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How the Ansari X Prize Altered the Trajectory of Human Spaceflight

SpaceShipOne in her new home in the National Air and Space Museum. (Credit: Ad Meskens via Wikimedia Commons)

Looking up into the bright Mojave sky in 2004, I strained to keep my eyes on the tiny spaceship 50,000 feet up. “Three, two, one… release, release, release!” came the call over the loudspeakers. I held my breath as I watched the rocket motor ignite and the spaceship ascend on a plume of fire with [...]

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Crash Analysis: How SpaceShipTwo’s Feathered Tails Work


The cause of the deadly crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo on Friday remains unknown, but the commercial spaceplane’s feathered reentry system looks to have been involved. Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the vehicle’s copilot moved a lever to “unlock” the feather system earlier than planned, and two seconds after the [...]

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While NASA Idles, Commercial Space Revs Up

SpaceShipTwo test flight

NASA may have lost the urgency of its 1960s moon race years, but today’s commercial space sector looks to be recapturing some of that fervor. The various players in America’s private space race were out in force at an event on Friday, May 2 at New York City’s historic Explorer’s Club, each one promising major [...]

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Commercial Spaceflight Industry Drifts Back to Earth

SpaceX launch of Dragon 9

As the brash, stylish new kid on the block, SpaceX was sure to win its share of admirers. But last week’s launch hiccup showed that the private space operator, helmed by Elon Musk, has a few issues to work out, just like stodgy old NASA. Don’t get me wrong: SpaceX has done unbelievably impressive things. [...]

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