpressed with this latest effort to try and reduce the cost of getting into space.
Spaceflight in cislunar space as long been a topic of science fiction and other books. Ken Murphy updates an earlier review of such books with several dozen other novels, from the 1950s to the present day.
There has been growing interest in carrying out human lunar missions prior to going to Mars, thinking that will be an easier near-term step. Jeff Foust reports that, despite these discussions, governments and companies alike have found it difficult just getting robotic missions there.
An ongoing topic of discussion and debate at the international level regarding space is its long-term sustainability. Christopher D. Johnson and Victoria Samson provide an update on those discussions that have played out at United Nations meetings in recent months.
Could the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, intended to be a crewed reconnaissance satellite, have also played a role in spacebased astronomy? Joseph T. Page II finds some hints of such an alternative mission in declassified documents.
Advocates of the robotic exploration of Mars have warned of limited funding and plans for later missions needed to carry out Mars sample return. Louis Friedman argues that the focus on sample return, at the expense of other science, has also hurt the program.
The rationales supporting NASA human spaceflight efforts have changed over the decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines changing frameworks for supporting it during the shuttle and station programs, and implications for the future.
NASA’s ongoing program for exploring Mars with orbiters and rovers appears, at first glance, to be working well. Jason Callahan and Casey Dreier describe how the program is actually facing serious questions about its future because of funding challenges.
Elon Musk unveiled his plans last September for establishing a permanent human presence on Mars, with a focus on the technical issues of getting people to Mars. Michael Listner examines some of the legal obstacles that such an effort would have to overcome.
With NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission now cancelled, the agency is looking for other ways to demonstrate advanced propulsion technologies like high-power solar electric propulsion. Jeff Foust reports on what concepts NASA is working with industry on that could find eventual use on Mars exploration missions.
Those who remember the Apollo program may be disappointed by the lack of progress in human spaceflight in the decades since. Stephen Kostes sees promise in the growing capabilities available today to enable new, sustainable space applications.
In a little more than a month a total solar eclipse will take place on a path across the United States. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers background on the history of eclipse observations as well as some advice for seeing one yourself.
The House is scheduled to take up this week a defense authorization bill that includes language establishing a Space Corps within the US Air Force. Mike Snead discusses why it’s important to establish a Space Corps now, leading to a full-fledged Space Force, to protect national interests in space.
As private space capabilities grow, it opens up new possibilities for doing science missions outside of government agencies. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference that examined the prospects of, the challenges facing, privately-funded space science missions.
NASA announced its newest astronaut class last month with a considerable degree of fanfare. A.J. Mackenzie wonders if that was the case because won’t have much need for hiring more astronauts in the years to come.
Companies planning space resources ventures, and the countries backing them, are running into conflict with countries who see such resources as belonging to all humanity. Kamil Muzyka explores some possible solutions to this argument that can benefit companies and countries alike.
Can a space-themed textbook help students better learn elements of math and science? Steve Rokicki reviews a book that attempts to do just that over the course of a school year.
A month ago, a classified satellite made a series of close approaches to the International Space Station, sparking questions about whether it was coincidental or intentional. Marco Langbroek examines what is known about USA 276 and why it may have passed so close to the station.
Last Friday afternoon, President Trump signed the executive order formally creating the National Space Council. Jeff Foust reports that the establishment of the council still leaves many questions unanswered about what it will do and how it will affect space policy.
A Senate committee has held a series of hearings on commercial space policy issues. Peter Garretson offers some recommendations on what Congress should, and should not, do to promote the development of new space markets.
The idea of space settlement, some have argued, is reminiscent of religion in the idea that it may represent the salvation of humanity. Sylvia Engdahl argues that faith in space colonization isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As difficult as it is for someone to become a professional athlete, being selected as a NASA astronaut is far more difficult. Jeff Foust reviews the memoir of someone who managed to be both drafted by the NFL and selected as a NASA astronaut.