In this issue: space traffic to net-zero, with lunar paving in between
By Ben Iannotta|November 2023
Our cover story, “Mastering space traffic management,” shows just how complicated it’s going to be to commercialize space traffic management through the U.S. Office of Space Commerce. The article gives insight into the thorough planning that’s going into making this transition from what is today a Space Force responsibility to a mainly civilian responsibility. As you’ll see in the story, the industry is not entirely united around every aspect of the transition plan, but that’s not a weakness. Speaking up is likely to make the transition stronger. On a related topic, this month’s Jahniverse column, “Occupation, even in orbit, is colonialism,” draws on current organizational mission statements and history to make the case that Earth orbit should not be available only to the strongest nations and corporations.
On the topic of cleaner air travel, a signal emerging through our reporting, including in this issue, is that achieving a net-zero carbon footprint by 2050 is going to be difficult given the development and certification timelines for new aircraft and the need to vastly increase the supply of sustainable aviation fuels derived from renewable bio products. What is the best shot for achieving net-zero by that date? Well, the world’s two leading airliner manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, have diametrically opposed views about that. In this issue, we take you “Inside Boeing’s net-zero vision,” which centers on aerodynamic innovations, more fuel-efficient engines and a transition to sustainable aviation fuels. Those following along will recall that in the September issue, “A Manhattan Project for the Climate,” we dug into the technical and resource challenges of developing hydrogen-powered aircraft, a strategy that’s at the heart of Airbus’ vision. We are going to stay tuned on this one and the feasibility of the 2050 goal.
Speaking of aerodynamic and propulsion innovations, we also set out to learn whether there is any softening of NASA’s faith in X-planes and demonstration aircraft, given that it has yet to fly any since announcing in 2016 what was then known as the New Aviation Horizons Initiative. In “NASA stands by its X-planes,” I think you’ll see a transparent NASA articulating the value it still sees in such efforts and explaining why it’s been challenging to get flying.
On military matters, this month’s Engineering Notebook article, “Up next in commercialization: Hypersonic testing,” takes us inside Stratolaunch’s planning to become a testing service provider. I do mean “inside” literally. Our staff writer, Paul Brinkmann, visited Mojave while in the area to cover an air taxi event, and our contributor Keith Button dove into the technology side remotely.
Let’s not forget about the moon. We came up with our “R&D” mini-feature page to look at far-reaching ideas for which hands-on research is underway. “Paving the moon” is a good example.
Overall, this issue of the magazine represents a breadth of coverage we strive to achieve each month.