Spacecraft Design

China’s MarsBirds tap America’s Ingenuity

By Paul Marks

May 1, 2024

Spaceflight labs in China have devised concepts for Martian rotorcraft, including a quadcopter and an octocopter capable of scouting terrain and gathering samples. The designs could figure into whether China beats the U.S. in the quest to be first to deliver bits of Mars to Earth. Paul Marks analyzed the scientific papers.

A new shape for small spacecraft

By Paul Marks

March 1, 2024

Paul Marks looks at the origin and promise of DiskSats, the flat, circular satellite format that’s edging its way toward reality.

Bolder than Webb? ‘You’ll never know unless you go!’

January 1, 2024

NASA and its partners should draw on the success of the James Webb Space Telescope, recent bold thinking in astrophysics observatory architectures, and utilization of the latest commercial space practices to reduce cost and schedule while increasing scientific return of the next U.S. Great Observatory. Former NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin makes the case.

250 grams of our history

By Keith Button

September 1, 2023

A lot can go wrong when you’re trying to collect matter from deep space and bring it home. Your spacecraft could crash-land on its target, as a Japanese spacecraft did in 2005. Your capsule’s parachute could fail and the capsule could slam into the ground, breaking into thousands of pieces, as a NASA capsule did in 2004. Keith Button spoke to the team that aims to deliver bits of the asteroid Bennu home on Sept. 24 without any drama.

Constellation architect

By Debra Werner

April 1, 2023

David Voss, director of the U.S. Space Force's Spectrum Warfare Center of Excellence

Normalizing satellite servicing

By Karen Kwon

April 1, 2023

Companies in the U.S. and abroad have big plans to extend the lives of existing multimillion-dollar geosynchronous satellites and equip new ones from the start for servicing. Standardization and regulatory bodies are figuring out how to make servicing a normal part of business. Karen Kwon has the story.

Nuclear rocket redux

By Jon Kelvey

January 3, 2023

The United States has had multiple dalliances over the decades with in-space nuclear propulsion. The latest resurgence of interest is happening right now, driven by the desire to settle the moon and get humans to Mars. Jon Kelvey looks at the odds of success this time around.

The right stuff for rocket joints

By Keith Button

January 1, 2022

The next version of NASA’s expendable Space Launch System rockets will likely rely on adhesive film rather than metal fixtures to join sections of composite in parts of the structure. Keith Button tells us how engineers earned the trust of designers to incorporate the technique into rockets that will carry astronauts.