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This week in The Space Review…
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.
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