Spacecraft Propulsion

Competing visions

By Jon Kelvey

April 1, 2024

NASA and DARPA think nuclear thermal propulsion could be the best way to get humans to Mars. Elon Musk is keeping his faith in the brute force of burning hydrocarbons. Who is right? It turns out either could work, but there are a lot of “ifs” for both strategies. Jon Kelvey has the analysis.

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 stakes of reusability

By Ben Iannotta and Cat Hofacker

May 1, 2021

The space frontier can’t be settled with throwaway rockets and spacecraft. Last month’s Crew-2 mission to the space station showed that it’s possible to re-fly components on missions with people aboard, but the flight also illuminated the great care that SpaceX and NASA had to take to achieve this first. Refinements in processes will be needed to achieve longer-term cost savings without adding unacceptable risk. Ben Iannotta and Cat Hofacker report.

Servicing revolution

May 31, 2018

Thirty-five thousand kilometers is a long way up, and that’s the home of nearly 400 satellites that do anything from sending and receiving telephone, internet and television signals to spotting missile launches. Today, those satellites can’t be repaired, upgraded, refueled or rescued if their propulsion fails.

Market disruptor

By Debra Werner

September 28, 2017

Space station experiment may reveal future for satellite solar arrays

Satellite envy

By Keith Button

September 28, 2017

A deep look at one company's plan to go up against satellites with stratospheric balloons

Recycling rockets

By Irene Klotz

August 31, 2017

What it will take for reusable rockets to revolutionize access to space

Dancing cubesats

By Debra Werner

June 27, 2017

Coming up with best means of squeezing propulsion into a tiny package

Green propellant

By Keith Button

March 6, 2017

Experiment could move industry away from longtime propellant

The art of timeliness

By Ben Iannotta

February 9, 2017

A revolutionary weather satellite and the AIAA presidential election

Mission: Fission

By Adam Hadhazy

October 18, 2016

NASA’s nuclear energy strategy faces its most ambitious test in 2017