From Martian rover landings to the launch of Hubble’s “successor,” here are some of the most exciting space missions pegged for next year.
Space agencies around the globe have a number of pioneering missions planned for 2021. Interestingly, next year is set to feature not one but two highly anticipated Martian rover landings including NASA’s Perseverance mission. On the heels of China’s recent successful Chang’e-5 lunar mission, the nation will also attempt to land a rover on Mars in the months ahead. Below, we’ve curated a roundup of some of the standout missions pegged for 2021.
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Perseverance lands on Mars
On July 30, 2020, the Mars 2020 Mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station en route to Mars with the Perseverance rover onboard. On Feb. 18, 2021, after millions of miles of space travel, the craft is set to land on the Red Planet. The “car-sized” Perseverance rover stands 7-feet tall, approximately 10 feet in total length, 9-feet wide, and weighs more than 2,000 pounds. Perseverance builds on previous NASA Martian rover missions will use instrumentation to continue the search for ancient microbial life as well as help plan for future human missions to Mars.
On July 23, 2020, the Chinese Tianwen 1 mission successfully launched en route to the Red Planet with an orbiter, lander, and rover in tow. After months of travel, the craft is set to arrive at Mars in February 2021. The craft will first orbit the planet using onboard cameras to pinpoint potential landing areas. Once a site has been determined, the rover and lander will separate from the craft and attempt to land on Mars. At the moment, this landing is scheduled for April 2021, per NASA.
Intuitive Machines 1 mission
NASA’s Artemis program is set to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in decades, including the first woman to walk on the moon in 2024. In preparation for future manned lunar exploration efforts, the Intuitive Machines 1 (IM-1) mission is set to launch to the moon on Oct. 11, 2021. The lander (Nova-C) is a “tall hexagonal cylinder,” which will carry five NASA payloads as well as commercial cargo, according to the space agency.
SEE: NASA to build lunar 4G network (TechRepublic)
On Oct. 16, 2021, NASA’s Lucy mission is scheduled to launch as part of a journey that will include flybys of seven asteroids. The mission’s objectives are designed to help scientists understand the formation of the early solar system including the accretion of giant planets, the “sources of primordial organic matter,” and more, per NASA. Based on the current launch timeline, Lucy could first fly by asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson in April of 2025.
James Webb Space Telescope launch
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled to launch on Oct. 31, 2021. NASA has described JWST as the “successor” to the Hubble Telescope, however, Webb uses a primary mirror that is 6.5 meters in diameter and touts a collection area that is approximately 6.25 times larger than Hubble’s, according to NASA. Webb analyzes the universe primarily in infrared and the longer wavelength coverage allows Webb to “hunt for the unobserved formation of the first galaxies” and peer inside of “dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today,” according to the space agency.
Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout)
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program was established in 1998. In the decades since, NASA has identified thousands of near-Earth objects (NEOs). In fact, the space agency estimates that “an average of 30 new discoveries are added each week.” While most NEOs entering the Earth’s atmosphere will disintegrate before reaching the surface, larger objects could potentially “cause widespread damage in and around their impact sites,” per NASA.
The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) mission is scheduled to launch in late 2021. The missions will use a 6U CubeSat to fly by Near-Earth Asteroid 1991 VG to collect images as well as observe the object’s shape, debris field, morphology, and more. NASA estimates that the mission will take little more than two years.