Can you ID these cities from space? If so, NASA needs your help.

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NASA is learning to make cameras and telescopes from 3D-printed parts!

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NASA has tested a microwave thruster that seemingly violates the law of conservation of momentum… and yet they think it works.

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Months ago, the Russian government asked me to head a panel on spaceflight at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (watch it here). But that was before the crisis in Ukraine, which changed relations between spacefaring companies and nations drastically. The theme of the forum was “A World in Transition,” and as we’ve seen as the diplomatic crisis continues, that includes the way spacefaring nations cooperate in space. The way things are going, NASA may be left out in the cold.

President Vladimir Putin warned the United States of a “boomerang effect” of sanctions against Russia, and the space panel seemed to make his point. Following American sanctions against Russia, NASA has halted much of its cooperation with the country, and hundreds of executives of U.S. companies sat out the forum this year. In SpaceX’s place, tellingly, was Susmita Mohanty, the CEO of Earth2Orbit, an Indian private space startup. The new Indian government is keen on building Russian relations. I was the only American on the panel—and in the room.

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Are U.S. Sanctions Isolating NASA Instead of Russia?

If all goes according to plan, Hamid Hemmati’s plan will fall flat. Hemmati is the project lead on the Two Dimensional Planetary Surface Landers, a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project that is in the planning stages. These flat probes would resemble solar panels, but with a flexible electronic body. Each lander would be less than a half inch thick and just over three feet on each side—small enough you could stack 10 to an orbiter. Sensors on board the probe would scan the terrain of a moon or planet below, giving insight into places no NASA lander has dared go. And then these two-dimensional explorers could deploy to the surface, providing a cheap way to reach some of the most difficult terrain in the solar system. 


"The most geologically interesting places are also the most hazardous to land," Hemmati says, "so typically NASA and ESA [the European Space Agency] don’t dare go to these places, because it doesn’t look good if you lose a half a billion dollar lander." 


Cosmic Concept: Exploring the Solar System With a Fleet of Flat Landers

If all goes according to plan, Hamid Hemmati’s plan will fall flat. 

Hemmati is the project lead on the Two Dimensional Planetary Surface Landers, a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) project that is in the planning stages. These flat probes would resemble solar panels, but with a flexible electronic body. Each lander would be less than a half inch thick and just over three feet on each side—small enough you could stack 10 to an orbiter. Sensors on board the probe would scan the terrain of a moon or planet below, giving insight into places no NASA lander has dared go. And then these two-dimensional explorers could deploy to the surface, providing a cheap way to reach some of the most difficult terrain in the solar system. 

"The most geologically interesting places are also the most hazardous to land," Hemmati says, "so typically NASA and ESA [the European Space Agency] don’t dare go to these places, because it doesn’t look good if you lose a half a billion dollar lander." 

Cosmic Concept: Exploring the Solar System With a Fleet of Flat Landers

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In the future of commercial space travel, will there be multiple major providers or one top dog?

A: [It depends] on the decision that the government makes in August. There are three competitors who are in a fairly mature state of design. [Editor’s note: Those three are Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada.] So you’re looking likely at one or perhaps two or perhaps all three being given a substantial amount of money to go and mature their systems even further. The thinking on the street right now is that there’s going to be one and a half or two full awards. Two full awards is easy to understand. The government would underwrite the development of two contractors all the way through to demonstrated human spaceflight to low earth orbit.

Now the next question is: [If] Boeing doesn’t get an award, what is it going to do? I’ll just give you the answer. The truth is, Boeing doesn’t know. The government’s portion of the investment is pretty substantial. Without that, we would have to raise that capital from private sources.

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Boeing’s Game of Wait-And-See With NASA 

The Obama Administration wants to play tough with the Russian government over its invasion of Crimea by imposing sanctions targeting the assets of key Russian officials. But Russia has struck back by squeezing the place where it has great leverage over the United States—the space program. 

Following his earlier suggestion that NASA astronauts use a trampoline to reach the International Space Station, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, one of the officials targeted by U.S. sanctions, upped the ante this week. He announced via his English-language Twitter feed that the Russian space agency has no plans to continue cooperating with NASA on the ISS after its current obligation expires in 2020. He also said Russia would stop shipments of its RD-180 rocket engines, and as we’ve noted before, the U.S. relies on these engines for military space launches. 


How Badly Can Russia Put the Squeeze on NASA?

The Obama Administration wants to play tough with the Russian government over its invasion of Crimea by imposing sanctions targeting the assets of key Russian officials. But Russia has struck back by squeezing the place where it has great leverage over the United States—the space program. 

Following his earlier suggestion that NASA astronauts use a trampoline to reach the International Space Station, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, one of the officials targeted by U.S. sanctions, upped the ante this week. He announced via his English-language Twitter feed that the Russian space agency has no plans to continue cooperating with NASA on the ISS after its current obligation expires in 2020. He also said Russia would stop shipments of its RD-180 rocket engines, and as we’ve noted before, the U.S. relies on these engines for military space launches. 

How Badly Can Russia Put the Squeeze on NASA?

Bigelow Aerospace vice president Jay Ingham tells PM how inflatable space habitats will transform low Earth orbit, starting with an inflatable space station module called BEAM that is slated to dock with the ISS in 2015.


How Soon Can We Check in to a Space Hotel?

Bigelow Aerospace vice president Jay Ingham tells PM how inflatable space habitats will transform low Earth orbit, starting with an inflatable space station module called BEAM that is slated to dock with the ISS in 2015.

How Soon Can We Check in to a Space Hotel?

Veteran astronaut and Popular Mechanics contributor Tom Jones tells us what to expect from a next-generation space suit that astronauts could wear to destinations beyond Earth orbit.

How an Astronaut Would Build NASA’s Next Space Suit