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This week in The Space Review…
National security space policy in the United States has quietly shifted in the last few years. Maximilian Betmann, in the first of a two-part article, examines the factors that have led to that change in approach to defending space assets.
A recent Air University report recommends that the Air Force partner with industry to develop new, low-cost reusable launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on how effective such partnerships could be given the progress industry alone is making.
Is the National Reconnaissance Office preparing to declassify one of its biggest reconnaissance satellite programs? Joseph T. Page II discusses recent evidence that suggests major details may soon come about it.
In the second installment of his three-part series, Zach Miller describes how the Cold War origins of NASA influenced the nation’s space program to this day.
NASA’s race to the Moon in the 1960s took place while the United States was facing much broader issues, from civil rights to Vietnam, that are often overlooked in historical accounts of the Apollo program. Jeff Foust reviews a book and a documentary that try to place NASA’s efforts in a broader perspective.
Note: Because of the Memorial Day holiday, next week’s issue will be published on Tuesday, May 30.
A few weeks after President Trump suggested that NASA needed to accelerate plans to send humans to Mars, agency leadership said they’ve received no direction to do so from the White House. Jeff Foust reports this is a sign that neither the government nor most companies are in a particular hurry to send humans to Mars.
At last week’s Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, Buzz Aldrin was often the center of attention, even when he wasn’t on center stage. Dwayne Day examines the attention, and overexposure, of the famous astronaut.
Searches for signals from extraterrestrial intelligences, both in fact and fiction, have often presumed that any such radio signals detected could be understood, and be friendly. John Hickman and Koby Boatright argue that those assumptions may not be warranted.
Partial gravity could have benefits for both future human expeditions as well as those who plan to live and work in space over the long term. Bob Brodbeck offers one proposal for a commercial partial gravity facility that could attract both researchers and tourists.
India’s space program has made great strides since its origins a little more than half a century ago. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an insider’s account of the rise of the Indian space agency from someone who was there at the beginning.
Space is increasing being seen as a potential place of conflict should hostilities break out on Earth. Edward G. Ferguson and John J. Klein argue that, in that light, it’s time for the US think about preempting hostile actions in space rather than responding to an attack.
The National Academies hosted a symposium last week to revisit a report from 2009 about the future of the nation’s civil space efforts. Jeff Foust reports on what attendees thought had changed, and what had stayed the same.
Last month, Orbital ATK released new details about its planned EELV-class launch vehicle it proposes to develop, pending the award of Air Force contracts. Jeffrey Smith examines how the technical choices the company is making in its design could set it apart from competitors.
The launch of the first data relay satellite from the shuttle, more than 30 years ago, didn’t go as planned. Joseph T. Page II describes how, in the end, things turned out better than one might have ever expected.
Last week, India launched a communications satellite that the country offered as a “gift” to neighboring countries. Ajey Lele examines the significance of that project to building better relations, in space and on the Earth.
As a conference about the human exploration of Mars convenes in Washington this week, Jeff Foust takes a look both at last year’s Mars miniseries, now out on disc, and a new documentary about the desire of teenagers to be the first to walk on the Red Planet.
Despite decades of failed efforts, true believers of space settlement still believe in that vision. Dwayne Day explores why space enthusiasts cling to their dreams despite the lack of accomplishment.
As the space community waits to see what the Trump Administration might do in space policy, some are already developing proposals to support the commercial space industry. Jeff Foust reports on a recent Senate hearing that examined a range of proposals, from modest to wide-ranging.
In the conclusion of his two-part history of the Soyuz-1 mission, Asif Siddiqi examines the tragic landing and investigation that followed, while debunking a number of myths associated with the mission.
The “treasure map” that Gordon Cooper reportedly made during his Mercury flight might not have any substance to it, but it’s hardly the first time the late astronaut was linked to a questionable project. James Oberg discusses how Cooper was associated with a string of such ventures later in his life.
For as much as we’ve learned about the universe in the last century, there is even more that remains a mystery. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines seven different frontiers in science, from cosmology to consciousness.
This week is the 50th anniversary of the flight of Soyuz-1, which ended in the death of cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Asif Siddiqi reexamines the historical record to better understand exactly what happened on that flight.
The television series The Expanse is perhaps the best representation of space settlement available in any form of entertainment today. Yet, Dwayne Day argues, it is hardly the utopian vision of human expansion into space often promoted by space advocates.
A new series on the Discovery Channel follows a treasure hunter following a map purported to be created by Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper during his spaceflight. James Oberg explains why there’s little reason to believe there’s any substance behind that map.
NASA’s plans for a potential return to the Moon remain up in the air, but that is not deterring others interested in lunar activities. Jeff Foust reports on discussions about human missions to the Moon by space agencies and companies at a recent conference.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of Los Angeles in one of more than 500 “March for Science” events worldwide. David Clow describes how concerns about climate change, and NASA’s role studying it, were among the key issues for marchers there.
The current wave of billionaires putting their money into space ventures appears to be a new trend in spaceflight. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that it is instead a return to the models used to fund past space-related activities long before the launch of the first satellite.
NASA has started to disclose more details about how the Space Launch System and Orion can be used in the 2020s to develop a “gateway” in cislunar space to support operations of a transport vehicle for missions eventually to Mars. Ari Allyn-Feuer explains some issues with that architecture and proposes an alternative, and potentially more effective, approach.
An updated version of a recent book about the first shuttle mission provides new details about efforts to collect images of the shuttle in orbit by a reconnaissance satellite. Dwayne Day examines those revelations as part of a broader effort to use spysats to spy on other satellites.
There’s been considerable speculation about Russia’s plans for the future of the ISS as well as potential participation in missions to the Moon and Mars. Jeff Foust reports on what the head of Roscosmos recently said about those issues in a rare press conference with Western reporters.
As the Trump Administration continues to show interest in reestablishing the National Space Council, many wonder what such an entity can achieve. Roger Handberg argues that it will depend if the council is preceded by an overarching vision for the country’s space policy.
Those who worked in Mission Control have never received the same amount of fame as the astronauts whose missions they supervised. Jeff Foust reviews a new documentary that puts those who worked there at the height of the Space Race into the limelight.
While the US Air Force provides the most detailed satellite catalog officially available, some objects are either missing or not updated. Charles Phillips discusses why that catalog should be made more complete, and how it could be done.
The highlight of last week’s Space Symposium conference in Colorado was arguably the display of Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle and an appearance by company founder Jeff Bezos. Jeff Foust reports on the status update Bezos provided on the company’s plans to send people on suborbital spaceflights, perhaps in 2018.
At a media event last week about Blue Origin’s plans, Jeff Bezos suggested the company could get into the small launch vehicle business as well. A.J. Mackenzie argues that if that happens, it spells trouble for the various other small launcher ventures out there today.
SpaceX is talking about not only increasing their flight rates, but attempting to recover the Falcon 9 payload fairing and second stage as well. Dick Eagleson examines how efforts to prove out second stage and payload fairing recovery might proceed and looks at related logistic challenges for SpaceX as it moves to greatly increase its launch cadence.
The threat of asteroid impacts is real, but often overhyped. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a thoughtful examination of asteroid impact risks and how astronomers are keeping tabs on the skies.
SpaceX achieved a major milestone last week with it successfully launched a satellite using a Falcon 9 first stage that had previously flown. Jeff Foust discusses how the question is now not whether such reusability is technically feasible, but rather if it can make economic sense.
Even recent efforts to make reusable launch vehicles have often resulted in vehicles that don’t look that dissimilar to rockets developed decades ago. John Hollaway argued that has created a tunnel vision that ignores alternative approaches to reducing the cost of space access.
As NASA presses ahead with a mission to study Jupiter’s potentially habitable moon Europa from orbit, it’s also beginning planning for a follow-up lander mission. Jeff Foust reports on the state of both proposed missions, and the fiscal hurdles now facing the lander.
As the space community changes, should NASA also change? Zach Miller starts a three-part series by looking at the origins and fiscal constrains of the agency.
NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory has been in orbit since 1999, but is far less well known than other space telescopes like Hubble. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a review of the science that Chandra has achieved by observing the universe at x-ray wavelengths.
As the new administration weighs its options for NASA’s human space exploration program, NASA is moving ahead with plans to develop an outpost in cislunar space to support its current Journey to Mars. Jeff Foust reports on recent developments, and how a return to the Moon might affect those plans.
The legal subcommittee of the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space is meeting this week, with space resources one of the issues on the agenda. Anne-Sophie Martin examines the current state of efforts to establish space resource legal regimes at national and international levels.
One launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has been preserved, turning it into a time capsule from the early days of the Space Age. Joseph T. Page II pays a visit to Space Launch Complex Ten.
If settlements are to survive and thrive beyond Earth, they will have to operate very differently from terrestrial cities. Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi argues that the consumerism found in modern-day society is inconsistent with the philosophy required for future settlements.
Quantum mechanics can seem baffling to many, but it’s essential to our understanding of the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to demystify the physics of the subatomic realm.
If NASA and other space agencies press ahead with plans for a cislunar gateway outpost, how would it be most effectively developed? John Strickland proposes a design that emphasizes cargo and propellant storage that can support, and be supported by, a lunar base.
In the White House budget proposal released last week, the Trump Administration mentioned in passing that NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission would be cancelled. Jeff Foust reports on what’s known about those plans, and the limbo that statement puts ARM into.
The concept of salvaging spacecraft in outer space has long been a part of science fiction, but faces legal challenges if attempted in real life. Michael Listner discusses how salvage could be applied to satellites or other space assets.
The movie The Space Between Us, about a teenager returning to Earth from Mars, flopped at the box office earlier this year. Dwayne Day examines what went wrong with the film and if it indicates popular interest in Mars is waning.
Can a novel about a human mission to Mars be more than just a science-fiction epic? Jeff Foust review a “literary fiction” approach to a novel about a crew preparing for the first human mission to the Red Planet.
Last month, NASA issued a request for ideas of payloads that could fly on a mysterious satellite the agency was getting from elsewhere in the government. Dwayne Day traces that satellite back to a National Reconnaissance Office program that briefly exited the black world nearly two decades ago.
By some accounts, this week marks the 15th anniversary of the founding of SpaceX. Jeff Foust examines the company’s legacy to date in shaking up the space industry, for better or for worse.
Military space programs have suffered from the perception they are considered less important by the US Air Force than aircraft. M.V. “Coyote” Smith argues that, to elevate the importance of space, it needs its own independent service within the military.
All eyes are on Washington to see what the Trump Administration might propose for NASA’s budget in 2018 and what new initiatives it might offer. Roger Handberg says that history suggests we should treat such proposals skeptically.
The site of a classified military space facility known as the “Blue Cube” is now home to a college and a government building. Joseph T. Page II visits the former Blue Cube site to see how its legacy has been preserved there.
As discoveries of exoplanets mount, both the variety of known worlds and the prospects that some could harbor life continue to mount. Jeff Foust reviews a book by two scientists that examines what some of these worlds might be like and how hospitable they may be to life in one form or another.
Last week, SpaceX announced plans for a commercial human mission around the Moon, while Blue Origin said it’s working on a lunar cargo lander concept. Jeff Foust reports on these developments, and examines if these developments are shaped by, or instead are shaping, space policy.
Gerald Black revisits last week’s commentary about human lunar missions with a call for NASA and SpaceX to work together on their proposed circumlunar missions, rather than compete with one another.
In the final part of his examination of Russian human spaceflight efforts, Bart Hendrickx discusses efforts by Russia, in cooperation with other space agencies, to develop a cislunar outpost that could support future exploration.
For decades, space advocates have been trying to recreate the factors that allowed the dramatic success of Apollo. Jack Kiraly identifies the key factors in the “formula” that enabled Apollo and why they may be a product of that era.
While new commercial space ventures have gotten a lot of attention recently, the business is still dominated by traditional satellite communications and related companies. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the current state of the industry and how it can transition to a new state of growth.
In the second part of his comprehensive assessment of the state of Russia’s human spaceflight program, Bart Hendrickx explores efforts in recent years by Russia to develop new crewed spacecraft and launch vehicles to support missions beyond Earth orbit.
NASA announced earlier this month it is studying the possibility of putting astronauts on the first SLS/Orion mission, which currently is set to fly without a crew. Jeff Foust reports on the details of the study and some of the issues NASA will likely to encounter.
If sending people back to the Moon is a good idea, should it be done with SLS and Orion? Gerald Black argues that it makes more sense to send humans back to the Moon using commercial vehicles arguably further along in their development.
The promise of space settlements has remained just that because of the extremely high costs of establishing these outposts beyond Earth orbit. Al Globus offers an alternative approach that he believes could be much more feasible by sticking closer to home.
As the debate continues about whether NASA should redirect its human space exploration program back to the Moon, another question is how to carry out such missions. Ajay Kothari says that such missions make sense provided they involve reusable launch vehicles.
Changing programs and restricted budgets often force NASA to make tough decisions about what older historic launch pads and other buildings it should maintain. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines some of the issues associated with “space archeology” of NASA facilities, on Earth or on the Moon.
On Sunday, a Falcon 9 lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A, the first launch from the historic pad since the end of the shuttle program. Jeff Foust reports on the significance of the launch both for SpaceX’s near- and long-term plans, and for KSC’s efforts to work with industry.
Russia’s human spaceflight program is suffering from the country’s broader economic downturn. In the first part of a series, Bart Hendrickx examines the effects those problems are having on Russia’s participation on the ISS and plans for a future space station.
In the concluding part of his examination of presidential leadership in space policy, Matt Chessen uses the lessons of history to examine whether a Trump Administration could provide strong leadership for space, and whether such leadership is even desirable.
Satellite operators seek to extend the lives of their spacecraft as long as possible, but run the risk of failures that could lead to in-orbit breakups. Charles Phillips offers a couple of case studies where operators face tough decisions about when to shut down their satellites.
An Indian rocket last week launched more than 100 satellites, the vast majority of which came from US companies. Ajey Lele warns that, despite the technical success of that mission, policy changes could make it harder for India to maintain its position in the smallsat launch market.
Fifty years ago, aerospace engineer Max Hunter published a book about the technical issues with launching spacecraft into Earth orbit and beyond. Jeff Foust reviews a reissue of that book to see how those assessments have stood the test of time.
Black ops and the shuttle (part 1): On-orbit servicing and recovery of the HEXAGON reconnaissance satellite
During the development of the space shuttle in the 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office examined how it could use the shuttle to do more than simply launch its satellites. Dwayne Day examines what is known about proposals to adapt the HEXAGON satellites for the shuttle, including servicing.
NASA has grappled with the risks associated with human spaceflight for decades. Jeff Foust reports on how one top NASA official wants to reexamine how NASA calculates and communicates risk for crewed spacecraft.
For a while, it appeared that engineers had found all the ways a launch vehicle could fail. But, as Wayne Eleazer explains, new vehicles have created new failure modes, and even new categories of launch failures.
Space advocates continue to look back at President Kennedy as a model of presidential leadership in space policy. In the first of a two-part essay, Matt Chessen discusses what factors made Kennedy effective, and how they translated—or didn’t translate—to later administrations.
President Trump’s preferred method of communication seems to be Twitter. Sam Dinkin provides ten tweet-sized recommendations on how to make space great again.
It’s been a year since scientists announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves, opening a new window on the universe. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a look behind the scenes as the LIGO team works to interpret the discovery and make the historic announcement.
Last month, Eugene Cernan, the last human to date to walk on the Moon, passed away. Anthony Young recounts Cernan’s spaceflight career, including the missions leading up to Apollo 17.
Space advocates often talk about opening the space frontier, but is NASA really working to do so? Steve Hoeser argues that US space policy should be revamped to emphasize not just exploration of space, but establishing a growing economic presence there.
North Korea’s space program, interconnected to its missile development efforts,remains cloaked in secrecy. Jim Oberg, one of the few Westerners to get a glimpse of that effort, warns that the US should be cautious of any future satellite launch attempts.
In a little more than six months, a total solar eclipse will stretch across the United States, from Oregon to South Carolina. Jeff Foust reports on some of the planning to deal with the logistical issues of such an event, as well as the science some hope to get out of the eclipse.
The actions of the Trump administration led some to wonder if the US will turn away from international partnerships, in space and elsewhere. Vidvuds Beldavs suggests that space cooperation be a topic for this summer’s G20 summit.
Decades of spaceflight have created plenty of headlines in the history books, but also many other lesser-known tales. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a grab bag of those more obscure, but still interesting, stories.
In the 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office considered developing an imaging payload that would fly on space shuttle missions. Dwayne Day reveals what is known about that effort thanks to newly-declassified documents.
The first week of the Trump Administration has been hectic, and a cause for concern among many scientists. Jeff Foust reports on the changes that have been made, what’s stayed the same, and the underlying concerns about science in the new administration.
Sometimes space history research can involve tracking down a long-forgotten object. John Charles describes his quest to find a piece of hardware from the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program.
How should the Trump Administration develop a space policy that can effectively deal with China? Michael Listner offers three principles that he believes should guide the new administration’s space policy.
Relations between the US and Russia have been contentious in recent years, although space has been mostly free of those tensions. Al Anzaldua and Dave Dunlop argue that a means of improving relations between the countries, and solving a key space-related problem, is to cooperate in space debris cleanup.
Fifty years ago this week, the Outer Space Treaty was formally opened for signature. Christopher Johnson discusses how the treaty took shape despite the US and USSR having sharply differing views on issues, like the role private actors should play in space.
Certain families of spacecraft in sun-synchronous orbit appear susceptible to in-orbit breakups. Charles D. Phillips examines the record of those groups of spacecraft and what could be causing those problems.
When NASA announced its selections of the next Discovery missions earlier this month, many were surprised that the agency chose two asteroid missions. Jeff Foust reports on the missions that were selected and what NASA is saying about why it chose those missions.
While companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are making steps towards low-cost reusable launch vehicles, they fall short of what’s been done in other modes of transportation, such as aviation. Mike Snead describes what space transportation attributes should be pursued in federal policy to make society truly spacefaring.
A controversial provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, passed in 2015, gives US companies rights to resources they extract from asteroids and other celestial bodies. Justin Rostoff argues that the law, as written, is in violation of international treaty.
Richard Garriott is known to the space community as the private citizen who flew to the ISS in 2008, but to computer gamers he is a legendary pioneer. Jeff Foust reviews his memoir that touches on both aspects of his life, including details of his long effort to get to space.
Four and a half months after a pad explosion, SpaceX returned the Falcon 9 to flight with the successful launch of a batch of Iridium satellites Saturday. Jeff Foust reports on the effort to resume Falcon 9 launches, and the other issues and upcoming milestones for SpaceX in the coming year.
The success of the National Geographic Channel series about Mars exploration has been enough to warrant a second season. Dwayne Day takes another look at that series and the overall interest in the Red Planet, in both fact and fiction.
There’s no shortage of advice about what the incoming Trump administration should do about space policy. A white paper from a space advocacy group argues that it should closely tie human spaceflight to commercial efforts.
US law grants rights to commercial asteroid miners for the resources they harvest, but how can that law be enforced? Thomas Simmons examines one issue with the law, dealing with the fact that such mining is likely to be done by robots, not humans.
Should be space exploration efforts be driven by a quest for science, or the expansion of humanity beyond Earth? Shalina Chatlani warns of the consequences of overlooking “scientific reality” in favor of realizing human visions.
Some space advocates believe that the public would offer greater support for space exploration if they only knew more about what’s going on in space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to provide such an education, but is ultimately flawed.
After Apollo 11 went to the Moon, US spy satellites collected images of a failed Soviet launch of its N-1 rocket. Charles Vick and Dwayne Day describe how the US intelligence community knew about the failure even before those images were returned.
There’s a recent, renewed push for developing space infrastructure, including a recent commentary endorsed by Jeff Bezos. Mike Snead supports that idea, but doesn’t believe it should be the responsibility of NASA to do so.
The future of NASA’s human spaceflight program is one of the key concerns of the space community as Donald Trump prepares to take office. Roger Handberg describes why that future will likely require greater cooperation with other nations.
Construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes atop a Hawaiian mountain has been stalled by protests and legal disputes. Jeff Foust reports that the observatory’s partners may soon have to make a decision about staying in Hawaii or moving to an alternate site.
Mars is widely seen as the long-term destination for human spaceflight, but is it the best place for people to go? J. Morgan Qualls that there’s much more to be done in cislunar space and elsewhere before thinking about going to Mars.
NASA’s fleet of space science missions is familiar to many space enthusiasts, although the people who work on them often are not. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides an overview of a number of those missions and profiles the people working on them.
The incoming Trump Administration is considering re-establishing the National Space Council, based on campaign statements. John Logsdon recounts the checkered history of the council and examines if it is the best mechanism for coordinating space policy
In February 1969, US analysts were expecting the Soviets to launch a circumlunar mission of some kind in a last-minute bid to beat the Americans to the moon. Charles Vick and Dwayne Day describe the intelligence that went into that assessment, and also what they missed.
What the incoming Trump Administration will do in space policy remains a topic of speculation in the space community. Andrew Gasser describes how the new administration should focus on public-private partnerships to create a more effective space program.
Last month, the Chinese navy seized a US Navy robotic submersible and held it for a brief time. David Chen argues that episode could provide a precedent for China to do something similar with a satellite.
A new Star Wars movie has attracted large audiences since its debut last month. Dwayne Day, though, suggests that it’s Star Trek that offer the stronger connections to spaceflight, and a much-needed optimistic philosophy about the future.
Among the Apollo-era astronauts, among the least well known is Donn Eisele, who flew only one mission and passed away before he could publish his memoirs. Jeff Foust reviews a book that pieces together at least a partial story about his life and flying on Apollo 7, based on drafts of a book he started decades ago.
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