Space research is scientific studies carried out using scientific equipment in outer space. It includes the use of space technology for a broad spectrum of research disciplines, including Earth science, materials science, biology, medicine, and physics. The term includes scientific payloads everywhere from deep space to low Earth orbit, and is frequently defined to include research in the upper atmosphere using sounding rockets and high-altitude balloons. Space science and space exploration involve the study of outer space itself, which is only part of the broader field of space research.


For centuries, the Chinese had been using rockets for ceremonial and military purposes. But it wasn’t until the latter-half of the 20th Century where rockets were developed to overcome Earths’ gravity. Such advances were made simultaneously in three countries by three scientists. In Russia, Konstantin Tsiolkovski, in the United States was Robert Goddard, and in Germany was Hermann Oberth.

After the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union created their own missile programs and space research emerged as a field of scientific investigation based on the advancing rocket technology. In 1948-1949 detectors on V-2 rocket flights detected x-rays from the Sun.[1] Sounding rockets proved useful for studies of the structure of the upper atmosphere. As higher altitudes were reached, the field of space physics emerged with studies of aurorae, the ionosphere and the magnetosphere. Notable as the start of satellite-based space research is the detection of the Van Allen radiation belt by Explorer 1 in 1958, four months after the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957. In the following year space planetology emerged with a series of lunar probes, e.g. the first photographs of the far side of the Moon by Luna 3 in 1959.

The early space researchers obtained an important international forum with the establishment of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in 1958, which achieved an exchange of scientific information between east and west during the cold war, despite the military origin of the rocket technology underlying the research field.[2]

On April 12, 1961, Russian Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin was the first human to orbit Earth in Vostok 1. In 1961, US astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American in space. And on July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human on the Moon. On April 19, 1971, the Soviet Union launched the Salyut 1, which was the first space station of any kind. On May 14, 1973, Skylab, the first American space station was launched using a modified Saturn V rocket.[3]
Research fields

Space research includes the following fields of science:[4][5]

Earth observations, using remote sensing techniques to interpret optical and radar data from Earth observation satellites
Geodesy, using gravitational perturbations of satellite orbits
Atmospheric sciences, aeronomy using satellites, sounding rockets and high-altitude balloons
Space physics, the in situ study of space plasmas, e.g. aurorae, the ionosphere, the magnetosphere and space weather
Planetology, using space probes to study objects in the planetary system
Astronomy, using space telescopes and detectors that are not limited by looking through the atmosphere
Materials sciences, taking advantage of the micro-g environment on orbital platforms
Life sciences, including human physiology, using the space radiation environment and weightlessness
Physics, using space as a laboratory for studies in fundamental physics.

Space Research by Satellites
Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite was a NASA-led mission launched on September 12, 1991. The 5,900 lb. satellite was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-48 mission on 15 September 1991. It was the first multi-instrumented satellite to study various aspects of the Earths’ atmosphere and have a better understanding of photochemistry. After 14 years of service, the UARS finished its scientific career in 2005.[6]
International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory

The INTEGRAL is an operational space satellite launched by the European Space Agency in 2002. INTEGRAL provides insight into the most energetic forms of in space, such as black holes, neutron stars, and supernovas.[7] INTEGRAL also plays an important role in researching one of the most exotic and energetic phenomena that occurs in space, gamma-rays.
Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and it sped humanity to one of its greatest advances to understand the universe. The discoveries made by the HTS have changed the way scientists look at the universe. It winded the amount of space theories as it sparked new ones. Among its many discoveries, the HTS played a key role in conjunction with other space agencies in the discovery of dark energy, a mysterious force that causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate. More than 10,000 articles have been published by Hubble data, and it has surpassed its expected lifetime.
Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer

The launch of the NASA-led GEMS mission is scheduled for November 2014.[8] The spacecraft will use an X-Ray telescope to measure the polarization of x-rays coming from black holes and neutron stars. It will also conduct research on remnants of supernovae stars that have exploded. Few experiments have been conducted in X-Ray polarization since the 1970s, and scientists expect GEMS will break new ground. Through GEMS, scientists will be able to improve their knowledge in black holes, in particular whether matter around a black hole is confined to a flat-disk, a puffed disk, or a squirting jet.

Space Research by Space Stations

Salyut 1

Salyut 1 was the first space station ever built. It was launched in April 19, 1971 by the Soviet Union. The first crew failed entry into the space station. The second crew was able to spend twenty-three days in the space station, but this achievement was quickly overshadowed since the crew died on reentry to Earth. Salyut 1 was intentionally deorbited six months into orbit since it prematurely ran out of fuel.[9]


Skylab was the first American space station. It was launched in May 19, 1973. It rotated through three crews of three during its operational time. Skylab’s experiments confirmed coronal holes and were able to photograph eight solar flares.[10]

International Space Station

The International Space Station has played a key role in advances in space research. The station has been continuously occupied 12 years and 171 days, having exceeded the record of almost ten years, previously set by the Russian station Mir.[11] The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crewmembers conduct tests in biology, physics, astronomy and many other fields.
This section may stray from the topic of the article into the topic of another article, Faster-than-light. Please help improve this section or discuss this issue on the talk page. (June 2013)
Faster-than-Light Travel

See also: Faster-than-light

For quite a long time dreams of interstellar travel and exploring the final frontier have run rampant in the minds of children and adult scientists alike, and with some of the latest breakthroughs in technology and research NASA scientists have laid out goals to achieve manned flight to the edge of the Solar System in 50 years. In 1994 Miguel Alcubierre put forward a report detailing a method of achieving interstellar travel. What he proposed was unlike anything that anyone had seen before and branched away from the standard means of propulsion. His “Alcubierre Metric” actually did not have any physical motion as we know it of the space ship. The metric would have a warp drive use negative energy to actually bend space around the vessel to create a warp bubble. The warp bubble would then expand and contract space around the ship, which would move the warp bubble at speeds several time the speed of light. However, there are some hiccups in the theory, one being that massive amounts of energy would be required to power such a device that would be able to create a “warp bubble”; and two, it is currently unknown how to create a “warp bubble” where one does not already exist and how to survive the entry and exit of said “warp bubble”.[12][13]


Many people have discounted Alcubierre’s calculations and finding, but NASA’s Eagleworks Advanced Propulsion Laboratory’s Harold Sonny White recently wrote a paper (published directly by NASA and also in the journal General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology) entitled, “Warp Field Mechanics 101”,[14] which lays out ambitious goals to explore the far reaches of the Solar System within fifty years. Although there is nothing physical to achieve just yet, scientists are close to reaching a “’’’Chicago Pile’’’” moment when it comes to the finding the negative energy required to create and manipulate warp bubbles. In his paper, White demonstrates how the Alcubierre Method steps outside the bounds of General Relativity and is not bound by some of Einstein’s laws. This is a landmark in the history of Space Exploration and Space Research, but there is still much more to come. In his paper, Dr. White lays out the plans for the first physical experiments in the field, including a warp field interferometer which will help find the subatomic particles that would allow for the control of negative energy or dark matter. Currently scientists are using the warp field interferometer, a sensor that can detect the creation of warp fields, to examine the sub-atomic composition of a “warp bubble” and apply it on a massive scale. The next step would be to find a source of energy large enough to sustain “warp bubble” creation indefinitely.

See also

Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)
Advances in Space Research (journal)
List of microorganisms tested in outer space
Space science
Space exploration


A Brief History of High-Energy Astronomy: 1900-1958, NASA web page
Willmore, Peter: COSPAR’s first 50 years, Public Lecture
A Brief History of Space Exploration | The Aerospace Corporation. (n.d.). The Aerospace Corporation | Assuring Space Mission Success. Retrieved May 7, 2013
COSPAR Scientific Structure, COSPAR web page
Advances in Space Research, Elsevier web page
UARS Science main page. (n.d.). UARS Science main page. Retrieved May 7
ESA Science & Technology: Fact Sheet. (n.d.). ESA Science and Technology. Retrieved May 6, 2013
Salyut 1. (n.d.). Encyclopedia Astronautica. Retrieved May 7, 2013
The SkyLab Project. (n.d.). Solar Physics Branch Home Page, Naval Research Laboratory. Retrieved May 7, 2013
NASA - Facts and Figures. (n.d.). NASA - Home. Retrieved May 7, 2013
Miguel, A. (1994). The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity. Classical and Quantum Gravity, 11(5), 1-10.
den Broeck, C. V. The (im) possibility of Warp Bubbles. (2000). General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology,99(22), 1-5. Retrieved May 6, 2013
Pedro, G. Warp Drive-Space Time. (2000). Physical Review D, 62(4). Retrieved May 6, 2013

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