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This week in The Space Review…
Can setting a specific date as a goal for a human Mars mission provide the impetus to make it happen? Jeff Foust examines some perspectives on the issue based on discussion at a recent conference.
If humans are going to live and work in space, they will need governance models that could differ from how things work on Earth. Eytan Tepper argues that research needs to begin now on what paradigms for space governance would work best for future settlements beyond Earth.
NASA’s 2019 budget request proposed cancelling WFIRST, the next large astrophysics mission after the James Webb Space Telescope. Jeff Foust reports that things are looking up for the mission, even if it is not out of the woods yet.
The search for debris from Columbia 15 years ago was critical to the investigation into the accident, but it was also an intensely personal effort for many of the people involved. Jeff Foust reviews a book co-authored by a shuttle launch manager that describes that work from his point of view, as well as many others involved.
Note: Because of the Memorial Day holiday, next week’s issue will be published on Tuesday, May 29.
Friday marked the successful debut of the Block 5 version of the Falcon 9, which SpaceX says will be the last major upgrade of that rocket. Jeff Foust reports on the changes made to the vehicle to improve its reusability and its reliability, even as the company looks ahead to the BFR.
NASA says development of the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is a key stepping-stone to human missions to the surface of the Moon. Gerald Black argues that the gateway is instead a diversion from that goal.
A proposal by the Trump Administration to end federal funding of the ISS and potentially commercialize it has raised many questions about its feasibility. Kiran Krishnan Nair discusses both the legal obstacles to doing so, as well as the financial challenges involved.
SpaceX plans to use its BFR vehicle for point-to-point suborbital passenger flights, but does that make economic sense? Sam Dinkin examines the logistical and financial issues for BFR passenger transportation.
Some have described NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover as the most complex machine sent into space. Jeff Foust reviews a book that goes into great technical detail about its complexities, from its development to the operations of the rover and its instruments on the Red Planet.
The measure of a man: Evaluating the role of astronauts in the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program (part 3)
In mid-1967, the vice president attended a briefing on the Air Force’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. Dwayne Day describes that meeting, as recalled by one of the program’s astronauts who attended, as concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the program grew.
The House last month passed a commercial space bill that provides a streamlined approach to oversight of commercial space activities. Michael Listner argues that the bill may take liberties with common interpretations of the Outer Space Treaty and whether spaceflight is a fundamental right.
NASA’s plans to use commercial lunar lander missions, and to cancel a rover mission under development for several years, attracted criticism in recent weeks from some scientists. Jeff Foust reports on the fate of Resource Prospector, one of the first big issues for new NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
In the final part of his study of producing propellant on Mars for SpaceX’s proposed Big Falcon Rocket, Steve Hoeser examines some of the ways to generate the power needed for those propellant production processes.
One of the driving factors in the exploration of Mars has been the research for past or present life there. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the long history of those efforts, from groundbased telescopes to landers and rovers on the Martian surface, and the many false positives along the way.
Changes in space policy are giving more powers to a small office within the Department of Commerce, the Office of Space Commerce. Jeff Foust reports on how those policy changes are taking shape even as the administration seeks to give space traffic management responsibilities to that office.
In the second part of his engineering study, Steve Hoeser examines various approaches to producing oxygen and methane propellant on Mars and their power requirements.
NASA has long had a “planetary protection officer,” but the agency recently hired a new one as part of a reorganization of that office. Jeff Foust reports on what the new planetary protection officer sees as key issues facing both agency missions to potentially habitable worlds and those by private ventures.
The recent Space Symposium conference included sessions on space law. Dennis O’Brien describes how those sessions illustrated a divide between development of domestic space laws versus implementation of international treaties.
New Horizons was not just the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto, it was also a triumph for a group of scientists who battled bureaucracies for decades to get the mission launched. Jeff Foust reviews a book co-authored by the mission’s principal investigator that provides the inside story on the mission.
On Monday, Jim Bridenstine will be formally sworn in as NASA’s next administrator. Jeff Foust describes the end of the long, contentious confirmation process for Bridenstine, and what it means for the agency now that he’s finally running it.
SpaceX’s plans for round-trip missions to and from Mars using its BFR will require the use of propellants made on Mars for the trip home. In the first of a three-part article, Steve Hoeser discusses potential ways to manufacture methane and oxygen using Martian resources.
Small launch vehicles are proliferating, but can they meet military needs for launching payloads on short notice? Jeff Foust reports on a new competition announced by DARPA to promote responsive launch systems, provided they can overcome regulatory hurdles.
The Naval Research Laboratory hosted an event last month to mark the 60th anniversary of the launch of Vanguard 1. Richard Easton discusses how the event traced the launch of that pioneering satellite to modern-day space programs.
The history of spaceflight has been filled with visions of giant space stations, elaborate Mars expeditions, and massive launch vehicles; dreams that usually fail to become reality. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines those concepts and why they remain dreams to this day.
Some space companies proposed developing orbital facilities for so-called “sovereign clients,” nations without human spaceflight programs of their own. Dwayne Day discusses how those efforts have suffered delays, just like so many other new space markets proposed over the last few decades.
As NASA’s Kepler mission nears its end, another exoplanet hunter is ready for launch this week. Jeff Foust reports on how the TESS mission will carry on the search for exoplanets, particularly those relatively close to Earth.
The growing amount of both operational satellites and space debris has created growing concerns about the risks of collisions and the need for better tracking and coordination. Nayef Al-Rodhan argues that true space traffic management will require new international accords to ensure proper collection and sharing of information.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 8 mission. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a well-written, but familiar, account of that first human journey to lunar orbit.
With the new direction given to NASA to return humans to the Moon, some wonder what that means for the agency’s former “Journey to Mars” plans. Jeff Foust describes how sending humans to Mars remains a long-term goal, although one with perhaps even less detail than before.
What would it be like to finally be able to see the Earth from the outside, as a world floating in the darkness of space? In an essay excerpted from his new book, Christopher Potter discusses those efforts to see the Earth as it truly is, from space.
Virgin Galactic’s second SpaceShipTwo made its first powered test flight last week. Jeff Foust reports on that achievement and its implications for both the company and suborbital space tourism.
Images of the Earth from space are commonplace today, but a half-century ago those first views of the Earth as a sphere in the void stunned society. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines imagery from space within the context of a history of spaceflight.
NASA announced last week it was delaying the launch of its James Webb Space Telescope by another year, to May 2020. Jeff Foust reports on the causes of this latest delay and its implications not just on the program but on astrophysics research in general and on other large NASA programs.
Earlier this year an American company launched several small satellites despite lacking an authorization from the FCC. Ian Christensen discusses what steps industry can take to prevent such events from happening in the future and to avoid restrictive new regulations that could result.
As NASA contemplates roles for its proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, some argue it should serve as a propellant depot to support future Mars missions. John Strickland examines how much benefit such a depot, using propellant derived from lunar ice, could provide over launching propellant from Earth.
On this 50th anniversary of the premiere of 2001, Dwayne Day examines the movie from the perspective of the actors who played the two astronauts on the Discovery.
Fifty years ago today, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey had its world premiere in Washington. Jeff Foust reviews a book that describes in great depth the epic production of this space epic.
The measure of a man: Evaluating the role of astronauts in the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program (part 2)
As the Manned Orbiting Laboratory took shape in the latter half of the 1960s, the Air Force again revisited the M in MOL. Dwayne Day examines the rationales that studies from that time developed for having astronauts onboard a reconnaissance platform.
Despite the major impact SpaceX has had on the launch industry, most of the vehicles in commercial service today are little changed from those flying a decade ago. Jeff Foust reports how that will change over the next several years as other companies introduce next-generation launch vehicles and new companies get into the market.
Much of the criticism of the Moon Treaty has focused on the interpretation that it requires an international bureaucracy to share space resources with other nations. Vidvuds Beldavs argues that is not how the treaty should be interpreted, and that there are other mechanisms that can comply with the treaty while still supporting commercial space resource applications.
As the United States embarks on new human space exploration plans, it must decide what to do with one of the most intriguing, but also controversial, potential partners: China. Gentoku Toyoma makes the case for the two countries to work together in human spaceflight.
Two books published simultaneously last week examine the roles that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have played in the commercial space industry. Jeff Foust reviews both books and finds they contain insights that will be of interest to both industry insiders and newcomers alike.
The measure of a man: Evaluating the role of astronauts in the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program (part 1)
A key reason for developing the Manned Orbiting Laboratory during the 1960s was the belief that humans were required to carry out the reconnaissance tasks planned for the station. Dwayne Day describes how Air Force officials, though, found themselves needing to justify that rationale from almost the beginning of the program.
Blue Origin has grown significantly in the last few years as it tests its New Shepard suborbital vehicle and prepares to build its New Glenn orbital rocket. Jeff Foust reports on that shift from development and operations, and how the company is seeking to maintain its ability to develop new technologies at the same time.
When does a nuclear weapon in space become a violation of the Outer Space Treaty? Taunton Paine discusses how that was debated a half-century ago and how that issue that may be newly relevant today.
New policies, technologies, and companies all promise to open a new era of human spaceflight and space exploration. Madhu Thangavelu explains why he believes we’re at the beginning of a renaissance in spaceflight that will ultimately change how we view the Earth.
As astronomers continue to discover new exoplanets, they open new questions about how planets, in our solar system and others, take shape. Jeff Foust reviews a book that discusses what we know, and don’t know, about the formation of solar systems.
One element of NASA’s 2019 budget proposal seeks to combine the agency’s space technology program with its exploration program. Jeff Foust reports that proposal has sparked concern among supporters of the current space technology program that such a move could jeopardize NASA’s technology development expertise.
The concept of “common heritage of humankind” can get many people in the space community riled up. Michelle L.D. Hanlon says there’s another way of thinking about “heritage” that offers a more commonsense approach to protecting our history in space.
Efforts by the National Space Council have given new prominence to the Department of Commerce for the regulation and promotion of the commercial space industry in the United States. Jeff Foust interviews Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross on some of this issues coming out of the latest council meeting.
Some wonder if the fifty-year-old Outer Space Treaty is no longer relevant in an era where commercial activities are eclipsing government efforts in space. Cristin Finnigan argues that the treaty remains a good foundation for international space law to this day.
If humanity is to survive in the long term, argues Michio Kaku, it will need to move beyond Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book by Kaku that takes a sweeping look at the various technologies and related issues associated with moving into the solar system and beyond.
Early reconnaissance satellites returned their film using canisters caught in midair near Hawaii. Dwayne Day describes how the Air Force and NRO considered a different approach that involved the use of an experimental winged vehicle.
Canada has many impressive space capabilities, but it lacks an ability to launch its own satellites. Jeff Foust reports on discussions at a recent conference where Canadian companies and others discussed efforts to provide launch services, using either imported rockets or vehicles built within the country.
Some have suggested ideas to modify the Moon Treaty to make it more amenable to commercial space activities, including space resource extraction. Dennis O’Brien argues that the solutions may be worse than any problem they try to fix.
Bartolomeo: the new European challenge for boosting commercial activities on the International Space Station
Airbus and ESA concluded an agreement last month to mount a commercial platform on the exterior of the International Space Station. Anne-Sophie Martin discusses the project and how it fits into the legal issues regarding commercial activities on the station.
New actors and new applications in space also pose new challenges for legal and regulatory structures that date back in some cases half a century. Jeff Foust reviews a book that explores in detail some of the issues involving the growing commercial use of space.
Improving the regulatory environment for commercial space activities was a theme of the National Space Council’s meeting last week. Jeff Foust reports that while the Council made a number of recommendations for reform, those ideas are not necessarily that novel.
Starting in the late 1960s, the NRO and the US Air Force developed of a series of data relay satellites designed primarily to support the NRO’s reconnaissance satellites. Dwayne Day examines the early history of the development of that Satellite Data System, including management conflicts that jeopardized the program in its early years.
The launch of the classified Zuma payload on a Falcon 9 in January reportedly failed because of a problem with the payload adapter. Wayne Eleazer notes that payload separation issues, while not common, are also not unheard of as a root cause of launch failures.
Few would disagree that orbital debris is a major issue for space operations, but there’s less concurrence on how to address the problem. Nayef Al-Rodhan argues that there’s a need for both new technologies to deal with the issue and international cooperation to enable the use of those technologies.
With plans announced once again to return humans to the Moon, it’s time to revisit ideas for building habitats there to support those future expeditions. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines many of the technical issues, and some of the non-technical ones, associated with establishing lunar habitats.
Last decade there was discussion of space tourism not just on suborbital spaceflights or trips to the International Space Station, but also around the Moon. Dwayne Day discusses what happened with one company’s efforts for such a mission, as revealed by an ongoing federal court case.
NASA’s 2019 budget proposal, released last week, included a number of expected changes, but also one surprise: cancelling WFIRST, the next major astronomy mission after the James Webb Space Telescope. Jeff Foust reports on the evolution of WFIRST over the last several years and why the planned cancellation surprised so many.
Despite the pressing need to deal with orbital debris in advance of the deployment of new satellite megaconstellations, legal obstacles may dwarf any technical challenges. Al Anzaldua and Michelle Hanlon discuss how an approach from maritime salvage could be applied to orbital debris cleanup.
The successful first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy earlier this month got many people excited about the ability of the vehicle to revolutionize spaceflight. A.J. Mackenzie argues that the rocket’s impact will not be as great as many enthusiasts believe.
Government agencies in the US and other countries are making much of the data from their Earth science missions freely available, but that has not always been their approach. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines changing policies regarding the open access to Earth science data amid the ups and downs of commercialization efforts.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched last week after years of development delays. Jeff Foust reports on the launch and what the future prospects are for the heavy-lift rocket.
Signals intelligence satellites played a role monitoring Soviet activities during a key event late in the Vietnam War. Dwayne Day describes how that took place and how it marked the changing use of intelligence satellites.
The Falcon Heavy launch creates additional scrutiny for NASA’s Space Launch System, which is still years away from a first launch and will cost far more to develop and operate. Dick Eagleson suggests it’s time to redesign the SLS to incorporate reusability and lower costs, or else it faces an eventual cancellation.
The successful test launch of the Falcon Heavy demonstrates, to some, the growing capabilities of the private sector in space compared to agencies like NASA. Mark Wessels argues that it’s time to revisit the roles, and risk acceptance, of NASA and the private sector.
The images of a sports car launched into space on the test flight of a Falcon Heavy last week attracted the attention of people around the world. Ajey Lele, though, sees the event as a demonstration of the lack of progress in spaceflight in the last half-century.
New space applications, from constellations of broadband satellites to commercial missions to the Moon and Mars, are showing promise in the industry. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a guide to those emerging markets, but falls short of being a useful resource.
Venture capitalists and other investors have put billions of dollars into space startups in recent years. Jeff Foust examines if that investment can continue to grow as options for exits for these investors remain limited.
Dust on Mars, and in the Martian atmosphere, could pose a serious health and safety risk for future astronauts. Joel S. Levine identifies the concerns and the research that needs to be done to better understand the risks before humans can travel to Mars.
Orbital ATK is preparing to offer a next-generation launch vehicle it is developing to the Air Force. Jeffrey L. Smith discusses the status of that vehicle and how it fits into the broader competitive environment for government launches.
Last week marked the 60th anniversary of the launch of the first American satellite, Explorer 1, which was far smaller than the large science satellites NASA operates today. However, Jeff Foust reports, NASA and others are growing increasingly interested in returning to smaller satellites to complement the science larger spacecraft can conduct.
Legal texts on space topics are either academic treatises or resources for space law practitioners. Michael Listner reviews a book that manages to bridge the two categories.
Space centers often highlight the achievements of space programs, but what responsibility do they have to discuss tragedies and other setbacks? Dwayne Day explores that issue through the lens of exhibits at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Last week the X Prize Foundation announced that the Google Lunar X Prize competition will come to an end in March without any team even attempting a launch. Jeff Foust examines the end of the competition and what the teams involved planned to do now that the $20 million grand prize will no longer be available.
While countries can’t claim property on the Moon or other bodies, can they offer companies exclusion zones on safety or other rationales? Cody Knipfer examines some of the concepts behind so-called “non-interference zones” and efforts in Congress to enact legislation to enable them.
Three different projects are underway to build a new generation of very large ground-based telescopes, but each faces its own set of challenges. Jeff Foust reports on the policy challenges facing the Thirty Meter Telescope and the technical challenges of the Giant Magellan Telescope.
It’s been nearly two years since scientists announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves, enough time for gravitational wave science to almost become routine. Jeff Foust reviews a book that recounts the efforts to discover such waves and their implications for the future of astronomy.
Over the weekend, Rocket Lab successfully launched its Electron small rocket for the first time, putting three cubesats into orbit. Jeff Foust reports on that milestone launch that puts the company on the vanguard of a rapidly growing part of the space industry, albeit one where the demand for such vehicles remains uncertain.
As the Falcon Heavy near its first launch, what role can the rocket play in new national policy to return to the Moon? Doug Plata argues that the Falcon Heavy is better suited than the Space Launch System for lunar missions, as part of an architecture that makes use of vehicles from other companies and public private partnerships.
Over the last several years a number of Latin American countries have built and launched satellites. W. Alejandro Sanchez provides an update to a 2012 article on the developments countries in the region are making in terms of satellites and space policy.
The US seeks to compete with other countries in space in some arenas, and cooperate in others, but how do you decide what approach to take? Takuya Wakimoto offers an analysis of the space policies of the US and other major spacefaring countries to see where the US can benefit best through cooperation.
Proposals to create an independent “Space Force” within the US military face, among other obstacles, financial challenges. Roger X. Lenard offers a forward-looking approach to the roles of a future Space Force and how they can help support its operations and commercial activities expand beyond Earth orbit.
We know that a Falcon 9 lifted off last week carrying a classified payload known only as Zuma, but what happened to Zuma, and why, remain a mystery. Jeff Foust reports on what is known, and what is speculated, about the mission, and the implications for SpaceX as it begins a big year.
Last week India launched its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for the first time since a failure in August. Ajey Lele explains that this mission did more than demonstrate that the problem that caused the failure had been corrected.
The Moon Treaty, not ratified by major spacefaring nations, has been criticized for its “common heritage of mankind” language. Vidvuds Beldavs argues that modest changes to the treaty could address those concerns while leaving in place a framework for enabling commercial extraction of resources from the Moon and asteroids.
A space policy directive signed last month directs NASA to return humans to the Moon, but how? Gerald Black argues that NASA can’t afford to do it in traditional ways, and needs to instead work in partnership with the private sector.
Spaceports are popping up around the United States and elsewhere, far outpacing the demand from commercial launch companies. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to explain why that’s the case by visiting a number of existing and proposed launch sites.
President Trump signed a directive last month amending national space policy to call for a human return to the Moon. Chris Carberry and Rick Zucker argue that this need not be in conflict with plans for human missions to Mars, provided the administration is willing to back its policy with sufficient funding.
As commercial suborbital vehicles capable of carrying people prepare to enter service, those vehicles offers new opportunities for “ordinary” people to fly into space. John Putman cautions that such opportunities will require people to prepare not just physically but also psychologically.
As spacecraft become more advanced, and probe more distant parts of the solar system, communications becomes a weak link. Jeff Foust reports on how NASA is working on laser communications technologies for Earth science and planetary missions to dramatically increase data rates.
In the concluding part of her interview, Emily Carney talks with Jonathan Ward, co-author of a new book on the Columbia accident investigation, on the recovery effort and comparisons with other NASA human spaceflight accidents.
Innovation is a key buzzword when it comes to NASA initiatives today, but it’s hardly something new for the agency. Jeff Foust reviews a collection of essays that examines efforts from throughout NASA’s history to attempt innovation, often in cooperation with the private sector.
After years of delays, two companies are edging closer to flights of commercial suborbital vehicles carrying people. Jeff Foust reports on those companies’ progress and the effect they will have on the suborbital research field.
Last year was perhaps the most successful in the history of SpaceX, but what will the company do for an encore in 2018? A.J. Mackenzie argues that the company faces new risks in 2018 with the introduction of new vehicles, among other challenges.
Next New Year’s Day, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make a close flyby of a small object, or objects, in the Kuiper Belt. Jeff Foust previews the science, and the technical challenges, of the flyby.
A year ago, a classified US satellite reentered over the South Pacific without any advance warning or other notice by US government agencies. Charles Phillips discusses why, for safety’s sake, the government should provide a warning of such reentries without disclosing the satellite’s mission.
A new book due out this month chronicles the investigation into the Columbia shuttle accident 15 years ago. In the first of a two-part interview, Emily Carney talks with co-author Jonathan Ward about the development of the book and what he learned about the tragedy.
Last week, President Trump signed a space policy directive that formally made a human return to the Moon part of national policy. Jeff Foust reports that, beyond that directive, there are still few details about how and when NASA astronauts will set foot on the Moon.
The decision to end the HEXAGON film-collection spysat program, and not use shuttle capabilities to extend its lifetime, had long-term implications for military operations. Dwayne Day describes how nothing has quite replaced what HEXAGON could do.
Is it time for a distinct subfield of economics devoted to space? Vidvuds Beldavs and Jeffrey Sommers argue that such studies are required to understand if, and how, a self-sustaining space economy can be created.
In the concluding part of his examination of orbital debris and space law, Scott Kerr explores some scenarios for orbital debris incidents in orbit, which can lead to conclusions about liability that might defy expectations.
The author of The Martian, Andy Weir, is back with a tale set on the Moon. Jeff Foust reviews this hard science fiction novel with a central character different in many respects from Mark Watney, but quite similar in other ways.
Black ops and the shuttle (part 3-1): Recovering spent HEXAGON reconnaissance satellites with the space shuttle
One concept quietly studied for military shuttle missions was to recover and refurbish reconnaissance satellites. Dwayne Day examines what’s known about those studies as the national security community moved from film-based to electronic satellites.
Planetary scientists who study Venus were disappointed by the outcome of NASA’s latest Discovery competition, but are doing more than placing all their bets on the ongoing New Frontiers program. Jeff Foust reports on how smallsats may provide a new option for sending missions to the planet.
In the concluding portion of his history of the decision-making process to get humans to the Moon in the Apollo program, Carl Alessi examines how the debate on the various modes came to a head as John Houbolt lobbied for lunar orbit rendezvous.
A growing concern for those who operate satellites is potential damage from space debris, and determining who, if anyone, can be held liable for it. In the first of a two-part paper, Scott Kerr examines some of the legal issues on this subject.
How does the symbiotic relationship between spaceflight and science fiction hold up in an era of increasing commercial ventures and new space applications? Jeff foust reviews a book that combines hard science fiction short stories with essays on topics from low Earth orbit commercialization to exploration of exoplanets.
Companies in the US developing “non-traditional” commercial space missions, like lunar landers of satellite servicing, still face regulatory uncertainty. Jeff Foust reports on how companies, and one government agency, believe that uncertainty should be resolved.
The approach NASA eventually adopted for landing astronauts on the Moon for the Apollo program makes perfect sense in retrospect, but at the dawn of the Space Age had little support. Carl Alessi, in the first of a two-part article, discusses how one engineer faced an uphill battle to win backing for lunar orbit rendezvous.
Luxembourg hosted the first NewSpace Europe conference last month, bringing together European startups, investors, and government officials. Jeff Foust discusses some of the challenges European startups face in this sector and how they compete against American counterparts.
There’s no shortage of space technologies that have been proposed as revolutionary for life on Earth and beyond. Jeff Foust review a book that examines some of those technologies, along with those from other fields, that could “improve and/or ruin everything.”
Despite the large number of small launch vehicle efforts underway globally, the British space industry sees an opportunity to develop and launch such vehicles from the country. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference that discussed some of the vehicles under development and efforts by the British government to support them with funding and regulation.
In the concluding part of his analysis on the benefits and drawbacks of cooperation and competition in space, Cody Knipfer offers some examples of how such efforts would work on projects ranging from human missions to the Moon to greater engagement with China.
Earlier this month XCOR Aerospace filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, bringing a likely end to the suborbital spaceflight company. Jeff Foust reports on the fall of XCOR and its implications for the suborbital industry.
Astronomers have been scanning the sky for more than half a century to look for signals for alien civilizations, without success. Michael Morgan proposes some reasons why that’s the case in a universe that is likely teeming with life.
Scott Kelly went from someone in danger of flunking out of school to becoming a test pilot, astronaut, and holder of the US record for the longest single space mission. Jeff Foust reviews Kelly’s memoir, which tells his life story as well as goes into detail about his nearly one year on the ISS.
When should countries, including the United States, work together with other countries on space projects, and when should they compete against one another? In the first of a two-part examination, Cody Knipfer looks at some of the key factors affecting international cooperation and competition.
Earlier this month, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser successfully completed its second glide flight, this time with a safe landing. Jeff Foust reports on how the company is confident it can press ahead with the vehicle’s development after this latest test.
As the US develops plans for a potential human return to the Moon, what’s the best way to get there? Ajay Kothari discusses how reusable vehicles and on-orbit fueling can deliver cargo to the Moon at a fraction of the cost of a conventional heavy-lift rocket.
The current international legal regime governing spaceflight is struggling to keep up with emerging actors and applications. Anne-Sophie Martin discusses the problem and ways to get those other than countries involved in rulemaking.
The shuttle program may have failed to live up to its cost and flight-rate goals, but it was a versatile vehicle that carried out a wide range of missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines those various roles the shuttle played beyond the assembly of the space space station.
An Orbital ATK Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on Sunday, the rocket’s first flight in more than a year. Jeff Foust reports on the launch and the challenges that medium-class rocket is facing in the launch market.
It’s widely believed that cleaning up orbital debris requires new laws or even international treaties. However, Ram S Jakhu and Md Tanveer Ahmad argue that existing laws give the US the authority it needs to remove orbital debris.
As the National Space Council starts its work, one topic it will likely address is space traffic management. Three authors, in an open letter to the council and its chairman, suggest establishing a new agency to deal with this issue.
Some Mars exploration advocates seen a return to the Moon as an unnecessary detour. Gary Fisher proposes a lunar base that could support future Mars missions and other applications, although in a very unconventional way.
Thomas Paine served only briefly as NASA administrator, but at a key time for the agency as the Apollo Moon landing approached and the agency was planning its post-Apollo future. Jeff Foust reviews a biography of Paine that traces the arc of his career and his interest in long-term planning.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing last week for Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to become NASA administrator. Jeff Foust reports the long hearing featured a lot of criticism of Bridenstine’s views on a wide range of issues far beyond those directly linked to space policy.
“And then on launch day it worked”: Marking the 50th anniversary of the first Saturn V launch (part 2)
The concluding part of a book excerpt recounts the successful launch, 50 years ago this week, of the first Saturn V from the Kennedy Space Center.
While CubeSats are increasingly popular, many satellites that are built and launched don’t function once in orbit. Charles Phillips looks at a few examples of such satellites that malfunctioned to seek common causes.
A path to a commercial orbital debris cleanup, power-beaming, and communications utility, using technology development missions at the ISS
The growing population of orbital debris poses a problem for which there are many potential solutions. Four authors present one such solution, taking advantage of the International Space Station as a testbed to demonstrate their approach that has other applications as well.
Many astronauts have written memoirs about their lives and careers, and some have published books filled with photos they took during their missions. Jeff Foust reviews a book by former astronaut Terry Virts that offers some of both.
United States policy regarding orbital debris has evolved over time, but one issue it has yet to fully deal with is the removal of debris, versus simply limiting its creation. Brian Weeden examines national policy regarding debris and the challenges faced by government and private efforts to remove it from orbit.
“And then on launch day it worked”: Marking the 50th anniversary of the first Saturn V launch (part 1)
To mark the approaching 50th anniversary of the first launch of the Saturn V rocket, a reprint of part of a chapter of a seminal book on the Apollo program by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox about the preparations for that historic flight.
After years of staying on schedule for a 2018 launch, NASA has delayed the James Webb Space Telescope to the spring of 2019. Jeff Foust reports on the issues that led to this delay, as well as challenges facing the next big space telescope after JWST.
The threat of massive disruptions to our technology-dependent way of life caused by solar storms is something that has become increasingly clear in recent years. Robert Coker describes how the US government has, so far, done a good job dealing with this complex problem, but with far more to do to be ready to handle a trillion-dollar storm.
“Space Tapestry” is an artwork 200 meters long depicting various aspects of space exploration, with parts of it on display in two British museums. Jeff Foust reviews a book about that artwork, which includes interviews with scientists, engineers, and other involved with spaceflight.
Last week, Blue Origin announced the successful first hotfire test of its BE-4 engine. Jeff Foust reports on this and other developments as several companies work on new large engines for a variety of new vehicles.
Luxembourg’s law on space resources rests on a contentious relationship with international framework
Luxembourg recently enacted a law that, like in the United States, grants rights to space resources to the companies that obtain them. Philip De Man argues that the law, which had to be revised to win passage, might not be aligned with relevant space treaties.
In the second part of his review of the inaugural meeting of the new National Space Council, Mike Snead examines the session’s civil and commercial space panels, with an emphasis on logistics and safety.
The documentary The Farthest is an elegant story of the Voyager missions to the outer solar system. Emily Carney interviews the film’s director to discuss how it came together.
The ability to observe our planet from space has been transformative for both scientific and cultural reasons. Jeff Foust reviews a book that attempts to take on some of the cultural and ethical aspects of Earth observation.
A perennial struggle for space advocates has been developing rationales for human spaceflight that can be sustained over the long term. Cody Knipfer argues that now is the time to reexamine those arguments, particularly given the rise of commercial human spaceflight.
With a statement by the vice president at the National Space Council meeting, NASA is back in the business of returning humans to the Moon. Jeff Foust reports on what that means for agency plans, including potentially greater roles for international and commercial partners.
When NASA transitioned from the Skylab program to the space shuttle, once piece of Skylab hardware almost found new life. Dwayne Day describes studies on adapting instrument hardware for the shuttle, and how that hardware made its way instead to the National Air and Space Museum.
The first meeting of the National Space Council earlier this month is, to many, a good start for the administration’s focus on space policy. Mike Snead offers some recommendations for the council’s upcoming activities in the first of a two-part report.
It’s been 13 years since the last suborbital flight of SpaceShipOne, and Virgin Galactic is still at least months away from flying people into space on SpaceShipTwo. Jeff Foust examines what company founder Richard Branson had to say about the company’s progress and setbacks in his new autobiography.
Last week the National Space Council held the first meeting since being reestablished earlier this year. Jeff Foust reports on what the council discussed and whether this iteration of the council will be different from its predecessors.
NASA will select several finalists this fall in the competition for the next New Frontiers medium-class planetary science mission. Van Kane examines what is known about the dozen proposals submitted for missions from the Moon to Saturn.
In the conclusion of his two-part history of the first satellite, Asif Siddiqi discusses the events leading up to the launch of Sputnik and the aftermath of its successful mission.
When Elon Musk discussed his revised BFR launch system recently, he disclosed few details about its costs. Sam Dinkin estimates the capital costs and operating costs for the BFR for use for Mars or point-to-point Earth flights.
Throughout its history, NASA has relied on internal and external advisory groups to help direct its programs. Jeff Foust reviews a new book that offers a detailed history of how such groups shaped NASA’s science programs.
This week marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, an event whose impact has been well-chronicled, even though the details of the event itself are far less known. Asif Siddiqi examines the history of Sputnik’s development in the first of a two-part article.
On the same day last week at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, SpaceX and Lockheed Martin offered updates to Mars mission architectures unveiled last year. Jeff Foust reports on the changes, and the distinct differences between the two approaches.
One of the key messages from Elon Musk’s talk at the International Astronautical Congress was his plan to focus exclusively on his BFR rocket in the future. Dick Eagleson ponders some of the implications of that decision for NASA and other companies.
The United States, Luxembourg, and other nations are interested in developing space-based resources. Peter Garretson and Namrata Goswami examine whether India has similar interests and a willingness to back that interest with policy and law.
SpaceX is not the only company pursuing reusable launch vehicles. Antoine Meunier discusses updates Blue Origin and Virgin Orbit offered at a recent conference about their partially reusable, but very different, launch systems under development.
A common theme in space missions is that spacecraft are able to do so much with so little computing power on board. Dwayne Day reflects on what happens when the computing power, and intelligence, of those missions shifts from the ground to future, more capable spacecraft.
October marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Outer Space Treaty, but some are concerned about its long-term viability. Paul Meyer suggests some diplomatic steps that can be taken to support the treaty.
As the world’s space community meets in Australia this week for the International Astronautical Congress, the country’s government made news about plans for a national space agency. Jeff Foust reports on the agency and the limited details offered to date about what that agency will, or could, do.
Interest in redirecting NASA’s human spaceflight plans back to the Moon have some worried about another fight breaking out regarding the Moon versus Mars. Chris Carberry, Joe Cassady, and Rick Zucker argue that there’s room for both, using different approaches.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of the preeminent science communicators in the world, but what more can he say on well-trodden subjects like astrophysics? Jeff Foust reviews a book where Tyson offers brief overviews of some key topics, while not ignoring the bigger picture.
Some in the US and allied nations are increasingly concerned by apparent efforts by the Chinese and Russian governments to engage in provocative actions that could endanger space assets. Jana Robinson proposes a means by which the US deter those attacks without risking an escalation of space warfare.
For the second time in two months, a company showed off a full-scale model of its commercial lunar lander in Washington last week. Jeff Foust reports this comes as companies, NASA, and politicians examine potential roles such efforts might play in a broader effort to return to the Moon and access its resources.
At this year’s EAA AirVenture show in Wisconsin, the past heroes of spaceflight met the future of space transportation. Eric Hedman describes the appear of Blue Origin’s New Shepard at a show that also features a reunion of Apollo astronauts.
The Space Race between the US and USSR provided a means for peaceful competition at a time when the Cold War threatened to turn hot. David Dunlop argues that, today, increased international tensions call for greater cooperation among spacefaring nations.
Programs to track satellites and other objects in Earth orbit using radars and telescopes can be traced back decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history, and underlying technology, of some of those efforts operated out of Lincoln Laboratory.
A key artifact from the Apollo program is not in a museum but instead on the ocean floor. Dwayne Day discusses the history of a famous helicopter used to recover astronauts from several Apollo missions, and why it’s time to retrieve it from the Pacific.
The new National Space Council will include representatives of many government agencies as well as an industry group. Mike Snead says that the council also needs input from citizens to ensure it adopts policies needed to make American a truly spacefaring nation.
As NASA prepares for the end of the Cassini mission, it also spent time last week marking the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager missions, still operating today. Jeff Foust reports on those looks back at the past, as well as planning for future missions for the outer solar system using new and existing spacecraft.
Although the first satellite was launched nearly 60 years ago, no one has emerged as a key strategist yet about military space operations. Joseph T. Page II argues that, for now, one could learn lessons about the NRO has made use of space over those decades.
The Canadian space community is awaiting what new directions, if any, the government might propose for the country’s space program in an upcoming strategy. Jeff Foust reviews a book that looks back at the long history of Canadian space efforts, which involve more than just astronauts and robotic arms.
Russia’s development of new launch vehicles has taken a circuitous path in recent years. Bart Hendrickx provides an update on recent developments, including plans for a new rocket and accelerated development of a heavy-lift launch vehicle.
NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn will end later this month with a plunge into the giant planet’s atmosphere. Jeff Foust examines the mission’s final days and what the spacecraft has accomplished since its beginnings three decades ago.
For the first time in nearly four years, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser test vehicle took to the skies last week above Edwards Air Force Base. Jeff Foust reports on the flight and the company’s continued hopes to one day fly a crewed version of that spacecraft.
Long-duration space travel creates human factors requirements that drive up the size,cost, and complexity of interplanetary spacecraft. Steve Hoeser describes how a form of hibernation, dubbed “biolation,” could mitigate those problems.
At the dawn of the Space Age six decades ago, many Americans relied on a German immigrant for information about space travel—and that person wasn’t Wernher von Braun. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers a biography of Willy Ley, whose books and articles were essential reading in the early years of spaceflight.
The revival of the National Space Council comes at a pivotal time for commercial space efforts in the US and elsewhere. In an open letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Vidvuds Beldavs offers ideas of how the council can support US companies and the broader commercial space industry on some key issues.
Getting frequent and affordable access to space for small satellites has long been a challenge for the space industry. Karl Hoose argues that air-breathing propulsion could provide the technological solution to this problem.
A total solar eclipse last week attracted both hardcore eclipse chasers as well as more casual tourists to a path that stretched across the US. Jeff Foust recounts a road trip to South Carolina to witness the eclipse in a distinctly American setting.
Missile tests by North Korea have generated new attention regarding missile defense capabilities and needs in the US. Taylor Dinerman argues that it means, among other things, developing new space-based systems to better track those missiles.
Astronauts are adventurers, but some are more adventurous than others. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a former astronaut who has flown in space and helped repair the International Space Station, in addition to climbing Mount Everest.
Growing interest in small satellites continues to fuel development of small launch vehicles. Jeff Foust reports on two such efforts, one from a company that appeared all but dead several months ago, and another from a company still keeping a low profile.
Space exploration as religious experience: Evangelical astronauts and the perception of God’s worldview
A number of astronauts have strong religious views, often enhanced by the experience of spaceflight. Deana L. Weibel examines these views and how they compare with the pessimism about space exploration shared by many evangelicals.
One of the highlights of last month’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was a panel discussion involving several Apollo-era astronauts. Eric Hedman recounts what the astronauts said about their missions and their legacy.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have increasingly become known as photographers, taking and tweeting images of the Earth. Jeff Foust reviews a book by a British astronaut that compiles the images he took during his stint on the station.
The new National Space Council will have many options for issues to tackle when it starts its work in the coming weeks. Douglas Loverro argues in an open letter to the council’s incoming executive secretary that it should focus on the policies the US should promote internationally that best serve national needs.
CubeSats have become very popular in recent years as a low-cost platform for many missions, but some have found difficulties using them for certain missions where high reliability is important. Jeff Foust reports on discussions at a recent conference on efforts to improve CubeSat reliability without losing their key benefits.
The best ideas for military tactics can come not from generals but from junior officers and enlisted personnel. Joseph T. Page II describes how tactical decision games, used elsewhere in the US military, could be applied to space.
Passage of space resources laws in the US and Luxembourg have raised questions about whether treaties grant rights for extracted resources to companies or countries. Will Gray argues that those laws can become the basis for an international regime for mining claims off Earth.
One of the most important figures in the history of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been Jill Tarter. Jeff Foust reviews a new biography of Tarter that traces her influence on both SETI and society.
In the late 1970s, the National Reconnaissance Office examined potential roles the space shuttle could play in launching and servicing reconnaissance satellites, or serving as a reconnaissance platform itself. Dwayne Day examines how declassified documents have shed new light on those plans.
With an executive secretary selected, the National Space Council will soon be in operation, but what should it be focusing on? Jeff Foust reports from a recent event where a number of past space policy officials offered their views on the council and its priorities.
As the reconstituted National Space Council prepares to hold its first meeting, some wonder just what it can accomplish. Roger Handberg argues that fiscal constraints and the rise of military and commercial activities may limit its effectiveness.
This year’s EAA AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, had more space-related events than usual. Eric Hedman provides an overview, from the appearance of Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos to an Apollo astronaut reunion.
The International Space Station is the culmination of half a century of space station projects by both the US and the former Soviet Union. Jeff Foust reviews a book that provides a history of those programs, from the cancellation of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory to the completion of the ISS.
As researchers make increasing use of the International Space Station, some wonder what the long-term fate of the station is. Jeff Foust reports that as NASA studies options for a post-2024 ISS transition plan, commercial users want nearer-term certainty about the station’s future.
Space is often said to be inspirational, but what exactly does that mean? Dwayne Day examines how spaceflight, and space-themed science fiction, can inspire different people in different mediums.
Iran launched a rocket last week that it said was a test of a satellite launch vehicle, but which was condemned in the West as a missile test. Ajey Lele argues that Iran’s growing capabilities present the opportunity for peaceful space cooperation, perhaps as a way to dissuade further missile development.
In May, DARPA selected Boeing to develop its Phantom Express vehicle as part of the XS-1 reusable spaceplane project. John Hollaway is unimpressed with this latest effort to try and reduce the cost of getting into space.
Spaceflight in cislunar space as long been a topic of science fiction and other books. Ken Murphy updates an earlier review of such books with several dozen other novels, from the 1950s to the present day.
There has been growing interest in carrying out human lunar missions prior to going to Mars, thinking that will be an easier near-term step. Jeff Foust reports that, despite these discussions, governments and companies alike have found it difficult just getting robotic missions there.
An ongoing topic of discussion and debate at the international level regarding space is its long-term sustainability. Christopher D. Johnson and Victoria Samson provide an update on those discussions that have played out at United Nations meetings in recent months.
Could the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, intended to be a crewed reconnaissance satellite, have also played a role in spacebased astronomy? Joseph T. Page II finds some hints of such an alternative mission in declassified documents.
Advocates of the robotic exploration of Mars have warned of limited funding and plans for later missions needed to carry out Mars sample return. Louis Friedman argues that the focus on sample return, at the expense of other science, has also hurt the program.
The rationales supporting NASA human spaceflight efforts have changed over the decades. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines changing frameworks for supporting it during the shuttle and station programs, and implications for the future.
NASA’s ongoing program for exploring Mars with orbiters and rovers appears, at first glance, to be working well. Jason Callahan and Casey Dreier describe how the program is actually facing serious questions about its future because of funding challenges.
Elon Musk unveiled his plans last September for establishing a permanent human presence on Mars, with a focus on the technical issues of getting people to Mars. Michael Listner examines some of the legal obstacles that such an effort would have to overcome.
With NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission now cancelled, the agency is looking for other ways to demonstrate advanced propulsion technologies like high-power solar electric propulsion. Jeff Foust reports on what concepts NASA is working with industry on that could find eventual use on Mars exploration missions.
Those who remember the Apollo program may be disappointed by the lack of progress in human spaceflight in the decades since. Stephen Kostes sees promise in the growing capabilities available today to enable new, sustainable space applications.
In a little more than a month a total solar eclipse will take place on a path across the United States. Jeff Foust reviews a book that offers background on the history of eclipse observations as well as some advice for seeing one yourself.
The House is scheduled to take up this week a defense authorization bill that includes language establishing a Space Corps within the US Air Force. Mike Snead discusses why it’s important to establish a Space Corps now, leading to a full-fledged Space Force, to protect national interests in space.
As private space capabilities grow, it opens up new possibilities for doing science missions outside of government agencies. Jeff Foust reports on a recent conference that examined the prospects of, the challenges facing, privately-funded space science missions.
NASA announced its newest astronaut class last month with a considerable degree of fanfare. A.J. Mackenzie wonders if that was the case because won’t have much need for hiring more astronauts in the years to come.
Companies planning space resources ventures, and the countries backing them, are running into conflict with countries who see such resources as belonging to all humanity. Kamil Muzyka explores some possible solutions to this argument that can benefit companies and countries alike.
Can a space-themed textbook help students better learn elements of math and science? Steve Rokicki reviews a book that attempts to do just that over the course of a school year.
A month ago, a classified satellite made a series of close approaches to the International Space Station, sparking questions about whether it was coincidental or intentional. Marco Langbroek examines what is known about USA 276 and why it may have passed so close to the station.
Last Friday afternoon, President Trump signed the executive order formally creating the National Space Council. Jeff Foust reports that the establishment of the council still leaves many questions unanswered about what it will do and how it will affect space policy.
A Senate committee has held a series of hearings on commercial space policy issues. Peter Garretson offers some recommendations on what Congress should, and should not, do to promote the development of new space markets.
The idea of space settlement, some have argued, is reminiscent of religion in the idea that it may represent the salvation of humanity. Sylvia Engdahl argues that faith in space colonization isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As difficult as it is for someone to become a professional athlete, being selected as a NASA astronaut is far more difficult. Jeff Foust reviews the memoir of someone who managed to be both drafted by the NFL and selected as a NASA astronaut.
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