What is The Space Review?
The Space Review is an online publication devoted to in-depth articles, commentary, and reviews regarding all aspects of space exploration: science, technology, policy, business, and more. more info
Write for us!
Interested in contributing an article to The Space Review? Please read our submission guidelines.Follow @tsr
This week in The Space Review…
NASA has general plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, but that schedule is not fast enough for some. Jeff Foust reports on a debate among Mars exploration advocates on the schedule of such missions, and the role the private sector can play.
Apples and oranges: Why comparing India’s reusable launch vehicle with the space shuttle is totally out of place
On Monday, the Indian space agency ISRO flew its first reusable launch vehicle technology demonstrator vehicle on a brief suborbital flight. Kiran Krishnan Nair argues that while the flight is a step forwards towards an RLV, its importance has been overhyped, particularly in the Indian media.
As more organizations get involved in human spaceflight, there will be a greater need for facilities to monitor and control those missions. Greg Anderson argues for the creation of a consolidated mission control organization to meet that need.
In recent months, the launch industry has debated whether to revise existing policy limiting the commercial use of retired ICBM motors. Michael Turner offers an alternative use for those missiles that could stimulate lunar development.
Fred Taylor may not be a household name outside the space sciences field, but he had a long career working on a variety of Earth and planetary missions. Jeff Foust reviews Taylor’s memoir about his career developing instruments that helped explore the solar system.
Note: In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, next week’s issue will be published on Tuesday, May 31.
Investment in government and commercial space systems have followed similar trends for much of the Space Age. Gary Oleson explores those trends and examines the possibilities offered by both very small and very large space systems to change them.
While the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program was cancelled, one payload intended to fly on the military space station did find an alternative route to space. Dwayne Day examines the story of a signals intelligence payload codenamed DONKEY.
As interest in CubeSats continues to grow, some are wondering what even smaller spacecraft can do. Jeff Foust reports on one initiative to develop satellites the fraction of the size of CubeSats that could support education, technology development, and even science.
Forty-seven years ago this week, Apollo 10 lifted off on a “dress rehearsal” mission for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Anthony Young recounts the mission and the achievements that paved the way for a successful landing on the Moon.
Last month marked the 35th anniversary of the first shuttle mission, STS-1, one that began a new era in human spaceflight, but not without difficulties. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a new, and comprehensive, look at the development of the shuttle and the challenges faced leading up to, and during, that first flight.
Legislation passed by the US Congress last year appeared to clear the way for space mining ventures. Jeff Foust reports that there are still policy issues these and other companies have to overcome both at a national and an international level.
In his final installment examining a wide-ranging space policy bill, Michael Listner examines the sections of the bill dealing with commercial space law and regulations.
For decades, Pluto was largely ignored in science fiction, with too little known about the distant world to stimulate the imaginations of authors. Dwayne Day wonders, with New Horizons now revealing Pluto to be a far more dynamic place than expected, whether it will become fodder for more works of fiction.
Many still assume that human presence and activity in space will always have government in the lead. Dick Eagleson makes the case that this view ignores fundamental limits on government involvement in space activities and sketches out how human expansion into space must be increasingly driven by private entrepreneurship if it is to happen at all.
In the last few decades, astronomers have discovered that the universe’s galaxies trace out intricate patterns, rather than be randomly distributed. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an astrophysicist who helped understand why those structures, in some cases spanning more than a billion light-years, came to be.
The International Space Station has demonstrated how the US and Russia can cooperate in space even when terrestrial relations are strained. Ajey Lele argues that this can serve as a model for cooperation in space between China and India.
Jeff Greason and two other co-founders of XCOR Aerospace have left the company in recent months and started a new venture, Agile Aero. Jeff Foust reports on Agile’s vision for the future of space vehicle development, as well as where XCOR stands on its Lynx suborbital spaceplane.
In the second part of his comprehensive review of a new space policy bill, Michael Listner examines the civil space portion of the act, including changes to how a NASA administrator is chosen.
As ESA seeks to drum up support for its “Moon Village” concept, the US appears content to focus instead on missions to Mars. Vid Beldavs, in an open letter to the president, argues that the US should push Europe to take the lead on lunar development and take on a supporting role that can help support its own Mars ambitions.
The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is widely considered a leading center for planetary science research, a remarkable accomplishment for a facility barely half a century old. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the origin and development of that center.
United Launch Alliance found itself on the hot seat last month after a executive made controversial comments at a university seminar that leaked out. Jeff Foust reports that behind the controversy are insights into the transformation that company, and the broader launch industry, are undergoing.
Earlier this month, Congressman Jim Bridenstine introduced a wide-ranging space policy bill. Michael Listner begins a three-part examination of its contents by looking at the section discussing military space issues.
Developers of small launch vehicles in the US have recently raised two policy concerns: easier access by American satellite to Indian rockets, and the potential commercial use of excess ICBM motors. Cody Knipfer explores those issues and how they could influence the development of a new generation of commercial launchers.
ESA’s “Moon Village” concept is just the latest proposal in long-running efforts to develop viable, sustainable plans for a human return to the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a leading American lunar exploration advocate who argues that a return to the Moon should be rooted in efforts to make use of its resources to expand human presence beyond Earth.
A prototype expandable module, delivered on the latest ISS cargo flight, is now installed on the station. Jeff Foust reports that the company that developed it, Bigelow Aerospace, now has interest in adding a much larger module to the station by 2020.
In the 1980s, the CIA used satellites to try and monitor the development of a new class of Soviet submarines, but were often stymied by clouds. Dwayne Day describes how one naval analyst used satellite imagery to argue the Soviets would have their next submarine ready earlier than expected.
Last week, a Russian billionaire announced plans to invest $100 million into an effort to develop tiny spacecraft that could travel to the near stars within a few decades. Jeff Foust examines the Starshot concept and the numerous challenges it faces.
The discovery of gravitational waves by the LIGO instruments is likely to be one of the biggest astronomy stories not just of the year, but of the decade. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a very human history of the development of LIGO, right up to the point of that discovery.
A successful first stage landing by SpaceX Friday on a ship at sea is the latest evidence that we are entering a new era of reusable launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports that concerns about the viability of reusable rockets may be shifting from technical obstacles to economic ones.
Did CIA intelligence about Soviet lunar plans influence NASA’s decision to send Apollo 8 to the Moon in 1968? Dwayne Day reexamines that historical question based on evidence in a declassified document.
There’s some interest in developing an international lunar base of some kind, despite the fact that NASA has made it clear it has no desire to take the lead. A group of authors describe why the European Union should lead this project and the benefits it will gain from doing so.
Last December marked the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Thor missile, the ancestor of the Delta 2. Joseph T. Page II reviews a book that examines one aspect of the Thor’s history, when the rocket was based in England.
Buzz Aldrin may be known for being a somewhat eccentric former astronaut, but he has lived a full life as a fighter pilot, astronaut, and space advocate. Jeff Foust reviews a book where Aldrin uses anecdotes to help illustrate a set of life lessons.
Much of the infrastructure needed for fully commercial research in low Earth orbit is either in place or will be ready in a few years, but the business case is still uncertain. Jeff Foust reports on a recent discussion at the National Academies that examined the issue from the point of view of suppliers, customers, and NASA.
An ongoing effort by the US Defense Department seeks make closer ties with innovation taking place in private companies, but does not have specific, big goals. Brian Chow argues for using that effort to develop technologies to deter an attack on critical satellites.
If the United States needs to transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, like space-based solar power, in the coming decades, how can the federal government enable that shift? Mike Snead offers a concept for legislation that would establish a range of projects and responsibilities across the government.
The first technical jobs available to women in the early history of the space age were largely as “computers”, performing calculations for male scientists and engineers. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks at some of those early computers at JPL, and how they responded to changes in both society and technology.
Big Bird and the Big Mother: US intelligence community monitoring of the Soviet lunar program after Apollo
Even after Apollo 11 successfully landed men on the Moon, ending the Moon race, the Soviet Union continued to develop its N-1 rocket for several years. Dwayne Day examines how the US monitored those activities using a new generation of reconnaissance satellites.
A NASA mission to land on Mars was supposed to launch this month, but problems with an instrument cancelled those plans. Jeff Foust reports on plans to fix the problem and launch the mission in 2018, although with cost impacts that could affect other missions.
Earlier this month, a Russian Proton rocket launched the ExoMars mission, a joint venture with Europe. Svetoslav Alexandrov discusses how ExoMars is revitalizing Russia’s Mars exploration plans, although not in a way all Russian space enthusiasts support.
Pakistan recently rejected a proposal by India to provide a communications satellite to help a group of South Asian nations. Vidya Sagar Reddy examines what India should do to better promote space cooperation among its neighbors in the region.
What might have happened if the Air Force had continued its manned space program in the 1960s? David Johnston reviews a novel that offers a credible alternative history of those efforts.
Earlier this month, Blue Origin opened the doors of its headquarters for the first time to the media, showing off their work on suborbital vehicles and rocket engines. Jeff Foust reports on the tour and the vision for the future of humanity in space that company founder Jeff Bezos wants to enable.
Next year will bring a new President and Congress, and perhaps another reexamination of NASA’s human spaceflight plans. Eric Hedman proposes that any such effort focus on developing infrastructure in cislunar space to make voyages to Mars and beyond more affordable.
Originally developed as an initial step in NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has become a valuable mission for planetary scientists in understanding the Moon. Dwayne Day describes how its images, some of which are on display in a museum, are also works of art.
There’s been a heightened awareness in recent years of the threat posed by near Earth objects and the importance to take steps to protect the Earth from that threat. Vid Beldavs argues that such investments can have a positive influence on the global economy as well.
The Google Lunar X PRIZE is entering a critical time, with the prize deadline at the end of next year. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that provides brief profiles of some the teams remaining in the competition.
Some in the West have suggested that China join the International Space Station program in some way. Chen Lan argues that while it’s too late to expect China to abandon its plans for its own space station, there may be ways to cooperate by using both stations on joint efforts.
The entry of SpaceX into the commercial launch market has put pressure on other companies to reduce their prices, even through many customers have traditionally not been price-sensitive. Jeff Foust reports that changes in the market are making customers more eager to spend less on launch, even as some launch providers seek to emphasize schedule performance and reliability.
An exhibition of Soviet space artifacts closed in London on Sunday after a six-month run. Dwayne Day discusses one of the key items in that exhibition, an engineering model of a lunar lander.
In the final essay in his three-part examination of the importance of space solar power, Mike Snead explains why only space-based solar power can meet the growing energy needs of the US as fossil fuels are phased out in the decades to come.
Although it hasn’t attracted the same degree of public attention in the last year that it has previously, Mars One is still working on its controversial plans to send humans to Mars on one-way private missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book edited by some Mars One advisors that examines how they plan to handle a number of issues associated with those plans.
NASA’s human spaceflight program faces uncertainty with a change in administrations and potentially a change in direction, putting more pressure on NASA to carry out its ongoing programs. Roger Handberg warns that, like in the agency’s past, this could set the stage for tragedy.
Modern society is particularly vulnerable to the effects of massive solar storms that could bring down power grids and disrupt communications. Jeff Foust reports on a new effort by the federal government to coordinate work to better understand, and prepare for, that threat.
Many Americans today do not worry much about energy security, given what appears to be plentiful supplies of fossil fuels. In the second installment of his three-part essay on space solar power, Mike Snead explains why now is the time to begin the transition from fossil fuels to, ideally, space solar power.
Since December 1972, Gene Cernan has been the last man to walk on the Moon, a distinction he’s held far longer that he expected, or hoped. Jeff Foust reviews a documentary about his life and astronaut career.
Space has not been an issue during the presidential campaign to date, creating uncertainty about what the next President will do with NASA after taking office. Jeff Foust reports on one Congressional effort to provide more stability for NASA by, in effect, stripping the White House of some control over the agency.
The recent climate agreement signed in Paris seeks to lower greenhouse gas emissions to curtail global temperature increases, but says little about what should replace the energy sources that create such gases. Mike Snead, in the first of a three-part article, sees the agreement as an opportunity for space-based solar power.
Is there a better way to get to space using vertically-launched rockets? John Hollaway describes his concept for a reusable vehicle, launched from a moving platform and using ramjets to help get to orbit.
Recent hearings have suggested that some in Congress would like the next administration to choose another direction for the nation’s human spaceflight program. Louis Friedman argues that NASA’s “Journey to Mars” strategy remains the best option given likely budgets.
The fate of many space artifacts from the early Space Age, in particular decommissioned launch sites, has been a topic of debate recently. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a photographic review of launch pads and other facilities that, in many cases, have been “abandoned in place” over the years.
Last Friday, Virgin Galactic unveiled the second SpaceShipTwo, replacing the vehicle lost in a test flight accident more than a year ago. Jeff Foust reports on the rollout, what’s changed about this suborbital vehicle, and the company’s test flight plans.
A recent essay argued that society, particularly in the United States, wasn’t doing enough to preserve space history artifacts. Dwayne Day explains why, in fact, the US does a good job deciding what to preserve, and then keeping it safe for future generations.
Recent milestones by Blue Origin and SpaceX have raised the prospects for reusable launch vehicles and low-cost space access. Bob Clarebrough looks to aviation history for guidance on how those companies might change the space industry.
The Joint Space Operations Center is largely a space monitoring center, keeping track of satellites and debris in orbit but doing little in the way of command and control. Joseph Page argues for a revision of the role of that center to ensure space superiority in the event of a crisis.
When NASA assigned the Lunar Orbiter program to NASA’s Langley Research Center a half-century ago, one Nobel laureate criticized the move, calling Langley a “bunch of plumbers.” Jeff Foust reviews a book where one of those “plumbers” recalls his work on both Lunar Orbiter and another Langley-led mission, Viking.
Space advocates have long desired a realistic portrayal of space settlement to build support for their cause. Dwayne Day says the TV series The Expanse may be the most realistic such show to date, but one that is hardly going to get viewers to embrace advocates’ space settlement vision.
Last week, physicists announced success in the decades-long search for gravitational waves, another vindication of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Jeff Foust reports on its discovery and its implications for astronomy and future space missions.
Space security is closely tied to cyberspace security, given the reliance space systems have on computer technology. Jana Robinson discusses the links between the two issues and how to address those security concerns at an international level.
Some have argued that landing humans on Mars could contaminate the planet, making it potentially impossible to determine if life once existed, or still exists, there. Chris Carberry and Rick Zucker argue that sending humans to Mars will actually help the study of the planet and its habitability.
While the Space Age may have formally begun with the launch of Sputnik, there were activities in various aspects of rocketry in the decades leading up to that milestone. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a history of that work, but one that is not particularly original or compelling.
Passage of a new commercial space bill last year marked the end of one effort, but the beginning of another. Jeff Foust reports on the various reports required by the bill and its implications for future commercial space legislation, either this year or beyond.
For decades, military space programs were controlled out of a California facility later renamed after an astronaut killed in the Challenger accident. Joseph T. Page recalls the development, and ultimate demise, of Onizuka Air Force Station.
Given the growing reliance on, and growing threats to, satellites, some argue that the US government should take a different approach to safeguarding their security. Christopher Stone discusses why the current deterrence approach should be replaced with an alternative.
While some lament the destruction of archeological artifacts during conflicts in the Middle East, most are unaware of how more recent space-related artifacts are falling apart elsewhere. Anthony French argues that those space relics, on Earth and in space, should be treated with the same respect as more ancient ones.
SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, designed to carry cargo and eventually people, is perhaps just as important to the company as its launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers what turns out to be a disappointing history of the vehicle’s development.
A recent commentary argued that, for a variety of reasons, humans will never settle Mars or other destinations beyond Earth. Dale Skran counters that settlement is ultimately the only reason for humans to be in space.
Last month, Arizona officials approved a plan to develop a spaceport for a company that, technically speaking, won’t be flying to space. Jeff Foust reports on the development of a new headquarters and launch site for World View, and its plans for high-altitude balloons for space tourism and other applications.
The promise of accessing space resources on the Moon or asteroids brings with it the potential of massive wealth. Greg Anderson discusses how that can be used to benefit not just the companies involved but also those on Earth less well off.
There’s no single holiday in the United States devoted to space exploration. J. David Baxter discusses the history of his efforts to create one, and the importance of having one.
Do you have a “bucket list” of space activities you want to do at some point in your life? If not, Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a wide-ranging list of 100 such activities for devoted space enthusiasts.
The commercial space bill enacted late last year provides rights for US companies to resources extracted form asteroids or other celestial bodies. Thomas Simmons discusses how the bill is a missed opportunity, though, since it doesn’t address resource rights internationally.
Elon Musk has long made clear his long-term ambitions to establish a human presence on Mars, but that effort faces both opposition and competition. Tim Reyes argues that SpaceX needs to accelerate its efforts to make a reusable launch vehicle to maintain momentum for sending humans to Mars.
At a recent astronomy conference, much of the discussion was about future space telescopes planned for launch over the next two decades. However, Jeff Foust reports there was also talk about existing and planned telescopes in space and on the ground that, in some cases, face uncertain futures.
New Mexico isn’t always considered a space state, but it has a diverse heritage in spaceflight and astronomy. Joseph Page describes an effort to tie that history together through the New Mexico Space Trail.
Last week, astronomers announced evidence for the existence of a planet in the far outer solar system. Dwayne Day notes that the search for “Planet X” has inspired many works of fiction, including a Japanese manga from the 1980s.
Last week NASA awarded follow-on contracts for transporting cargo to and from the station to the two companies with existing contracts, plus one newcomer. Jeff Foust reports on the cargo contracts and the new life one contract offers to Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser.
As NASA pursues long-term plans to send humans to Mars, the leadership of ESA appears more interested in an international lunar base. A team of authors explain why the two approaches are not mutually exclusive.
New developments by China have raised concerns in the US about new anti-satellite capabilities. Brian Chow argues that the US should be prepared to take pre-emptive actions to protect its satellites in the event of a potential conflict.
CubeSat proximity operations: The natural evolution of defensive space control into a deterrence initiative
The increasing reliance by the American military on space assets brings with it increased vulnerability if those satellites are attacked. Michael Nayak describes how cubesats could pose a threat to those spacecraft, and how cubesats could also be part of the solution to deal with that threat.
Achieving milestones like landing rovers on Mars requires not just technical expertise, but also ingenuity and the ability to deal with management issues and other obstacles. Jeff Foust reviews a book by the person who led the development of the Curiosity rover’s landing system on how he conquered those challenges.
Dwayne Day concludes his review of US intelligence of Soviet lunar mission plans with monitoring of the failed N-1 launches of 1969, and how that overall intelligence affected NASA’s own plans for going to the Moon.
As NASA works to complete the James Webb Space Telescope for launch in less than three years, it’s also beginning work on the next major space observatory after it. Jeff Foust reports on the accelerated start of the WFIRST mission.
Recently declassified documents have provided new insights into the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program that was cancelled in 1969. John Charles examines what those documents tell us about the management and structure of the program.
One of the challenges for the space community is outreach to the general public. Ken Murphy describes the successes and setbacks he’s encountered in one such effort, a “Moon Day” event in Dallas.
As NASA develops its long-term plan to send humans to Mars, some argue for precursor missions to the Moon not currently in NASA’s roadmap. Anthony Young reviews a recent book that lays out some of the arguments for going to the Moon first.
SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket last month, an accomplishment widely heralded as ushering in a new era of reusable launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on the landing and the steps SpaceX still must take to make reusability a reality.
Did the threat of a Soviet manned circumlunar mission weigh on NASA’s decision to fly Apollo 8? Dwayne Day examines what role, if any, intelligence on Soviet plans affected NASA’s planning.
SpaceX recovered its first stage from a successful orbital launch. Sam Dinkin assesses progress of SpaceX toward its goal of reducing the cost of launch by two orders of magnitude.
Jurisdiction of the federal courts: An under-appreciated provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act
Much of the attention the recently enacted Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act received focused on provisions ranging from asteroid mining to launch indemnification. Michael Listner discusses another provision in the act that may be just as important as the others.
The last Delta II rocket will launch next year from Vandenberg Air Force Base, ending an era that dates back to the early days of the Space Age. Joseph Page argues that the launch facilities Delta and its predecessors used there should be preserved as a historic site.
Flight controllers play an essential role on NASA human spaceflight missions, but the individuals themselves are rarely known by name. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a history of the early years of Mission Control and the people who helped create and staff it.
Dwayne Day continues his examination of CIA monitoring of the Soviet Union’s manned lunar program by reviewing what the CIA learned of Soviet development of the N-1 rocket and its launch site from 1965 to 1968.
Congress passed a final appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016 last week, giving NASA nearly $19.3 billion, more than $750 million than requested. Jeff Foust analyzes the budget and finds that, at least for this year, there are far more winners than losers among the agency’s programs.
The promise of a rapid expansion of commercial space activities has existed for years, but has it finally arrived? Jonathan Coopersmith examines the prospects for greater commercial uses of space based on discussions at a recent conference.
The Global Positioning System is one of the most commonly-used space-based services today, but its history is often misrepresented. Richard Easton takes issue with how the development of GPS is portrayed in two recent books.
With the declassification of more records, we are gaining a better idea of how much the CIA knew about the Soviet human spaceflight program, and when. Dwayne Day looks at those documents to see how the CIA tracked the development of a Soviet program to send humans to the Moon.
Launch failures always come as a surprise, but some failures were, in retrospect, more predictable and preventable than others. Wayne Eleazer discusses some of those failures and how warning signs leading up to them were overlooked.
A small portion of a new commercial space law, dealing with space resources, has gotten an outsized degree of attention in recent weeks. Jeff Foust reports on the issues some have raised with that section of the bill and how US industry and government officials are defending it.
One of the major challenges to supporting a lunar base is keeping it powered during the two-week lunar night. Joseph Barrett Bland, Michael Abramson, and Roger Arnold explore concepts for doing so using various beamed power approaches.
NASA is famous for its logos, including the “meatball” and the “worm.” Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a history of NASA’s insignia, including that developed by its predecessor, NACA.
On Sunday, an Atlas V rocket successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft, the first mission to the space station for that spacecraft since a launch failure more than a year ago. Jeff Foust reports on the launch, the preparations for it at Orbital ATK, and the cargo it’s delivering to the station.
Before NASA decided to develop the Space Shuttle, McDonnell Douglas proposed to NASA an enlarged variant of its Gemini spacecraft. Dwayne Day examines the “Big G” spacecraft concept studied in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
NASA’s ability to cooperate with China is hamstrung by law that limits bilateral cooperation or even discussions without Congressional permission. Vid Beldavs argues that this prohibition should be lifted in order for the US to tap the growing capabilities of China and other emerging space powers.
A new law offers American companies more rights and fewer restrictions for their commercial space activities, even as it’s being pressed by NASA to take on a bigger role in human spaceflight. Vidya Sagar Reddy examines if these factors can create a commercially-led human return to the Moon.
A ongoing exhibition in London offers the prospect of seeing Soviet-era space hardware that is rarely, if ever, placed on public display. Jeff Foust takes a look at the exhibition and the message it offers about Soviet space ambitions.
NASA announced last week a contract with Aerojet Rocketdyne to make an expendable version of the RS-25 engine for future Space Launch System missions. Gerald Black argues that, with the recent developments in reusability by others in the industry, developing expendable engines and rockets is unwise.
While the space industry generates several hundred billion dollars in revenue a year, it’s still small compared to many other industries. Jeff Foust describes how a recent conference attempted to make connections between space and some other industries to help the space industry grow.
Companies in the commercial space industry, among others, can find it difficult to raise the money they need to build their businesses. Eric Hedman offers a potential solution that takes advantage of provisions in existing law, with some changes, to provide companies with a new source of investment.
Last week, Blue Origin made another successful test flight of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, this time flying to an altitude of 100 kilometers and successfully landing the vehicle’s propulsion module under rocket power. Jeff Foust reports on the implications of the successful test, and the reaction it got from the head of another company in the field.
Several years ago suborbital research using a new generation of commercial suborbital vehicles appeared to be upon us, but delays in those vehicles’ development caused interest to wane. Now, both companies and advocates argue, it’s time for another look, as at least one company’s vehicle soon plans to start flying experiments.
While the solar system is filled with resources that could solve humanity’s problems, effectively accessin them remains a major hurdle. Frank Stratford examines the transportation obstacles that need to be overcome, and the role Mars plays in enabling advances in spaceflight.
Earlier this month, New Horizons scientists discussed the latest results from July’s Pluto flyby at a planetary science conference. Jeff Foust reports on the surprising results presented at the meeting, which also featured concerns about the long-term future of exploration of the outer solar system.
One hundred years ago this month, Albert Einstein destroyed a planet—a hypothetical one, conjured up to explain a puzzle of Newtonian mechanics. Jeff Foust reviews a book that described how astronomers thought another planet existed close to the Sun, only to have it wiped away by a new paradigm of physics.
The House voted Monday to approve a final version of a commercial space bill after many months of debate in public and behind the scenes. Jeff Foust examines what is contained in the final version of the bill that will affect companies involved in efforts ranging from space tourism to asteroid mining.
The Manned Orbiting Laboratory program was cancelled before the first mission could fly, but even in those early stages the military was contemplating what else it could do with MOL technology and humans in space. David Winfrey explores what could have been had MOL, somehow, avoided the chopping block more than 45 years ago.
Space law make frequent use of phrases like “common benefit” that are not formally defined, raising the possibility of disagreements among nations. Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty argues for a framework that can find common ground between developing and developed nations in space.
As NASA and other agencies and organizations weigh plans for human missions to Mars, what comes ater that? Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that Mars may be the end of the line for humans traveling in space, but not for human exploration of space.
Dealing with the growing threat of orbital debris requires more than just technical solutions. Al Anzaldua and Dave Dunlop describe regulatory and other concepts to help implement solutions to mitigate and remediate orbital debris.
More than 45 years after its release, 2001: A Space Odyssey remains one of the classics of science fiction, and one of the most influential films on the American space program. Dwayne Day discusses a panel session at a recent conference featuring the actors who played two astronauts in the movie.
Last year saw the first successful demonstrations of 3-D printing on the International Space Station. Jeff Foust reports on how one company is looking to build on this to develop new applications of this technology in space.
Any development on the Moon, by either governments or commercial entities, will require access to significant amounts of electrical power. A group of lunar exploration advocates argue that the creation of a lunar power utility could help foster that development.
Johannes Kepler was one of the key figures in astronomy four centuries ago, but many know him only for his laws of planetary motion. Jeff Foust reviews a book about Kepler that explores both his scientific accomplishments and life.
Blue suits and red ink: Budget overruns and schedule slips of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program
Long before President Nixon cancelled the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program in 1969, it suffered growing costs and schedule delays. Dwayne Day looks how those issues set the program up for its ultimate demise.
The new head of the European Space Agency has proposed the development of an international lunar base, a concept he has promoted since prior to taking over the agency. Jeff Foust reports on the idea of a “Moon village” and one potential commercial angle for it.
Frederick Durant, one of the key people who shaped the beginning of the Space Age, passed away last month. Randy Liebermann recalls his life and the roles he played in the US and internationally to promote spaceflight.
There is precedent on Earth for countries to take legal action if the suffer the environmental impacts of another nation’s activities, but what happens in outer space? Urbano Fuentes examines what legal regimes might work on the Moon and beyond.
As NASA prepares to resume launches of crewed missions beyond Earth orbit, what lessons regarding countdown preparations might the Apollo program offer? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a detailed examination of Saturn V launch preparations with insights from the people who made those launches happen.
This week is the first anniversary of both the Antares launch failure and the SpaceShipTwo accident, two major setbacks for the commercial space industry. Jeff Foust reports on the progress the companies involved in those accidents are making as they return to flight, as well as the gradual progress of the industry in general.
In 1986, a Titan launch failed spectacularly just seconds after liftoff. Wayne Eleazer discusses why that launch failed and how it demonstrated systemic problems with the production of its solid rocket motors.
A recent effort to negotiate an international code of conduct for outer space activities failed at the UN. Michael Listner examines some issues about the latest draft of the code and what its future prospects might be.
What does dark matter, a leading mystery of modern-day cosmology, have to do with the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago? Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a hypothesis linking the two and a broader lesson about the interconnectedness of science.
This week the National Reconnaissance Office is expected to release more details about the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL), a 1960s program that would have sent military astronauts into space to carry out reconnaissance missions. Dwayne Day discusses what we know about MOL from the perspective of the astronauts selected for the program.
Three months after New Horizons flew past Pluto, scientists have published the initial scientific results from the encounter. Jeff Foust reports on what scientists have found and what’s to come from the mission.
NASA plans for human Mars exploration, while still in its early stages of development, make use of a multi-stage expendable Mars ascent vehicle, or MAV. John Strickland argues that NASA would be much better off investing in technology to make that MAV reusable.
Within a few decades after the first commercial airline flight, commercial passenger aviation was wildly successful. Anthony Young examines what lessons from that era can be applied to the emerging commercial human spaceflight industry.
For decades, space advocates have debated whether humans or robots where the best means by which to explore the solar system. Jeff Foust reviews a book that uses that debate as part of a broader argument about the roles, and limitations, of autonomy in various fields.
More than half a century after Yuri Gagarin made history as the first human in space, we are still learning new things about his brief flight. Asif Siddiqi provides some new information about Gagarin’s flight, and the problems he experienced, from old Soviet archives.
What information did President Johnson receive about the development of Soviet space capabilities? Dwayne Day examines newly released documents from his administration to see how he was kept informed on Soviet efforts in the race to the Moon.
More than eight years after it was first announced, a team competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE now has a verified launch contract for its spacecraft. Jeff Foust reports on those latest developments as well as another effort to use crowdfunding to start a lunar mission project.
World War II and the development of the V-2 rocket helped accelerate the start of the Space Age, one that continues to make use of rockets descended from that vehicle. John Hollaway ponders an alternative history of spaceflight where the V-2 and its successors were never developed.
Attendees of an international space conference this week will likely be looking for new information about China’s human spaceflight plans, including proposed human missions to the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to provide more information about those human lunar plans and its potential effects on international cooperation and competition.
In the last few years, Russia has carried out a number of missions to test rendezvous and proximity operations, both in low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit. Brian Weeden describes what is known about these efforts, and the policy implications of such tests given similar missions by American spacecraft in the past.
Last week, The Planetary Society released a report that came out of a workshop earlier this year on more affordable strategies for human Mars exploration. Casey Dreier and Jason Callahan discuss how an architecture that sends humans first to orbit Mars can fit into current NASA budgets for human spaceflight.
The film adaptation of the bestselling novel The Martian opened to rave reviews and a big box office take this weekend, days after NASA also announced evidence of liquid water on the surface of present-day Mars. Jeff Foust examines what effect—if any—these events could have on NASA’s plans for actual human missions to the Red Planet.
India launched last week its first dedicated astronomy spacecraft, called ASTROSAT. Ajey Lele says the launch is another sign that India’s space agency is moving beyond its traditional role of socioeconomic development into science and exploration.
A major gallery in the National Air and Space Museum looks more like a workshop right now, as part of renovations of that gallery. Dwayne Day explores how the gallery, and the museum, are changing.
Space advocates, including people as famous as Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, talk about helium-3 as a vital resource to be obtained from the Moon. Dwayne Day says such claims, unsupported by the facts of just how difficult helium-3 fusion is, are analogous to the incantations of a religion.
Over the last several years, US satellite manufacturers and launch providers have increasingly relied on the Export-Import Bank to help finance sales to international customers. Jeff Foust reports that, with the bank’s authorization lapsed because of a congressional dispute, these companies are starting to lose deals.
Major space conferences have increasingly included sessions and other events devoted to your professionals and students. However, Hannah Kerner argues that these events have to go beyond simple panels and mentoring sessions to be meaningful for the space industry’s next generation.
While plans for a new telescope atop Hawaii’s Maunakea are mired in controversy, using the mountain to study the universe is not new. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a history of modern astronomy there, exploring both the observatories on the mountain and what those observatories have explored.
Last week, as expected, Blue Origin announced plans to build and launch a new orbital rocket from Florida’s Space Coast. Jeff Foust reports on the details of the announcement and how they fit into the company’s, and its billionaire founder’s, long-term goals.
When a cheering crowd celebrated New Horizons’ successful flyby by waving American flags, it struck some people as jingoistic. Dwayne Day discusses how the language and symbols of space advocates and space programs can be interpreted differently by different cultures.
Many space enthusiasts travel to Florida to visit the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and its famous exhibits. Jeff Foust suggests those with a strong history in space history make a side trip to a nearby, small museum for some additional artifacts of the early Space Age.
The Kennedy Space Center is going through some of its biggest changes in decades, but they pale in comparison with the work 50 years ago to build its original facilities. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a look at KSC’s early history, mixing technical details with the anecdotes of those who worked there.
Most of the attention ULA has received for its Vulcan launch vehicle has focused on its use of an American-built main engine in place of the Russian RD-180. However, Jeff Foust describes some of the later innovations planned for the rocket, whose implementation could be affected by a proposed sale of the company.
In July, members of industry, academia, and government in India convened a one-day conference to discuss space policy issues. Rachana Reddy summarizes the event, which included a call to develop national space legislation to aid India’s emerging space industry.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of NASA’s award of commercial crew contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Jeff Foust reports on some recent developments reported by both companies, and the ongoing funding concerns the overall program faces.
Opponents of proposals to send humans to Mars state that there are many more pressing problems to solve on Earth. Frank Stratford argues that by going to Mars, and dealing with the challenges of living there, we will be better equipped to deal with the Earth’s problems.
In December, the Japanese space agency JAXA will attempt to place its Akatsuki spacecraft into orbit around Venus, after a previous orbital insertion maneuver five years ago failed. Ralph Lorenz explains what went wrong the first time around for the spacecraft and why JAXA hopes this time will be different.
As the 2016 Presidential campaign ramps up, space advocates are trying to determine which candidate offers the best, or at least any, views regarding space policy. Jeff Foust argues that, right now, there’s little to go on, and that it may not matter in the long run anyway.
Military forces, and society in general, is increasingly reliant on space and cyberspace capabilities, and thus increasingly vulnerable to attacks on those systems. Jamie Johnson discusses the parallels between space and cyber and how both play a key role in winning any future conflicts before they start.
Often overlooked in the history of the Apollo program is the role played by a site near Sacramento, California, in testing the Saturn V’s third stage. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a pictorial history of that long-abandoned test site.
While interest in smallsats continues to grow, one factor limiting their growth is launch access. Jeff Foust reports on developments in both dedicated and secondary launches of such satellites discussed at a recent conference.
Many space advocates are hoping public interest in the upcoming movie The Martian can translate into interest in real space exploration. Eric Sterner offers a cautionary word, arguing that a good story about a fictional Mars mission doesn’t mean people will start clamoring for the real thing.
The British government, seeking to play catchup in the global space industry, has drafted new regulations that would streamline the licensing of some smallsats. Christopher Newman and Michael Listner explain how those regulations would work and how they compare with existing smallsat regulations in the US.
It’s been more than four years since the last shuttle mission, but for some the memories of that final flight remain strong. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a photographer who covered that mission, offering his own personal account, and photos, of that experience.
As CubeSats take on an wider range of missions in Earth orbit, some are looking at how such small spacecraft could be used on interplanetary missions. Jeff Foust reports on those efforts discussed at a recent conference, from serving as a communications relay for a Mars lander mission to being Mars landers themselves.
Long before New Horizons lifted off on its mission to Pluto, the project team was proposing the development of a second, similar spacecraft. Dwayne Day discusses that proposal and what happened to it at NASA and in the halls of Congress.
With less than 18 months left in the current Presidential administration, some argue there’s little chance of major new space initiatives from the White House in that time. However, Vid Beldavs, in an open letter to the President, asks him to support a new emphasis on lunar exploration in cooperation with international and commercial partners.
Many people consider a human mission to Mars with trepidation given the risks involved, including the potential loss of life. Frank Stratford argues that humanity needs to accept and even embrace those risks, given the much greater benefits such missions offer.
The history of the Apollo program has been told time and time again, often using the same familiar set of images. Jeff Foust reviews a book that, like a similar one on Mercury and Gemini, dips into archives for some rare glimpses of those missions.
During the annual Mars Society conference last week, the CEO of Mars One and a member of his technical team debated two critics of the one-way venture from MIT. Dwayne Day recaps the event, which exposed a lack of detail in Mars One’s technical plans.
The process of sorting through dozens of proposals for NASA missions is a thankless job for an anonymous group of reviewers. Ralph Lorenz explains the challenges involved with developing and reviewing mission proposals.
Efforts in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence got a boost last month when a Russian billionaire pledged $100 million over ten years for SETI projects. Jeff Foust reports what that $100 million means for SETI projects and who might be left out, at least for now.
In October, the film version of the bestselling book The Martian hits theaters. Rick Zucker and Chris Carberry discuss how space advocates can use the release of the film about a fictional human Mars mission to build support for the real thing.
Forty-five years after their dramatic mission, the two surviving members of the Apollo 13 crew joined two others involved with the mission at the EAA AirVenture show last month. Eric Hedman describes their presentation on the mission, and what the famous movie got wrong.
More than a year after a National Research Council report laid out pathways for human missons to Mars, NASA is taking a higher-level approach for the journey of humans to Mars. Jeff Foust reports that NASA officials believe they are on the same page, more or less, as the committee’s report.
The EAA AirVenture event is now only one of the biggest air shows around, it’s also one with a significant space presence. Eric Hedman provides an overview of his week at last month’s AirVenture.
Sending humans to Mars requires dealing with a number of biomedical issues. Gerald W. Driggers discusses how NASA and other have neglected one key issue: how the human body handled reduced levels of gravity.
Opinions of Wernher von Braun and other German rocket scientists who came to America after World War II have changed given a deeper understanding of the role they played int the war. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores why one community has been slower to make such a reconsideration.
The National Transportation Safety Board wrapped up its investigation last week into last year’s SpaceShipTwo accident. Jeff Foust reports on new details about the accident released as part of the investigation, and the underlying problems the board found with the vehicle’s developer and regulator.
The US Air Force is embarking on a program to develop a new engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180 currently used on the Atlas V. Wayne Eleazer explains how this situation is the result of decades of neglect and other problems with the American launch vehicle industry.
Claudia Alexander, a planetary scientist and mission manager, passed away last month. David Clow remembers her as a passionate advocate for the exploration of the universe.
A new interactive aerospace exhibit opened last week at the National Air and Space Museum. Jeff Foust notes that the exhibit is also a way to shape the future of the museum itself.
As Apollo flew people to the Moon, the science fiction shows people watched on TV and at the movies painted a bright future for human spaceflight, but one in retrospect was wholly unrealistic. Andre Bormanis examines that disconnect between those visions of the future and what came to pass.
Governments have largely deferred plans for human missions to the Moon, citing their cost, while private ventures offer more affordable concepts but struggle to raise funding. Jeff Foust reports on a new study that argues that a combination of the two, through public-private partnerships, could reduce the cost of human missions by as much as an order of magnitude.
Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union launched a spacecraft that flew past the far side of the Moon and into deep space. Andrew LePage describes the mission of Zond 3 and how it fit into Soviet plans for missions to Mars and Venus.
Operating Mars rovers is more complicated than simply driving across the terrain and collecting images and other scientific data. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a behind-the-scenes look at the operations of the Mars Exploration Rovers and how scientists analyze and manipulate the data those rovers have returned to better understand the Red Planet.
On Tuesday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, collecting images and other data that it is slowly returning to Earth. Jeff Foust reports on the celebrations at the Applied Physics Lab that marked the successful flyby and the first look at images that are surprising the mission’s science team.
SpaceX’s pursuit of reusable launch vehicles has prompted other companies to also study reusability. Anthony Young sees this as evidence of a “hard trend” that makes it all the more likely that reusability will become reality.
For about a decade, commercial space advocates have been promoting the term “NewSpace” to describe a new wave of entrepreneurial space ventures. As those ventures now reach critical market and funding mass, Jeff Foust explains that some think the term may now be outdated in some respects.
As space agencies like NASA make long-term plans for human missions to Mars, some expect private ventures to get there faster. Jeff Foust reviews a book, patterned after a TED talk, that argues that SpaceX in particular could get there faster.
On Tuesday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto, offering our first closeup glimpse at this distant world. Jeff Foust provides an update on the mission, including its close call with catastrophe because of a computer glitch earlier this month.
As New Horizons zooms past Pluto this week, the natural question many ask is, what’s next? Andrew LePage offers some concepts for future missions to Pluto and other destinations in the outer solar system.
The last time we got a fleeting, closeup look at a distant world prior to New Horizons was the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989. Dwayne Day recalls his experience witnessing that flyby from a planetarium in upstate New York.
Much of the current attention on the International Space Station has been on problems getting cargo to the station. Jeff Foust reports that, at a recent conference, some were more concerned about what will happen to the station in the long run.
At long last, a 1960s-era GAMBIT reconnaissance satellite is on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Dwayne Day recaps the history of the program and describes the efforts it took to get the spacecraft displayed at the famous museum.
Construction of a telescope on a Hawaiian mountain has stopped because of protests from those who believe it would desecrate what some native Hawaiians consider a sacred place. Jeff Foust reports on the controversy and what some astronomers are doing to try and find a resolution acceptable to all.
This month, India will carry out its biggest commercial launch to date, of five satellites weighing nearly 1,500 kilograms. Narayan Prasad argues that, despite this milestone, India needs to do more to promote commercial space ventures in the country.
To some, the end of the shuttle program represented an end of an era of American human spaceflight, or even an end to American human spaceflight itself. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a writer who attended the final shuttle launches in an attempt to understand the shuttle’s end and its implications.
Visit the Archive for additional articles.