Space safety

Mastering space traffic management

By Jon Kelvey

November 1, 2023

The U.S. Office of Space Commerce is facing a deadline of late 2024 to have in place the initial software and people to take over tracking of debris and civilian spacecraft from the military. Is OSC moving fast enough? Jon Kelvey tells the story.

The harshest reality

By Jon Kelvey

April 1, 2023

Hardly a day goes by without a space visionary somewhere promising to expand humanity into outer space for good, and billions of dollars are being spent in the belief that this is possible. Among the challenges lies one that is most fundamental: Our human biology cannot survive the radiation for long. Jon Kelvey looks at a possible solution that is struggling for funding.

Inflatable heat shields: How to generate the needed gas

By Keith Button

January 3, 2023

Today, returning payloads to Earth or delivering them to Mars means facing the tyranny of the rocket shroud. Payloads must be protected by rigid heat shields, and this reality limits their mass, since heavier payloads need wider shields, but the shield must fit in the shroud. What if a shield could be inflated in space? A November test by NASA pointed the way, but the mission left a key challenge to be addressed. Keith Button tells the story.

What pilots and sea captains can teach us about collision avoidance in space

October 1, 2022

Spacecraft owners and operators are showing fresh determination to devise a traffic management scheme that can avoid the historic disruptions to our daily lives that a collision in space could produce. To find solutions, the industry needs to look beyond itself. Kerry Buckley and Tim Gruber of the MITRE Corp. explain.

Calls grow for a safer Mars Sample Return

By Paul Marks

June 1, 2022

In 2033, NASA and the European Space Agency want to robotically bring home rock and soil samples from Mars. In recent public consultations, however, some suggest diverting samples to a space station or a lunar base to avoid any contamination risk to Earth. Can it work? Paul Marks investigates.

Active debris removal rule No. 1 must be “do no harm”

April 1, 2022

Space junk poses an existential threat to ambitious proposals to surround Earth with habitats, factories and vast constellations of satellites. What if the most dangerous debris could be grabbed and hauled out of orbit? Kerry Buckley of the MITRE Corp. offers safety advice for those who want to prove it can be done.

Hope for solving space debris

By Jonathan O'Callaghan

April 1, 2022

After decades of spaceflight, Earth orbit resembles the Wild West mixed with a demolition derby. Traditions rather than laws govern behaviors, and every now and then a frightening crash litters the track. Our modern lives, the safety of astronauts, space adventurers and the security of the free world depend heavily on this poorly managed domain. Can a brighter future be forged? Jonathan O’Callaghan found reasons for hope.

Act now, before we’re trapped on Earth

January 1, 2022

Human society is on the cusp of expanding into space and improving lives on Earth through a host of space-derived innovations. Threatening this revolution is the limited ability of corporations and governments around the world to manage their space traffic and avoid collisions. Kerry Buckley of the MITRE Corporation analyzes the problem and offers solutions.

Preventing a bad day for SLS

By Keith Button

November 1, 2021

High up the stack of NASA’s first Space Launch System rocket is a component that will play a critical role in proving the rocket’s safety during the upcoming Artemis I mission. This is its story as told by Keith Button.