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This week in The Space Review…
This week marks the 25th anniversary of Voyager 2’s flyby of Neptune, completing the initial reconnaissance of the solar system’s four large planets. Andrew LePage recounts the development of the “Grand Tour” that was topped off by the Neptune encounter.
Since the early 2000s, the commercial launch industry had been dominated by three companies. Now, Jeff Foust reports, those companies are facing serious challenges from new entrants, who themselves are dealing with issues of their own.
A new biography of Neil Armstrong offers an answer to a question raised by the Apollo 11 mission: what was the flashing light astronauts reported seeing trailing their spacecraft on the way to the Moon? Dwayne Day examines if that answer makes sense.
A GAO report last month argued that NASA’s Space Launch System faces serious cost and schedule risks. Rick Boozer argues that this is the latest sign that the heavy-lift rocket is doomed.
This week, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine are scheduled to meet in an effort to resolve the crisis between those two nations. Vid Beldavs suggests that the two nations should set aside their differences and work with the EU and others on major space projects instead.
Note: Because of the Labor Day holiday, next week’s issue will be published on Tuesday, September 2.
When it comes to space museums, people most likely think of the National Air and Space Museum or one of the NASA visitor centers. Dwayne Day describes the impressive collection of artifacts that can be found in a museum located right in the middle of the country.
New propulsion technologies that promise to greatly reduce travel times would seem to be universally welcomed, but such concepts often get mired in debates about their feasibility. Jeff Foust reports on developments involving a couple of different proposals that have either been treated as revolutionary advances or dismissed as ineffective or even impossible.
India’s new prime minister recently proposed that India collaborate with other South Asian nations on a joint satellite program. Ajey Lele examines the potential benefits of such cooperation and how to best implement it.
It’s been nearly half a century since NASA first sent a spacecraft past the planet Mars. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a programmatic history of NASA’s robotic Mars exploration effort, highlighting the ups and downs from the early Mariners through Curiosity and beyond.
Interest in small satellites is bigger than ever before, given the numbers of such satellites launched and plans for future systems. Jeff Foust reports on what the future may hold for smallsat applications, and whether this growing demand could support development of dedicated smallsat launch systems.
NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) has been widely criticized as a “dead end” on the path towards eventual human missions to Mars. Martin Elvis argues that ARM is, in fact the best first step to demonstrate technologies needed for Mars and for other applications in space.
In June, China and Russia introduced a new draft of a proposed treaty that would ban the placement of weapons in outer space. Michael Listner and Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan examine the proposal and find that it has many of the same issues and flaws as the earlier version.
As Curiosity enters its third year on Mars, several other missions are either en route to the planet or under development. Duane Hyland recaps the discussion about Mars exploration from two panels at a conference last week.
Last week marked the second anniversary of the Curiosity’s landing on Mars, a good opportunity to take stock of what it has done and what’s coming up. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a science writer embedded with the project team that offers both interesting details and a broader perspective about both the mission and Mars exploration in general.
A mission to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit to be visited by astronauts might sound like something of great interest to planetary scientists, but many remain skeptical of NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Jeff Foust provides an update on ARM and why some scientists feel so strongly negative about the proposed mission.
Last week, Explore Mars formally kicked off a crowdfunding effort for the first phase of ExoLance, a project to develop penetrators that could fly to Mars as part of other missions. Joe Cassady explains why ExoLance could revolutionize the search for life on Mars.
As CubeSats become widely used for various applications in Earth orbit, some are thinking about how such small spacecraft can be used for missions beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reports on recent proposals to send CubeSat missions to—and, in some cases, into—the Moon.
Two months after its release, a report by the National Research Council on human space exploration continues to trigger debate on what NASA should be doing beyond Earth orbit. Eric Hedman examines in particular the perceived disconnect in interest between the Moon and Mars.
The second anniversary of Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars is the hook for a new wave of books about the mission and Mars exploration in general. Jeff Foust reviews one such book that gives the reader a glimpse at the inner workings of the mission, before and after its historic landing.
NASA is playing up its efforts to partner with companies as part of its plans for future human space exploration missions. Jeff Foust reports that while the private sector is open to such partnerships, one industry leader is looking at ways for the private sector to do human exploration on its own if NASA is unable to lead the way.
The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) planned to be a platform not just for imagery, but for other kinds of intelligence as well. Dwayne Day discusses what’s know about plans to use MOL for those other applications.
As the events surrounding the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11 wind down, some are already thinking of the 50th anniversary in 2019. Vid Beldavs argues that the best way to commemorate that anniversary is with activities not on Earth but on the Moon.
When one TV show is a hit, it becomes a model for others that seek to follow in its footsteps. Dwayne Day describes an upcoming TV series about a generational starship that appears to take its cues from “Mad Men.”
Advanced in telescopes, detectors, and computers have allowed astronomers to make major advances in recent decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks back to another revolutionary era in astronomy, when the then-new technologies of photography and spectroscopy changed the field.
Two of the key issues surrounding access to space in the US this year have been reliance on the Russian-built RD-180 engine and a dispute between the Air Force and SpaceX. Jeff Foust reports that, despite a number of hearings and other events, there’s no clear resolution to either issue on the horizon.
While interest in a mission to Jupiter’s icy, and potentially habitable, moon Europa is growing, funding for such a mission has been lacking in NASA’s budget requests. Casey Dreier argues that a Europa mission could, in fact, solve several of the problems NASA is facing today.
The main purpose of the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory was to conduct reconnaissance using a very high resolution camera system. Dwayne Day examines how that system would have worked, had MOL not been cancelled 45 years ago.
This year is the first major Apollo 11 anniversary since the passing of Neil Armstrong in 2012. Neil McAleer recounts an interview he did with Armstrong 25 years ago to discuss the astronaut’s relationship with a famous science fiction writer.
While space advocates are never short of bold visions for future space development projects, funding them has long been a major challenge. Richard Godwin offers one approach to bootstrap long-term use of space resources though smaller initial steps and a key financial measure.
Forty-five years after Apollo 11, people still contemplate why that historic mission didn’t open a new era of space exploration. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that Apollo, and human space exploration, were victims of a change in cultures in America at the time of the Moon landing.
Thirty years ago, scientists and Mars exploration advocates finished the second Case for Mars conference, where participants designed a spacecraft that could carry people to Mars. Dwayne Day examines what happened to that design, including a model that is back on display at the National Air and Space Museum.
On Sunday, an Antares rocket launched a Cygnus spacecraft on a mission to deliver cargo, from food to smallsats, to the ISS. Jeff Foust reports on the launch and the challenges NASA and its industry partners are overcoming to establish a regular supply chain to the station.
A documentary produced by the television studio of the Russian space agency Roscosmos claims that the US attempted to retrieve the Salyut-7 space station in the mid-1980s. Bart Hendrickx discusses the documentary and debunks its claims.
Forty-five years after its cancellation, new details are coming to light about the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program. Dwayne Day gives an overview of what we know about MOL and how it lost out to robotic reconnaissance satellite programs.
What can space advocates do to help inspire the next generation of space enthusiasts and professionals? Ken Murphy describes how one National Space Society chapter updated a guide to space exploration that will be read by thousands of Boy Scouts.
This month marks the third anniversary of the final flight of the Space Shuttle program. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at the early history of the shuttle as seen through the eyes of many of the astronauts who flew on it.
In recent years, some space-related projects have pursued unconventional funding sources, including crowdfunding and other donations, with some success. Jeff Foust reports on efforts to scale up those mechanisms for bigger, and more expensive, projects.
Last month a meeting of a little-known space group examined a variety of issues about humanity’s future in space. Anthony Young recaps the conference’s sessions on a wide range of topics and concepts.
Bill Gaubatz, the DC-X program manager at McDonnell Douglas more than 20 years ago, passed away over the weekend. Jeff Foust looks back at the role he had in spurring development of reusable launch vehicle systems and technologies as the government ramps up a new X-vehicle program.
As the Sun gradually warms over the next billion years, the Earth will gradually become uninhabitable. Robert Zubrin ponders what could be done to change that, and if it’s possible to see if any other civilizations in the galaxy is trying the same.
One of the most famous astronauts in history was also one of the most private, keeping out of the limelight after walking on the Moon and sharing his thoughts with only a select few. Jeff Foust reviews a biography of Neil Armstrong written by the journalist perhaps closest to Armstrong.
The National Research Council’s human space exploration report released earlier this month did not look favorably on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) plans. Lou Friedman and Tom Jones argue that ARM, rather than being a dead end towards the long-term goal of Mars, is instead a key enabling mission.
In the past, many Western observers conflated China’s robotic lunar exploration plans with its human spaceflight plans. But as Dwayne Day explains, the two may be finally, if slowly, starting to truly come together.
While the concept of air launch seems compelling, such systems have failed to have much effect on the overall launch market. Jeff Foust reports on two different air launch ventures, one by DARPA and one funded by Paul Allen, attacking the air launch idea from two very different directions.
On Monday, an Indian PSLV rocket placed five satellites into orbit on a commercial mission. Ajey Lele examines what India needs to do to become more competitive in the global commercial launch market.
A new NASA book got media attention last month when some bloggers and reporters said it claimed aliens left mysterious writings on the Earth. Jeff Foust reviews the book to find that it, instead, offers a very different, and sometimes critical, take on SETI proposals to communicate with any extraterrestrial civilizations.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first flight to space by SpaceShipOne, an event at the time that appeared to mark a new era in human spaceflight. Jeff Foust looks back at the event and the progress, or seemingly lack thereof, in commercial human suborbital spaceflight.
In 1969, the Nixon Administration cancelled the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, focusing its resources on other reconnaissance satellites. Dwayne Day describes new insights into the MOL program from recently released documents.
As NASA reviews proposals for the next phase of the commercial crew program, companies continue to show off the progress they have made and their future plans. Anthony Young reports on a Boeing event earlier this month in Florida, where the company plans to assemble its CST-100 spacecraft.
Both the National Research Council’s human space exploration and a separate internal NASA study lay out a path of missions and destinations for human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit. John Strickland argues that they fail, though, by following an Apollo-era paradigm of standalone missions.
In the conclusion of his two-part examination of planetary missions that failed to enter orbit as planned, Andrew LePage reviews four Mars missions by the US and former Soviet Union that failed to enter orbit as planned.
The release of the final report by National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight, evaluating the future of human space exploration, kickstarted a new round of debate about what that future should be. Dale Skran offers his assessment of the report, including where it falls short in assessing technical and commercial developments that could alter the report’s proposed pathways.
Two years ago, weak demand for commercial imagery and reduced government budgets drove consolidation among providers of such images; today, a number of startups are trying to get into the field. Jeff Foust reports on this new wave of interest, including one company’s recent acquisition by an Internet giant.
One of the most challenging aspects of planetary exploration, short of landing on another world, is entering orbit around it. In the first of a two-part article, Andrew LePage examines some of the missions that failed, at least on their first try, to achieve orbit around another solar system body.
Tensions with Russia have generated interest in Congress and elsewhere to develop a new large rocket engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180. Rick Boozer argues that such an engine might be available today, or very soon, had Congress not derailed NASA’s proposed launch vehicle development plans in 2010.
While Sally Ride was one of the most famous astronauts in American history, she was also a private person with secrets that didn’t emerge until after her death nearly two years ago. Jeff Foust reviews a new biography that artfully tells the public, private, and even secret lives of the first American woman in space.
Last week, the National Research Council’s Committee on Human Spaceflight issued its long-awaited report on the future of NASA’s human space exploration programs. Jeff Foust examines the report and the key issues it highlights, including whether the government and the public are willing to support a sustained long-term space exploration initiative.
Senator Richard Shelby has proposed that NASA require companies competing for the development of commercial crew systems to submit certified cost and pricing data. Sam Dinkin puts on his acquisition-economist hat to analyze the proposal.
A few months ago, the future looked dire for NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory, as it faced a budget cut that would have mothballed it. As Jeff Foust reports, SOFIA’s fortunes are improving, but now another mission is facing the threat of termination.
With just over 18 months to go in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, a few teams are emerging as frontrunners with the best chance to capture the prize. Anthony Young looks at two of the teams that recently received support from NASA, as well as a third company not competing for the prize but also working on commercial lunar mission concepts.
Last week, SpaceX unveiled the design for its commercial crew vehicle, but it’s not the only contender for that NASA program. Jeff Foust reports on the latest progress made by Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX, and the hard decisions facing these companies as NASA chooses some, but not all, of them to continue on the program.
The roles people play in space programs are often overlooked in comparison to technology, a problem exacerbated in classified programs. Dwayne Day discusses one exception to this rule in the form of a new book by, and interview of, someone who worked on early reconnaissance satellite programs.
Africa could benefit greatly from enhanced used of space, but lacks the expertise and resources to do so. Vid Beldavs proposes how a partnership between Africa and the European Union could benefit both, and even the world.
Ken Murphy completes his two-part review of movies based in cislunar space with those produced since the turn of the century, and what some of overall trends from these movies suggest.
As astronomers meet in in Boston this week for a major conference, the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy will be on the minds of many there. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines what we know, and don’t know, about these primary constituents of the universe.
After more than a decade of lobbying by the space industry, the State Department published a final rule earlier this month moving most satellites and related items off the US Munitions List, and therefore no longer subject to ITAR. Jeff Foust notes that, while this is a major milestone, industry didn’t get everything they wanted, and there’s still some unfinished business to tend to.
One of the biggest uncertainties in space law and regulation today is determining who is responsible for collisions between spacecraft and debris. Timothy G. Nelson outlines the key legal issues associated with this topic.
NASA’s Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion spacecraft are two of NASA’s highest profile programs, and also two programs subject to significant criticism and debate. Jeff Foust reports on what the key companies involved in those two programs are doing to keep them on schedule in the near term as they also seek long-term stability.
Over the decades, many dozens of films have been produced about spaceflight to the Moon and its vicinity. In the first of a two part examination of this ouvre, Ken Murphy recounts the cislunar films from the golden age of cinema to the turn of the 21st century.
NASA might not seem like an innovative organization to everyone in the space community, but it’s far ahead of many companies in that regard. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines NASA’s techniques for innovation throughout its history and how they could be applied elsewhere.
Several recent movies have provided a negative view of space, including Gravity’s opening message that “life in space is impossible.” Dwayne Day compares those messages with the promise of an upcoming film, Interstellar, and the challenges of getting a positive space message out to the public.
With the end of the COTS program and the transition of commercial crew to more conventional contracting arrangements, NASA is exploring new ways to partner with the commercial sector. Jeff Foust provides an overview of several of those relatively small-scale efforts.
An issue of some concern in the commercial space industry is the concept of giving one or more government agencies “on-orbit authority” over spacecraft operations, including measures related to orbital debris mitigation. Jeff Foust reports on some of the ideas for such regulation and the willingness of Congress to grant it.
Of all the billions of stars in our galaxy, the most important one is the one closest to us: the Sun. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of our knowledge of the Sun and the effects it has on climate and space weather.
The RD-180 engine used by the Atlas V is technically very good, but its Russian origins have become problematic from a policy standpoint in recent months. Jeff Foust reports on recent court action involving imports of the engine and studies to either develop a domestic production of the engine or develop an American-designed replacement.
Last week, British planetary scientist Colin Pillinger, best known as the principal investigator on the failed Beagle 2 Mars lander, passed away. Dwayne Day looks back at Pillinger and his controversial role on the ill-fated mission.
Later this week space professionals and advocates with gather in Los Angeles for the NSS’s annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC). Jeff Foust takes a page—literally—from history by looking at the proceedings of an ISDC held nearly thirty years ago to see what’s changed and what hasn’t.
A long-running challenge to the concept of space-based solar power is the high costs inherent in generating it versus terrestrial alternatives. David Dunlop and Al Anzaldua examine approaches to develop key technologies and address the cost issue through a stepping-stone approach.
The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is filled with a dazzling array of artifacts from the Space Age. Jeff Foust reviews a book that profiles 11 of the museum’s most historic items, from a space shuttle to a spacesuit.
While the commercial space industry shows great potential, it still relies heavily on the government. Kenneth Silber argues that the government can do more to help commercial space grow through several focused, interrelated initiatives, from space energy to property rights.
While robotic missions to Mars typically cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, some organizations are looking at creative ways to develop low-cost missions to the Red Planet. Jeff Foust reports on two such efforts discussed at a recent conference, one using CubeSats and the other penetrator probes.
Several topics previously covered in The Space Review have had some new developments recently, although often not getting the same attention as other headlines. Jeff Foust takes a look at recent progress in launch vehicle reusability, searches for near Earth asteroids, and servicing satellites in orbit.
A new set of national science education standards puts a greater emphasis on teaching space science in grades K-12, but are teachers prepared to deal with those topics? Gary H. Kitmacher discusses the results of a survey of Texas teachers on their background and capability to teach about space.
Many in the space community understand the the space environment is growing more complex and competitive, with more organizations involved in space activities and flying more satellites, but that situation isn’t necessarily clear to policymakers. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a broader audience with an overview of the current state of space activities and the potential diplomatic approaches for space security.
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