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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.
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