Private companies will send humans into orbit, four countries are sending robots to Mars, and we’re crawling closer to seeing NASA send astronauts to the moon.
Last year was a giddy one for space, but 2020 will turn to be just as demanding, if not busier. There are countless missions on the world’s docket, going to Mars, the moon, and into orbit. Some of these include humans; few are for robots only. Following are the seven missions you ought to look out for in the new year.
It’s an exceptional time for Martian exploration. There are four- yes four different ventures sending new spacecraft to the Red Planet, all aiming launches for around July. China has its own rover, known as Huoxing-1, going up to examine the Martian terrain and atmosphere for 90 days. The largest is NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, equipped with a slew of state-of-the-art instruments that will pursue to tell us whether extraterrestrial life once was present (or even may currently exist) there. It’s even going to set free a helicopter drone! Roscosmos and ESA are collaborating to launch Rosalind Franklin, a rover called after the chemist who helped find out the structure of DNA. Suitably enough, it will look for signs of life as well. And finally, the UAE is going to send out an orbiter, the Hope Mars Mission, to explore the planet’s atmospheric chemistry from above.
At long last––we hope! ––American astronauts will take-off into space from US territory for the first time since 2011. Boeing and SpaceX are in the concluding stages of flight demonstrations and safety testing before they carry NASA astronauts to the ISS on board their respective Starliner and Crew Dragon vehicles. Both companies are cautiously targeting the first quarter of 2020 to execute their first crewed missions into space. Considering the track history of the Commercial Crew Program, it’s best not to hold your breath. Yet, we’re this close to seeing a brand-new spacecraft carry people into space.
Previously called Exploration Mission-1, this NASA mission will be the first aerospace of the Space Launch System, which will be the most potent rocket in the world when it’s completely finished. But that’s still far away and won’t happen in 2020. For Artemis 1, the primary version of the SLS (including just the lower stages) will send NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule on an unmanned trip nearby the moon. Orion, which is expected to one day take astronauts to the moon and perhaps to Mars, will spend about three weeks in space. Fair warning: there is a considerably good chance the mission will sneak into 2021. Delays have become usual in the development of the SLS.
That’s true: China has two missions going to interplanetary worlds in 2020. Chang’e 5, planned for a late 2020 launch, is China’s most daring lunar mission yet. A lander will attempt to gather nearly 4.5 pounds of moon dust and rocks from the western edge of the close side of the moon. After the samples are collected, an ascent automobile will take the spacecraft back up and meet with an orbiter that will direct a return capsule to Earth. If effective, it will be the first lunar sample return ever since the Soviet Union’s 1976 Luna 24 mission.
This year is when we’re going to see the effects of mass satellite networks, both bad and good. At the end of 2020, SpaceX’s Starlink will be a 720-strong satellite network, and broadband service will be made accessible to consumers sometime in the second half of the year, the firm declares. In the meantime, satellite internet competitor OneWeb is expected to start monthly launches in January, and hopes to have more than 600 satellites in orbit by the end of the year. It expects to propose service to consumers before the year is about to end as well. Apprehensions and complaints from astronomers and space traffic experts about the harmful effects of these unmanageable mega-constellations are likely to get fiercer and more vocal.
Starship, SpaceX’s gleaming, reusable interplanetary spacecraft revealed to the world in September, could quite possibly carry people to Mars one day. But first it needs to establish it can actually depart the ground. Elon Musk says he wants to send Starship on high-altitude test flights during 2020, as well as try an orbital flight in Q2 of next year. Musk has a repute for proposing time lines that are too ambitious, to put it mildly. So be skeptical about it, in other words. The actual thing to keep in mind, though, is that Starship is happening, and there will certainly be some kind of flight tests to keep your eyes open for.
Speaking of space companies, we’d be careless to forget Blue Origin, possessed by Jeff Bezos and opponent to SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and others. Its flagship suborbital rocket was always imagined to be something that could take travelers into space. The company has now productively launched New Shepard 12 times. Six of those missions utilized the same rocket. Its most recent launch, which sent its crew capsule into space (sans crew), was designed to closely look like a mission with human passengers. CEO Bob Smith has said the firm expects to send humans into space somewhere in 2020. Contrary to many of its competitors, Blue Origin has factually been pretty good about deadlines, so this is one venture to keep an eye for.