Photo by: NASA/SpaceX


It's Time for a 2021 Space Flight Round-up

Space is a busy place, with a lot of things going up (most of the time) and coming down (when we want them to). Let’s check in on the latest orbital happenings.

Virgin Galactic

Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company that has not conquered the whole “spaceflight” thing just yet, announced the next in line of its fleet: The SpaceShip III Imagine. Imagine doesn’t look much different than its SpaceShip II predecessors, except for the claims by Virgin Galactic that it’s easier to manufacture multiple copies of it. This is supposed to help them reach their goal of 400 suborbital (which means you go up and come down without orbiting the Earth) flights every year. That would be a big step up from its current capacity of their current zero flights per year.

More About Virgin Galactic

Out of This World! Inside Virgin Galactic's Spacecraft

Buckle up! On July 28, Virgin Galactic is showing the world what the inside of their SpaceShipTwo Unity spacecraft looks like via a livestream on their YouTube channel.

Virgin Galactic Failed to Launch because Space is Hard

This is the first test launch from Branson’s Virgin Galactic company since February of 2019, and follows a string of delays, cancellations, and aborts. What’s going on?


What goes up must come down, which SpaceX is learning again and again as it tries to work out the bugs in its newest rocket, the Starship. Elon Musk and team hope that the Starship will be powerful enough to send crews to Mars. Since bugs on a rocket can lead to potential catastrophe, it’s a good thing that they’re testing Starship without anyone on board.

The difficult thing about Starship isn’t the launch itself — which by now for SpaceX is a piece of cake, but the landing. Starship is supposed to be reusable, returning to land safely on the Earth after delivering its cargo beyond the confines of Earth’s gravity. But in order to make it work on such a massive craft before it lands, it has to flip itself from horizontal to vertical right before landing which has proven to be difficult. The last attempt, on March 30, failed because of a methane leak in one of the engines.

More About SpaceX

SpaceX vs. the Universe

Fans of space are having a tough time picking sides over a recent controversy between SpaceX and astronomers. But what's the big debate all about? Astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter digs into both perspectives.

SpaceX Test Flight Ends in Explosion

An experimental rocket launched by SpaceX on Wednesday, December 9 exploded after launching 8 miles into the air. Elon Musk says that this test was still a success.


It's a good thing that NASA didn't contract to use the Starship yet, and instead stuck to the tried-and-true Falcon 9 for its April 23rd launch of a crew to the International Space Station. This was the second crew launch with SpaceX, following last summer’s historic use of a private company for delivery of humans to the station. Those folks will be hitching a ride back home on a SpaceX capsule and the splashdown is currently scheduled for Sunday, May 2 around 2:53A ET.

In robotic explorer news, “Percy”, the adorable nickname for NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars, has begun taking data after a successful (if scary) landing on the red planet. As an added bonus, Percy’s little friend, Ingenuity, recently detached from the rover and settled on the surface. Ingenuity is a drone aircraft specifically designed to work in the thin Martian atmosphere, and will begin its first test flight soon. If successful, it will be the first powered flight on another world in the history of humanity. The Wright brothers would be proud.

More About NASA

Ingenuity Takes First Flight on Mars

In a historic first, Ingenuity successfully flew on the Red Planet. The Mars helicopter was in the air for about 40 seconds.

Paul M. Sutter

Paul M. Sutter is an astrophysicist at Stony Brook University and the Flatiron Institute, host of Ask a Spaceman and Space Radio, and author of How to Die in Space.

Next Up

See Comet NEOWISE Before it Disappears

Discovered in late March, Comet NEOWISE has shown itself in the skies all over the world. Dr. David Schleicher, Senior Astronomer at Lowell Observatory gives us some details about this cool comet gracing the night skies.

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Arecibo

There aren’t a lot of telescopes that are also movie stars. In fact, I can think of only one: the famed Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The Wow Signal: No, It Wasn’t Aliens

On a typical muggy midwestern August evening in 1977, astronomers at the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope got a big surprise. It was a signal so loud that it could only be described with one word: “wow!”

The Last Supermoon of the Year and How to See It

The Super Flower Moon of May is this year's last supermoon, when the Moon appears slightly larger and brighter in the sky because it is somewhat closer to Earth. Here's everything you need to know and how to watch it from home.

The Milky Way Broke its Arm (But is Totally Okay)

The Milky Way is a giant, magnificent, truly transcendently beautiful spiral arm galaxy. It’s too bad we can’t get a decent picture of it. The problem is that we live inside it, and so astronomers have to work extra-hard to construct an accurate map.

The Great Conjunction is Coming and it's Going to be Epic

On December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer to each other than they have in nearly 400 years. This once in four lifetimes cosmic event will be visible to many--clear skies permitting--but Lowell Observatory has you covered either way.

NASA Has a New Supersonic Jet and It’s Super-Quiet

There’s more to NASA than space. The agency’s full acronym stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I’ve covered plenty of interesting stories in the space sector, so it’s time to the aeronautics side some love too.

It’s Time to Return to the Land of the Ice Giants

30 years--It’s been over 30 years since the Voyager 2’s historic flyby of Uranus and Neptune, the outermost and most mysterious planets in the solar system. It’s time to go back.

NASA and SpaceX to Launch a Crewed Mission to ISS in May 2020

For the first time since its conception 18 years ago, SpaceX, along with NASA, will launch a crewed mission to space.

Something Funky is Happening to the Earth’s Magnetic Field

Recently a weak spot in the Earth's magnetic field over the southern Atlantic Ocean has been getting weaker, which could signal the beginnings of a global magnetic reversal event. Or not. It’s complicated.

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