Commentary and Blog Posts on Space Topics

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  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Regulating Space, Threats to Critical Infrastructure, Psychedelics: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the need for governance in outer space, why the recent FAA system failure was a wake-up call, the changing policy landscape around psychedelic therapies, and more.

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    U.S. Gun Laws, China's COVID Outbreak, Space in 2050: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on gun policy in America, the myth of America's “Ukraine fatigue,” the COVID outbreak in China, and more.

  • A woman using binoculars to look at the stars, illustration by GeorgePeters/Getty Images

    What Might Space Look Like in 2050?

    It would not take huge technological breakthroughs to make space and space travel a much bigger part of everyday life. Instead, it would take a steady progression of incremental advances—and one development in particular could provide the tipping point.

  • The International Space Station's JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer, August 2022, photo by NASA

    The Calls for More Progress on Space Governance Are Growing Louder

    Space may seem infinite, but the narrow band that hugs the Earth, where satellites and space stations operate, is not. Existing space treaties won't be enough to keep satellites safe, to prevent crowding and collisions, and to preserve the promise of outer space.

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Taiwan, Putin's Holy War, Mining the Moon: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on why China likely won't attack Taiwan anytime soon, Vladimir Putin's “holy war” in Ukraine, why it's time to make rules for space-mining, and more.

  • Illustration of Artemis astronauts on the moon, illustration by NASA

    Governance in Space: Mining the Moon and Beyond

    Without further cooperation and agreement among space powers, multiple, competing governance systems may end up being established, further increasing potential for conflict. The time to address this issue is now, so that the use of deep-space resources contributes to prosperity, security, and freedom on Earth and throughout the solar system.

  • A view of Earth's surface from space, photo by Blue Planet Studio/Adobe Stock

    Why Not Space Mirrors?

    Space mirrors can reflect solar radiation away from Earth, potentially helping to address the effects of climate change. But decisionmakers need more information about this technology to determine if it's a viable option.

  • Signing of Treaty on Outer Space in May, 1964, <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/itupictures/16661050412">photo</a> by United Nations/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

    Reduce Friction in Space by Amending the 1967 Outer Space Treaty

    Space has the potential to be a domain in which current great-power competitions and frictions can be mediated. The international community might consider updating the existing space legal regime to ensure it meets current political, economic, social, and technical challenges.

  • The International Space Station, November 25, 2009, photo by NASA

    Russia's Withdrawal from the ISS: Another Sign of Its Space Decline?

    Russia's threatened exit from the International Space Station could simply be more bluster from Moscow at a time of heightened tension between Russia and the West over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But it also appears to be another signal that Russia's profile in space is in decline, a trend that is likely to continue and that the United States could be preparing for now.

  • Illustration of astronauts on a space colony unloading boxes from a spaceship, photo by CSA-Printstock/Getty Images

    An Alternative Way to Think About Space Regulation

    There are currently no international binding rules that would address growing threats in space. Without more-defined and enforceable rules of war regarding space and space assets, the danger of a destructive conflict in space grows significantly.

  • Photorealistic 3d illustration of a satellite orbiting the Earth, photo by imaginima/Getty Images

    U.S. Decision on ASAT Testing a Positive Step Towards Space Sustainability

    The United States recently committed not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing. This sets an important example others might follow and takes an important first step towards a binding, international ban.

  • Senior policy analyst Sale Lilly reading a science fiction trilogy by Cixin Liu, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

    Where Chinese Science Fiction and RAND History Meet

    Senior policy analyst Sale Lilly read about renowned RAND researcher Bill Mathers in an award-winning Chinese science fiction trilogy—but somehow had never heard of him before.

  • SpaceX Starlink mission, <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/spacex/47926144123/">photo</a> by SpaceX/ <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>

    Satellite Internet Services—Fostering the Dictator's Dilemma?

    The ability to provide relatively low cost internet access outside of government control is both a challenge for authoritarian states and an opportunity for democracies. What are low-altitude, low-latency satellites and why are authoritarian states so concerned?

  • The United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 30, 2020, photo by Frank Michaux/NASA

    Navigating Norms for the New Space Era

    To make better progress on global norms for responsible behavior in space, the U.S. defense and intelligence communities might first consider reaching a consensus among themselves on what these norms should be. Until they reconcile their differences the United States will be less likely be in a position to play a leadership role.

  • 3D rendering of earth with red lines representing communication or weapons, photo by DKosig/Getty Images

    How Joe Biden Can Galvanize Space Diplomacy

    The potential for conflicts to originate in outer space, or for terrestrial conflicts to extend there, has grown with the development of counterspace weapons and the explosion of commercial space activity. But previous efforts to establish norms have had limited results. The Biden administration has an opportunity, working with like-minded allies and partners, to galvanize nascent international efforts.

  • A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Starlink satellites into orbit lifts off from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, October 6, 2020, photo by Space X/Latin America News Agency/Reuters

    How to Avoid a Space Arms Race

    Some 70 countries and multinational organizations own or operate satellites and there are plans for many more. Multilateral cooperative efforts could help set a foundation for the adoption of transparency and confidence measures that offer realistic hope of reducing risks and protecting freedom of access to space for all nations.

  • Astronauts on a planet looking at outer space, illustration by yogysic/Getty Images

    How Accurate Were Predictions for the Future?

    Anticipating the risks and opportunities posed by all kinds of change is a RAND specialty. In 1964, using RAND's now-famous Delphi method, experts pondered topics like medical advancements, space, artificial intelligence, and controlling the weather.

  • A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 6, 2018, photo by Thom Baur/Reuters

    Protecting the U.S. Supply on Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles

    Our recent RAND report on the global heavy lift launch market highlights the potential for a near term shortage of launch vehicles needed to lift U.S. defense and intelligence satellites to orbit. These satellites are the eyes, ears, networks and timekeepers of U.S. armed services, and an inability to launch them in times of need could compromise national security.

  • Three tiny satellites photographed by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station, October 4, 2012, photo by NASA

    Space Safety Coordination: A Norm for All Nations

    As space becomes more congested with satellites, the need for every nation to actively participate in the space safety coordination system grows. Most spacefaring countries participate, but a few countries do not—notably, Russia and China. That creates greater potential for collisions and hazards from debris.

  • A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018

    Our Reliance on Space Tech Means We Should Prepare for the Worst

    Space-enabled connectivity, technology, and services support a diverse array of political, military, and economic activities, many of which modern life on Earth relies upon and which the public often takes for granted. How prepared is global society to deal with the growing reliance on this technology and to mitigate associated risks?

  • Dr. Mae Jemison delivers the Haskins Lecture on Science Policy at RAND's Santa Monica Headquarters on January 23, 2018

    Pursuing the Extraordinary Through Space Exploration

    NASA astronaut Dr. Mae C. Jemison delivered RAND's 2018 Haskins Lecture. She discussed how the pursuit of interstellar travel benefits society, the vital role science plays in our lives, and the importance of continued investment in research and technology.

  • Mert Davies' briefcase in the 1960s

    Mert Davies: All-Star Pioneer of the Cosmos

    Merton Davies spent his early years using satellite imagery to spy on terrestrial targets. His work led to the first successful reconnaissance satellite, Corona. Later, he used deep-space photographs to map the planets in our solar system.

  • An artist's rendering of a refueling depot for deep-space exploration between Earth and the moon

    Mining the Moon for Rocket Fuel to Get Us to Mars

    Students from around the world participated in the 2017 Caltech Space Challenge. They proposed designs of what a lunar launch and supply station for deep space missions might look like, and how it would work.

  • A satellite orbiting Earth

    The Democratization of Space

    A new economic model for outer space must account for lower barriers to entry and the involvement of more and more stakeholders, such as developing countries and start-ups, writes Prof. Bill Welser.

  • NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman works outside the International Space Station's Quest airlock in October 2014

    Don't Worry About Russia Backing Away from Space and WMD Cooperation

    Two symbols of U.S.-Russian cooperation are nearing the end of their life expectancies, the International Space Station and the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. But both stand as remarkable milestones of achievement and reminders of what can be accomplished when nations put aside political differences for the betterment of humanity.

  • Satellite space station

    Space Talk Launches Politics Aside

    Hundreds of guests packed the Cary Grant Theatre at Sony Studios to kick off RAND's Politics Aside event with a discussion on space technology, policy, and leadership. Matt Miller, columnist, author, and radio host moderated the panel, which included Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs; George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman.

  • Yool Kim and other witnesses at the July 16, 2014 joint hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

    Should the U.S. Rely on Russian Rocket Engines?

    One of the two launch vehicles that lift U.S. satellites into orbit depends on a rocket engine made by a company located in Russia. Russia's recent clashes with Ukraine and its claims on the Crimean peninsula have caused friction with the United States and thereby raised questions among U.S. policymakers about the potential for an interruption in the supply of the engines.

  • A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked, 95% of which is orbital debris

    Debris Poses Increased Threat to Exploration

    Every satellite launch and maneuver is carefully coordinated because some orbits are strewn with the space-based equivalent of blown tires, abandoned vehicles, loose gravel and, of course, other traffic. Earth's orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of debris objects.

  • space launch

    A Public-Private Model for Funding Space Missions

    The future of manned space flight, including missions to Mars and other deep space destinations, will likely depend on the combined resources of governments and commercial enterprises, say Dave Baiocchi and William Welser.

  • The International Space Station

    Kill the Space Launch System to Save Human Spaceflight

    Even in the face of a budgetary spending cap and the ever-looming possibility of new cuts, NASA continues investing in a robust and diverse human spaceflight program. But with fiscal uncertainty expected to continue, it should consider reordering its spending priorities.

  • space

    Satellite Collision Is a Reminder of Challenges Posed by Space Debris

    Solving the problem of space debris isn't going to be easy because, like spilled petroleum products, debris can spend years lurking in an environment that is foreign to most people's daily lives, write Dave Baiocchi and William Welser.

  • Meteorite and the Earth

    The Effects of Celestial Events Go Beyond Their Impact

    While the event in Russia was caused by a medium-sized (10,000-ton) meteor, larger objects, like the asteroid 2012 DA14 that also passed near Earth last week, have the potential to be significantly more damaging, write Dave Baiocchi and William Welser.

  • A United Launch Alliance Delta IV-Medium rocket carrying the fourth Wideband Global SATCOM satellite

    Intelsat Crash a Setback for Space Lift Competition

    Sea Launch's recent failure means more than just a lost payload and revenue for Intelsat: It means the status quo for launch services will continue for a while longer, write Dave Baiocchi and William Welser.

  • Commentary

    Space: The Final Junkyard?

    Celestial real estate is increasingly popular. All in all more than 900 satellites, along with tens of thousands of bits of man-made space detritus, jockey for elbow room overhead. The result: a growing threat our atmosphere will soon become so crowded with floating junk as to become almost unusable, write Caroline Reilly and Peter D. Zimmerman.