Archive for December, 2017


Held on December 1-2, the Reagan National Defense Forum included a panel discussion titled: Space Wars – Are we Prepared for the Next Domain of Warfare? Discussion was geared to evaluate whether the U.S. has the strategy, capacity, and know-how to prevail in space.

This gathering was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.


  • Hon. Kari Bingen, Acting Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence)
  • Ms. Leanne Caret, President and CEO of Defense, Space, & Security, The Boeing Company
  • Gen. John Hyten, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command
  • Congressman Mike Rogers, U.S. House of Representatives, Alabama
  • Hon. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force

Moderator:  David Martin, CBS News

To view this highly informative discussion, go to:




I am very excited to learn that my book – Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet – will be available in Chinese and published there in July of 2018.

The volume has already been translated into Portuguese, Greek, German, Japanese, Italian and Dutch.


International outreach

Here are some links for our international readers to my book Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet in these languages:

The book is also available in Greek. We will post that direct link when we have it.
If you want to read these international websites in English, your browser should have a clickable link to translate them for you.

TV series

As the companion book to the televised season 2 of Mars on the National Geographic Channel, take a look at the upcoming six-episode season of the National Geographic global sci-fi hybrid scripted/unscripted series slated to premiere in the spring of 2018 here:

There are special holiday prices for the book via National Geographic by going to:

Hyped up about hypersonics? New study offers worrisome findings.
Credit: RAND


The development of commercial suborbital space vehicles could lead eventually to businesses such as commercial hypersonic point-to-point air travel and low-cost launches to low Earth orbit.

But could this prospect be stymied by military applications of this technology?

RAND researchers offer an overview of their key findings on hypersonic missiles — a new class of military threat capable of maneuvering and flying faster than 5,000 kilometers per hour.

This new report describes how speed and maneuverability enable such missiles to penetrate most missile defenses, and further compress the timelines for a response by a nation under attack.

Trigger-happy technology?

The study suggests the proliferation of hypersonic missiles is an emerging threat. For one, these high-speed weapons can compress the response time for a nation under attack. In some cases, decisions would need to be made in six minutes and give nations an incentive to become trigger-happy. World powers can take steps to prevent proliferation, but the window to act is tight, the RAND report adds.

This research, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York for its project Disruptive Technologies and the Future of Deterrence, suggests that there is probably less than a decade available to substantially hinder the potential proliferation of hypersonic missiles and associated technologies.


To read the RAND report — Hypersonic Missile Nonproliferation: Hindering the Spread of a New Class of Weapons, go to:

Also go to this informative video:

Reality check: Point-to-pointless travel? Credit: Adobe Stock via CSIS


There is increasing interest in hurling people and cargo around the Earth, arriving at any location on the planet within 30 to 45 minutes.

For one, that’s just enough time to open that impenetrable package of peanuts typically dispensed on airliners today.


Grand dreams

Recently, SpaceX’s Elon Musk served up a good helping of his vision for suborbital transportation.

Credit: SpaceX

But Musk’s vision isn’t the first to fly, points out Kaitlyn Johnson, a research associate with the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. “Many are skeptical of its fruition, having heard these grand dreams before,” she explains.

X-30: This joint effort by NASA, the Department of Defense, and five major contractors explored development of technologies for a new generation of aerospace vehicles for hypersonic cruise in the atmosphere or single-stage-to-orbit using air breathing primary propulsion and horizontal takeoff and landing. A full-scale aircraft was never built as Congress ended funding in 1994, cancelling the program to build a vehicle to fly at Mach 25.
Credit: Rockwell/NASA





However, with the advent of suborbital transportation technologies, Johnson adds, “the U.S. Government should further work with industry to begin developing the regulations and standards necessary for such activities.”




Check out Johnson’s review of the promise of rapid transportation around the planet — Around the World in 60 Minutes (Or Less!) – by clicking on:

Also, check out this video at:

Space rock slips by Earth.
Courtesy: Texas A&M


Several new initiatives are underway to better catalog asteroids and their potential to strike the Earth.

Headquartered in California’s Silicon Valley, the B612 organization is dedicated to protecting Earth from asteroid impacts.

Earlier this year, the organization created the Asteroid Institute with team members busy at work on hardware, new technologies, and applications intended to help accelerate knowledge and understanding of asteroids.

Cloud platform

One of those efforts is building on the Asteroid Decision Analysis Machine (ADAM) Cloud Platform. “The ADAM project will provide a cloud-based infrastructure for large-scale orbital dynamics and related computations that will enable the science, policy, and business community to better understand and make sense of opportunities and threats coming from the asteroids in the solar system,” explains Danica Remy, President of the B612 Foundation.

ADAM is a project of the Asteroid Institute, and in layman’s terms, the ADAM project is building the application and interface layer to access and make sense of the data comprising the asteroid map. A map is more than just a collection of data. For it to be truly useful, the data must be presented in a way that allows us to see the relationship amongst the elements and to calculate quantities of interest — for instance, a map of the probability distribution that a certain asteroid will impact the Earth on a particular date.

The ADAM project will allow researchers worldwide to build applications that make use of the data in the asteroid map.

Credit: ESA – P.Carril

Data pipeline

The Asteroid Institute’s Executive Director is former astronaut, Ed Lu and co-Founder, B612.

“Recently recruited Asteroid Institute researchers will be based at the Data Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology Center (DIRAC) and the Department of Astronomy at the University of Washington, “ Lu adds.

“Our work includes collaboration with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) working on the asteroid data pipeline, the Asteroid Decision Analysis Machine (ADAM), further development of synthetic tracking to improve our ability to discover small asteroids, and analysis of a future satellite constellation for detecting and tracking asteroids,” Lu says.

Satellite constellation under study

The B612 Asteroid Institute is also investigating the use of a constellation of small — under-100-kilogram — satellites in solar orbit to provide a catalog of the majority of smaller asteroids.

“The threat from even 30-meter objects is important enough to influence the development of future surveys. The nearly 100x increase in the number of objects compared to 140-meter size and larger requires new survey techniques to achieve a high level of completeness, “explains Harold Reitsema, Asteroid Institute Mission Director and leading the effort to develop methods to improve the rate of discovery of near-Earth asteroids.

Credit: B612


In a recent report on this concept, Reitsema says that the satellites will perform on-board computation to identify and measure the motions of all near Earth Objects (NEOs) in an image, allowing them to communicate their findings to Earth using existing low-cost telecom equipment.

“We are currently working on the design of a proof-of-concept satellite that will fly in low Earth orbit to demonstrate the on-board ability while also sending all data to the ground for building confidence in the performance of the automated system,” Reitsema adds.

To review the B612 Foundation’s recently released progress report for 2017, go to:

Credit: The Aerospace Corporation

The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) is sponsoring a “live on green event” guessing game. Entrants can compete for Aerospace swag with the closest estimate to the actual reentry date and time of China’s Tiangong-1 space lab.

Launched in late September of 2011, Tiangong-1’s uncontrolled reentry is currently predicted to be around mid-March of 2018 – plus or minus two weeks. This forecast was performed by The Aerospace Corporation on December 19, 2017.

Artist’s concept of the Tiangong-1 in Earth orbit.
Credit: CMSA

Crewed lab

Tiangong-1 is the first space station built and launched by China. It was designed to be a crewed lab as well as an experiment/demonstration for the larger, multiple-module space station.

The first Chinese orbital docking occurred between Tiangong-1 and an unpiloted Shenzhou spacecraft on November 2, 2011. Two piloted missions were completed to visit Tiangong-1: Shenzhou 9 in June 2012 and Shenzhou 10 in June 2013.

Docking of China’s Shenzhou 10 spacecraft with the Tiangong-1 space station June 13, 2013.
Credit: CCTV


There are two modules that compose Tiangong-1: A habitable experimental module and a resources module. It has a habitable volume of 15 cubic meters and is equipped with sleep stations for astronauts.

The space lab’s mass at launch was over 9 tons (18,740 pounds; 8,500 kilograms).

Tiangong-1’s length is 34 feet (10.5 meters) and sports a diameter of 11 feet (3.4 meters) It is outfitted with two solar panels that are roughly 7 meters by 3 meters.

Credit: CORDS

Where on Earth?

On March 21, 2016, an official Chinese statement declared that telemetry services with Tiangong-1 had ceased.

Based on The Aerospace Corporation’s analysis of Two-Line Element set data from the U.S. military’s Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC), the last orbital adjustment for Tiangong-1 was made in December 2015.

As to where on Earth Tiangong-1’s will reenter, that’s an unknown. But given the spacecraft’s inclination, this object will reenter somewhere between 43° North and 43° South latitudes.

Experts at the European Space Agency (ESA) will host an international campaign to monitor the reentry of the Tiangong-1, conducted by the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

Owing to the Chinese station’s mass and construction materials, there is a distinct possibility that some portions of Tiangong-1 will survive and reach the surface, according to an ESA statement.

Credit: CORDS


Given its size, and possible fragments reaching the Earth, are there hazardous materials on board?

According to The Aerospace Corporation’s CORDS: “Potentially, there may be a highly toxic and corrosive substance called hydrazine on board the spacecraft that could survive reentry. For your safety, do not touch any debris you may find on the ground nor inhale vapors it may emit.”

Working group

In a December 8 communiqué from the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations (Vienna), China has made note of the upcoming re-entry into the atmosphere of Tiangong-1.

“China attaches great importance to the re-entry of Tiangong-1. For this purpose, China has set up a special working group, made relevant emergency preparedness plans and been working closely with its follow-up tracking, monitoring, forecasting and relevant analyzing,” the communiqué explains.

Until November 26, Tiangong-1 had been orbiting at an average altitude of 184 miles (296.0 kilometers), circling Earth at an inclination of 42.65 degrees, explains the update.

Structural integrity

“Currently, it has maintained its structural integrity with stabilized attitude control,” the communiqué adds. “According to the latest forecast, its re-entry is expected between the first 10 days of February and the last 10 days of March 2018.”

Tiangong-1 uses methylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide as its engine fuel.

“Based on analysis, the remaining small amount of fuel will be burned and destroyed along with its structural components during the course of re-entry and will therefore not cause any damage on the ground,” adds the communiqué. “China will continue to closely track and monitor the operation of Tiangong-1 and will regularly publish relevant information through the website of the China Manned Space Engineering Programme ( as well as other relevant Media,” concludes the notification.

Credit: CORDS

Win booty

To take part in the CORDS  “high stakes” guessing game, please note that you must be over the age of 13, and by submitting an entry you are signing up to receive other news and information from The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.

Enter your information for a chance to win some Aerospace booty with the closest guess to the actual reentry date and time of China’s Tiangong-1.

Submit your guess by going to:

Background info

For more information on Tiangong-1’s reentry, please go to:

China’s Tiangong-1 Space Lab: Preparations for Uncontrolled Re-entry

International Campaign to Monitor Fall of China Space Lab

China’s Fall Guy – the “Heavenly Palace” Reentry

And for an older story of mine, back in June 2016, China’s Heavenly Palace – Headed for a Hellish Demise?, go to:


Credit: Space Legaltech

Space Legaltech is a free and impressive legal research platform dedicated to space law.

This innovation, created by the Space Institute for Researches on Innovative Uses of Satellites (SIRIUS Chair) provides access to all spatial laws and regulations around the world through an interactive map: laws, decrees, ordinances, authorization, launch, registration, control of space objects and security, etc.

Working tool

With nearly 100 countries represented, 250 legal texts referenced and 7 major spatial agencies analyzed, Space Legaltech is a working tool for the legal community wishing to follow more closely the evolutions and trends of space activity in the world.

Space Legaltech publishes different infographics to explain the national space law legislation in a visual and easy way. You can watch and download infographics of UK, France, US, Chinese, Canadian, Brazilian and Russian national space regulation.

Credit: Space Legaltech

Legal framework

The website is geared to several themes, such as:

  • Learn more about how states deal with space activities
  • Understand the hierarchy of the legal framework
  • Discover states’ space agencies
  • Find out how regulation is applied by national space agency
  • Grasp the legislation’s reach
  • Follow the evolution of space legislation

To tap into this informative space law tool, go to:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B image taken on Sol 1914, December 24, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 1912, December 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now in Sol 1915, continuing its study of the Vera Rubin Ridge.

Some recent imagery from the robot shows the landscape being studied:

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 1914, December 24, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Curiosity Mastcam Left mage taken on Sol 1912, December 22, 2017.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



A recently completed economic analysis of space transportation supplied from near-Earth object (NEO) resources demonstrates “the potential to break the tyranny of increasing space transportation costs” created by dependence on Earth-based resources, particularly propellant.

Joel Sercel, Founder and Principal Engineer of TransAstra Corporation, authored the analysis, done under a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program Phase I economic research for space development grant.

Apis spacecraft and architecture overview.
Credit: TransAstra

Unaffordable ambitions

“The increasing challenges of space exploration, particularly by humans, rapidly become unaffordable if only Earth-based resources are available” the appraisal states. “NASA’s ambitions in the area of deep space human exploration are not projected to be affordable within a realistic budget (currently close to $20B/yr in 2017 dollars) without fundamental change,” the report notes.

Outlined in the Sercel report is use of an Asteroid-Provided In-Situ Supplies (Apis™) spacecraft to extract resources from near Earth objects (NEOs) and the creation of a space-based transportation infrastructure, including a crewed lunar outpost in an energetically advantageous lunar orbit for storage and propellant processing along with reusable spacecraft for transport purposes.

Honey Bee Robotic asteroid capture for ISRU resource return, as viewed in this artist’s conception.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation

Business case

Space resources can be utilized to support crewed lunar surface exploration, crewed NEO exploration, crewed Mars missions, and even space tourism. This analysis further suggests that with relatively modest initial government investment, a business case can be developed for a profitable industry in space resources.


Fundamental changes

The report suggests that two fundamental changes can enable an exciting program of human exploration that includes a deep space orbital outpost, a lunar surface outpost, a rich program of human exploration of Near Earth Asteroids, and multiple human missions to the Mars system which includes an orbital outpost and landed surface missions.

Propellant depot and outpost configuration.
Credit: TransAstra Corporation

These changes are:

  • A large scale shift in implementation strategy focused on a Public Private Partnership to capitalize on private sector best practices for cost effective development, and
  • The use of asteroid In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) for all in-space transportation beyond low Earth orbit capitalizing on a propellant depot near the top of the Earth-Moon gravity well.


To view the final report — Stepping Stones: Economic Analysis of Space Transportation Supplied from NEO Resources — go to:

Also, go to the TransAstra Corporation website at:

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.


China is pressing forward on its Chang’e-4 lunar probe, to be launched in the latter half of next year. The spacecraft will attempt the first ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon.

As prelude to the mission, China is set to launch a relay satellite in the first half of 2018. This communications relay craft will be positioned at the Earth-Moon (E-M) Lagrangian 2 (L2) point, as reported by the State-run Xinhua news service.

Earth-Moon L2 relay link.
Credit: CNSA


Earth-Moon link

This E-M L2 locale makes possible linkage between Earth controllers and the Chang’e-4 lander and rover on the Moon’s far side.

Meanwhile, China is soliciting 20,000 messages that will be sent into space via the relay satellite. According to Xinhua, “people all over the world can follow the WeChat account “slecbj” to submit their wishes from Dec. 19, 2017, to March 6, 2018.