It seems like there’s always some new mission announcement or groundbreaking discovery on space exploration, but many times we never seem to hear anything more about it.
Usually it’s because planning for and executing missions in outer space takes a huge amount of preparation, it’s not uncommon to hear about a proposed mission 5, 10, even 20 years in advance, that being said, we do have some fascinating and exciting space missions lined up over the next few years and decades.
Let’s take a look at what’s next for space exploration starting with the nearest upcoming event.
In March 2018 NASA launch their transiting exoplanet survey satellite or Tess. Tess’s job will be to scan the night sky for nearby bright stars that host rocky exoplanets, cataloging the best bets for near future studies and far future potential manned missions.
It is expected to catalog over 3,000 exoplanets during its two-year mission including approximately 500 Earth-sized and super-earth planets.
In May 2018, NASA will launch the new insight Mars Lander with touchdown expected in late November, insight will study the interior of Mars to understand more about the evolutionary formation of rocky planets, including earth.
In August NASA’s Osiris-rex spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid Bennu and collect samples for return to earth in September 2023, while this may not sound terribly exciting, the Osiris-rex mission actually has the potential to answer some of our biggest questions about the origin of life.
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Asteroids are considered the original stuff of the solar system leftover pieces from the cataclysmic nebula collapse in which the solar system was formed over four-and-a-half billion years ago. A sample from Bennu could prove or disprove the theory that the surface of the earth was scorched into oblivion, and then later receded with life from asteroid impacts.
In addition to potentially answering this burning question, the Osiris-rex mission has another objective, Bennu is a very large asteroid measuring over 500 meters in diameter taller, than the Empire State Building, which makes it a great candidate for a safe probe landing. But it’s also on a collision course with earth sometime in the 22nd century, Benno is expected to crash into our planet causing untold devastation.
The Osiris-rex team hopes to study it’s physical and chemical properties which will be critical in forming an impact mitigation mission.
In the spring of 2019 the long-awaited and state-of-the-art James Webb Space Telescope will finally launch, Webb is intended to be the premier Space Telescope of the next decade with greatly improved capabilities over its predecessor, Hubble, it’s so powerful that it will be able to see all the way back to around 13.8 billion years ago when the first stars and galaxies began to form out of the darkness of the early universe.
In addition to being a veritable time machine, Webb’s unprecedented infrared sensitivity will allow astronomers to compare the faintest earliest galaxies to the grand spirals and elliptical of today, helping us to understand how galaxies form over billions of years. The Space Telescope will be able to see right through the giant clouds of dust that are opaque to current observatories like Hubble where stars and planetary systems are being born.
Finally, Webb will be able to tell us more about the atmospheres of distant exoplanets and maybe even find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe. The James Webb Space Telescope will give astronomers powerful new tools to study some of the most interesting questions about the origins of the universe itself and who knows what other amazing discoveries it will make possible.
Starting in 2020 and going into 2021 Mars is going to get quite a handful of new robotic visitors, in addition to NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover which will study the red planet’s habitability and explore for signs of past life, the European Space Agency is launching their own Rover called ExoMars. The United Arab Emirates will attempt to launch their first Mars orbiter and China plans to launch their own Rover both NASA’s mars 2020, and the ESA ExoMars intend not only to search for past or present microbial life on the red planet but also to perform a thorough analysis of mars as climate geology and overall habitability to prepare for upcoming manned missions.
In 2022 we’ll get to witness the launch of the highly anticipated Jupiter icy moons Explorer spacecraft also known as juice. Juice will study the Jovian moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa some of the most likely places to find life beyond Earth each of these moons has an incredible amount of ice covering potentially huge bodies of liquid water, and if there’s anything we understand about water here on earth it’s that wherever there is water there is life.
Juice is scheduled to enter an orbit around Jupiter in 2030 and will spend at least three years making detailed observations of these promising SeaWorld’s.
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Also scheduled for 2022 is the first unmanned mission to Mars by SpaceX while Elon Musk admits this is a lofty goal he believes it is possible. The objectives of this first cargo mission are to confirm water resources identify potential hazards and establish initial power mining and life-support infrastructure for the Mars mission everyone has been waiting for, which brings us to 2024 the scheduled year for landing the first humans on Mars.
This second SpaceX mission loaded with both cargo and crew aims to build a propellant Depot on Mars to prepare for future manned flights, Musk intends for these initial ships and their cargo to serve as the beginnings of our first Mars base from which we can expand and eventually create a thriving self-sustaining City. If we can achieve this challenging goal Humanity will officially become a multi-planetary species greatly lessening the risk of a complete extinction event.
Musk also speculates that if all goes according to plan we could have a Martian colony of a million people within 40 to a hundred years. If SpaceX doesn’t manage to land humans on Mars we won’t be out of options just yet, NASA has been prepping to send humans to Mars for some time.
After another decade or so of intensive testing and planning, they’ll attempt a manned mission to the Red Planet sometime in the early to mid-2030s. On their Mars mission web page, NASA shares their optimism for the future saying Mars is the next tangible frontier for human exploration, and it’s an achievable goal. There are challenges to pioneering Mars but we know they’re solvable we are well on our way to getting there, landing there, and living there.
This article really doesn’t even scratch the surface of the whole list of planned missions within the next 50 years, but you can already tell just how exciting the next few decades will be.
Will we find life on Europa? Hidden clues to the origins of the entire universe?
Thanks to the James Webb telescope will our grandchildren and great-grandchildren call Mars their home, we’ll just have to wait and see.