The Most Important Events of the year in Space Exploration

The Most Important Events of the year in Space Exploration

From Starliner Mission to touching the Sun and from Commercial Space Flights to Destroying Asteroids, 2018 offers immense variety in terms of space exploration.

Space exploration has always been a topic that garners a lot of attention worldwide. The last year was groundbreaking in space research and 2018 seems to be no exception. From private companies funding missions to NASA’s seemingly impossible goals, let’s take a look at why 2018 will be exciting for space lovers.

Firstly, the discovery of two entire solar systems did spark interest towards space exploration but the announcement that rattled the field was NASA’s plans of returning to the Moon and from there to Mars. The Boeing team is developing a state-of-the-art spacecraft, named ‘Starliner’, to deliver a crew to the International Space Station. Towards the end of 2018, the first crewed missions of both Starliner and Dragon 2 capsules to the ISS are scheduled to restore American human spaceflight capabilities, which stopped with the last Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

A joint event between Europe and Japan’s space agencies is set to start in October to study Mercury and its composition, atmosphere, and magnetosphere. At 58 million kilometers from the Sun, the orbiters will endure temperatures of over 350°C as they try to gather information about Mercury’s composition. Similarly, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which is being called the first spacecraft to “touch” the Sun, will also be launched this year. Although it won’t actually touch into the Sun’s surface, it’ll be a mere 3.9 million miles away from its surface, flying through the outer edges of the Sun’s atmosphere.

The probe will endure temperatures up to 350o C while carrying out its mission. NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and ESA’s Characterizing Exoplanets Satellite (CHEOPS) will be exploring for Exoplanets to study. Both are space telescopes and CHEOPS is built as a European answer to NASA’s TESS.

Earth is bombarded by solar winds every day, but we do not know exactly where the particles are created or how they are accelerated. Late this year, we will witness two groundbreaking missions to the Sun where over 99 percent of the mass in the Solar System resides. The mission has been named after the astrophysicist who first presented the theory of solar wind, Eugene Parker. NASA will also be sending a lander on Mars for certain studies. The craft which was supposed to launch in 2016 developed a malfunction and was delayed till 2018.  Virgin Galactic is aiming for early 2018 for its first commercial space flights aboard Spaceship Two, an air-launched sub-orbital ‘spaceplane’ designed for six passengers and two pilots to fly to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 kilometers).

While space travel is being worked on, more exciting things are happening on the other end of the spectrum. NASA and Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are developing their own methods of destroying or deflecting asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth. NASA plans on sending out probes that alter the course of the asteroids however, the Russians are going all out to create a space cannon that can vaporize the asteroids. Aaron Miles, a senior policy advisor with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy said,

“NASA and its partners have identified more than 95 percent of all asteroids that are large enough to cause a global catastrophe, and none of those found poses a threat within the century.”

Furthermore, four missions to the Moon are planned by China, India, Germany and Hakuto, a group of engineers from Google. All four rovers are planned to be launched in 2018 with the Indian rover being the first. NASA is also carrying out some missions to study asteroids, the most prominent of them being the asteroid named Bennu. It will take the spacecraft two years to reach its destination where it will study the rock formation. After that, it will be a while before the spacecraft grabs its sample.

While many space companies are planning space exploration, NASA took an extra step to a place which no one has tried to explore in the past. The New Horizons spacecraft has been traveling even farther out into the Solar System after its encounter with Pluto in 2015. In the morning on New Year’s Day, the probe flew by a small rock in the Kuiper Belt: the large cloud of icy bodies that orbit beyond Neptune. No human crafts have ever visited one of these objects and it is going to be the first incident of its kind.

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