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This week in The Space Review…
In 1969, a Soviet spy satellite passed closed to an American one. Dwayne Day examines whether this was a deliberate attempt by the Soviets to image the American satellite—or even test an ASAT system—or just a coincidence.
Last month, NASA awarded contracts for commercial crew systems that were expected to end months of uncertainty about the program’s future. However, Jeff Foust reports that the uncertainty lingers today, as one company protests those awards while also working on alternative plans for its vehicle design.
NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission plans to use xenon as the propellant for ion propulsion systems that will nudge a small asteroid into lunar orbit. Ronald Menich argues that using NEO materials themselves is a more sustainable approach to developing long-term cislunar infrastructure.
Data centers, the essential if invisible component of cloud computing, require large amounts of power and cooling to operate effectively. Vid Beldavs describes one solution that would put cloud computing literally above the clouds, in orbit.
More than two years after landing, the Mars rover Curiosity has helped scientists make fundamental discoveries about the Red Planet. Jeff Foust reviews a book by the mission’s chief engineer that examines the significant challenges NASA faced in developing the spacecraft.
Five years ago, NASA published its latest detailed architecture for human missions to Mars. John Strickland explores that architecture and discusses several ways it could be improved to make it more robust and less expensive.
Two weeks ago, Canada hosted the global space community at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto. Jeff Foust examines how that conference, which sought to play up Canada’s unique capabilities in space, also raised questions about the country’s long-term future in areas like human spaceflight and planetary exploration.
A documentary airing on PBS this week examines the history of women in America’s space program. Dwayne Day reviews the show and examines both the issues it covers and topics he wished it included.
China’s human spaceflight program has, to date, been an independent pursuit, with little interest in cooperation with, let alone dependence on, other nations. Jeff Foust reports that view may be changing with China’s plans to develop its own space station.
A book published earlier this year offered an alternative, and at time provocative, examination of the issues of risk in spaceflight. Michael Fodroci offers a different perspective on the issues the book raises from his experience working safety and mission assurance issues at NASA.
Saturday marked the tenth anniversary of SpaceShipOne’s final flight, a suborbital journey that allowed it to win the $10-million Ansari X PRIZE. Jeff Foust reports on a commemoration of that anniversary at the site of the flight in Mojave, California, as well as Virgin Galactic’s efforts to get SpaceShipOne’s successor finally flying.
Events like the Chelyabinsk meteor more than a year and a half ago have raised the profile of measures governments should take to prevent more devastating impacts. James Howe examines the history of American space policy in this area and the gaps in those policies.
The history of spaceflight has been shaped by a few key individuals who have worked to convince governments to enable their dreams of space exploration. Brian Altmeyer examines how these visionaries have enabled progress in spaceflight and what that means for humanity’s future in space.
As the Hubble Space Telescope approaches its 25th anniversary, it’s worthwhile to look at the successes and difficulties the orbiting observatory has faced. Jeff Foust reviews a book based on a symposium that offers insiders’ perspectives on the development and operation of Hubble.
Last week, SpaceX and local officials formally broke ground on a new commercial spaceport the company will build outside of Brownsville, Texas. Jeff Foust reports on the event and the company’s plans to develop and use the site over the next several years.
One of the big space developments of the last month was the surprise announcement that United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin are partnering on a new rocket engine. Anthony Young examines the program and its prospects for both companies and the space industry in general.
Government space procurements can be particularly challenging for incumbent companies to win again because of pressures by competitors to lower prices, perhaps unrealistically. Thomas Taverney explains the problem and how it can be solved to ensure the government really does get the best value, not just the lowest bid price.
In recent years, scientists have debated whether life is commonplace in the universe or if it, at least in its intelligent forms, is rare. Jeff Foust reviews a book by an astrobiologist that seeks o find middle ground between those extremes.
Last week, NASA made its long-awaited announcements about the companies that will develop commercial crew transportation systems. Jeff Foust reports that this announcement had to share the spotlight with a surprise commercial partnership that could affect the future of space launch.
Earlier this month, a House Science Committee hearing examined legislation that would grant some types of property rights to space resources. Charles Stotler explores some of the international space law issues associated with that bill.
The cover story of the latest issue of Newsweek claims to tell newly-revealed stories about the US-USSR Space Race. Dwayne Day notes that these stories aren’t that new or properly told.
Proliferation of orbital debris could have adverse effects not just on existing spacecraft but future ones as well. Three authors examine some of the technical and other solutions needed for cleaning up orbital debris that are essential to making applications like space-based solar power possible.
How small of a vocabulary can you use to describe the universe? Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts, with mixed success, to do so with only the one thousand most common words in the English language.
NASA has taken some steps to support the growth of the commercial space industry through measures like commercial cargo and crew development. Mary Lynne Dittmar examines what else governments can, and can’t, do to further enhance the commercial development of low Earth orbit.
An experimental military satellite called Teal Ruby is now on display at a museum, a quarter-century after it was cancelled. Dwayne Day explores the troubled history of a satellite that at one time represented many of the worst attributes of the military space bureaucracy.
Last month, SpaceX announced it would establish a commercial launch site in Texas that will support many of the commercial satellite launches it currently performs from Cape Canaveral. Edward Ellegood enumerates a series of concerns commercial entities have about launching from the Cape.
NASA celebrated milestones in the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion last week, even as recent reviews and comments suggested those programs’ schedules may be slipping. Jeff Foust reports on the potential delays facing SLS and Orion and how Congress may respond.
In the 1960s NASA and the intelligence community explored the potential use of reconnaissance satellite technology to help map potential Apollo landing sites on the Moon. Philip Horzempa reviews what we know about the program thanks to some recently declassified information.
The declassification of some information about the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program has answered some questions about that effort, but raised new ones. Dwayne Day looks at what we know about the companies involved in MOL from the declassified information.
Later this month, India’s first Mars mission is scheduled to enter orbit around the Red Planet. Ajey Lele says missions like this might demonstrate that India is an emerging “great power” here on Earth.
As the commercial space industry evolves, many of its most entrepreneurial ventures are taking on different forms. Jeff Foust reports on how many space startups look increasingly like other Silicon Valley technology startups.
Last month, an experimental SpaceX vehicle was destroyed during a test flight at the company’s Texas test site. R. D. Boozer explains why such failures should be expected in a development program that is successful in the long term.
While most people recognize the potentially disastrous effects of the use of weapons in space, efforts to ban such weapons through treaties and other agreements have made little progress. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the framework needed for the successful development of such accords.
It’s been more than eight and a half years since New Horizons lifted off, but the spacecraft is now less than a year away from its long-awaited flyby of Pluto. Jeff Foust reports on a milestone the mission achieved last week, and the expectations the science team has for the upcoming encounter.
When the concept of deflecting threatening asteroids comes to mind, it’s usually associated with visions of using impactors, or other kinds of weapons, to shove the object off course. Shen Ge describes an ongoing effort to study a far more subtle technique for deflecting hazardous objects.
A key tenet of international space law is the concept of the “launching state,” the nation or nations responsible for a particular launch. Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi examines some complications that the original definitions of the term create as more nations and non-state entities become involved in spaceflight.
While NASA experiments with the use of public-private partnerships to support the development of space capabilities, such partnerships are hardly novel in general. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines analogies to other such partnerships from American history and the lessons they offer for spaceflight.
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.
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.
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