Human exploration and exploitation of the universe advances day by day, hour by hour. In addition to “industry giants” like NASA, Roscosmos or ESA, more and more countries are participating in this expensive but exciting game.
So, what new events and milestones will we witness this year?
February: Solar Orbiter
Chosen to be the first medium-range mission in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Cosmic Vision program, the Sun Orbiter will study the star close to us, up close.
The ship will explore the origin of the solar wind, learning how the Sun creates and controls the heliosphere – a “bubble”-like area of space surrounding the Sun, extending far beyond the Kuiper Belt.
The Solar Orbiter will also observe the Sun’s poles more clearly than ever before – something that is extremely difficult to achieve through observations on Earth.
At the time of publication of this article (late 2019), the ship was undergoing final testing and launch preparations had been underway since November at Cape Canaveral.
May: First flight with the astronauts of the Dragon 2 capsule (SpaceX)
The Dragon 2 spacecraft was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on a Falcon 9 rocket. This will be the third orbital flight of this spacecraft, but the first to carry humans, including transport commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and the mission specialist. Soichi Noguchi.
The ship’s destination is the International Space Station (ISS). Dragon 2 will remain at the ISS for six months after transporting astronauts to their new home.
The Dragon 2 spacecraft is capable of carrying up to seven astronauts and will continue to transport additional crews to the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew program.
SpaceX’s Dragon 2 spacecraft. Photo: Inverse
July: OSIRIS-REx recovers samples
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft traveled to the carbon-filled asteroid 101955 Bennu and reached its destination in December 2018.
Since then, OSIRIS REx has begun studying this near-Earth asteroid and attempting to identify suitable locations to collect samples to bring back to Earth.
During collection, OSIRIS REx will gradually descend closer to the asteroid’s surface until the TAGSAM sample collector touches the object’s surface. Next, a stream of nitrogen gas will be ejected, helping to push the particles into the sample collection device located at the end of the robot arm.
NASA’s OSIRIS Rex spacecraft. Photo: Mental Floss
July 17 to August 5: March 2020
NASA’s next rover will launch from Cape Canaveral with a destination of Jezero, a crater that may once have been flooded with water on Mars.
The design of this rover is based on Curiosity – the name of the rover that has been operating on Mars since 2012.
The rover’s mission is to examine whether Mars was habitable in the past and to search for biological signatures of microorganisms present on Mars.
The new rover will also collect soil and rock samples from the surface of Mars. These samples will likely be returned to Earth for future research purposes.
It is also a preparatory step for the next human exploration effort on the Red Planet.
July 23 to August 5: HX-1
After the unfortunate accident of Yinghua 1 – the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) first Mars probe, the country began developing a combined Fire rover and star orbiter model, now known as HX-1.
This ship is planned to be launched using the Chinese Long March 5 heavy launch system. The orbiter and rover will work together to map the surface of Mars, studying the terrain, material composition, atmosphere and other properties of Mars.
Like most recent missions to our neighboring planet, HX-1 will also search for signs of life on Mars. This mission aims to demonstrate that Chinese science and technology are capable of carrying out sample collection tasks in the future.
Graphical simulation of the Chinese lander and rover on Mars. Photo: Popsci
July 25: ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin
ExoMars (short for Exobiology on Mars) is a joint program between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian company Roscosmos. This program saw the Trace Gas orbiter leave Earth and begin orbiting Mars since 2016.
In fact, the main mission of the Trace Gas ship is as a broadcast station for the Rosalind Franklin autonomous vehicle – which will launch next year.
The search for life on Mars is at the center of the ExoMars program. The landing site for the Rosalind Franklin rover is Oxia Planum, one of the largest areas of clay rock on Mars.
This rover has a drill capable of penetrating up to 2 meters from the surface of Mars to take samples for analysis. However, Rosalind Franklin will not directly analyze these samples, but the Kazachok lander will do so.
July: Hope March
Hope Mars, also known as the Emirates Mars Mission, is the first Mars research mission led by a Muslim country.
Its goal is to expand human understanding of the Martian atmosphere, study climate, seasonal circulation, compare weather conditions between different regions of Mars, and deepen the study of events such as Mars storms. dust.
This data will allow astronomers to study climate change on Mars and the loss of hydrogen and oxygen from the planet to space.
Hope is set to arrive on Mars on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Hope Mars spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Photo: Space Watch
November: Artemis 1
NASA and ESA are preparing for a manned spacecraft mission to the Moon called Artemis 1. It will be a test Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle And Space Launch System (SLS).
The Block 1 version of this heavy rocket (SLS) will send the Orion drone capsule to the Moon no earlier than November 2020, but this could be later than expected depending on testing procedures.
Orion will then spend approximately 3 weeks in space, including 6 days in retrograde orbit around Earth’s natural satellite.
If all goes well, Artemis 2 should launch between 2022 and 2023.
December: Hayabusa 2 brings samples back to Earth
Hayabusa 2 – the second sample collection ship of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) arrived at the asteroid 162173 Ryugu last year.
The ship studied this near-Earth object in detail, deployed a rover to study the planet’s surface and found a favorable location to take samples.
Hayabusa 2 collected two samples, the first on March 21, the second on July 11, 2019, and stored them in isolated capsules to bring them back to Earth.
When Hayabusa 2 flies by Earth in December 2020, it will release its sample capsule. If all goes well, the capsule will land safely at the Australian Woomera test site.
Japanese ship Hayabusa 2. Photo: The universe today