It’s 2018 people, love it or hate it. There are innumerable unknowns that lie ahead of us, however, there are some known unknowns in our celestial future that we can look forward to. NASA has a packed schedule for the next year, from missions to Mars to discovering new planets.
NASA continues its exploration of Mars with the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission to place a lander on the planet. InSight is equipped with sensors to study the rocky terrain. It will measure seismic activity along with internal temperature and composition. More than just a Mars lander, InSight is helping researchers better understand the formation of all terrestrial planets in our solar system. InSight is scheduled for launch in May and will arrive on Mars in November of 2018.
OSIRIS-REx is already on its way to its first destination, the asteroid Bennu. In August, OSIRIS-REx will start maneuvers to come along side Bennu and match its velocity. During the following year, OSIRIS-REx will survey the asteroid looking for satellites and plumes, as well as geological, thermal and spectral properties. It will also map Bennu in high resolution before obtaining a sample and returning to Earth.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is launching in March of 2018, joining the Kepler mission in the search for exoplanets. The main directive is to find small planets orbiting bright stars relatively nearby. The closer the planet, the better researchers can characterize the atmosphere and composition. TESS will monitor more than 200,000 stars in its two-year mission looking for temporary drops in brightness that’s characteristic of a planet transiting a star.
Not technically launching until the spring of 2019, my personal favorite is the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The eventual replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is equipped with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. Once operational, we’ll have a decade’s worth of new and exciting imagery.