Space Missions: 6 exciting launches in 2020

Exciting launches from NASA, ESA and other space agencies lined-up throughout 2020.

SpaceX

ESA and NASA's Solar Orbiter

Planned launch on 5 February 2020 at 23:27 EST

The Solar Orbiter aims to study the Sun up close and taking high resolution images of the Sun's poles for the first time. The Sun has a massive influence on the whole Solar System. The Solar Orbiter will try to understand more about this influence, which is not just gravity but also the giant bubble of plasma that emerges from the Sun and permeates throughout the Solar System. Solar Orbiter is due to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on an Atlas V 411 rocket supplied by NASA in February 2020. Following the initial commissioning round of its systems and instruments, its first pass by the Sun will take place in June when the spacecraft will be at around half the distance of Earth’s orbit from the Sun.

NASA's Mars 2020 Rover

Planned launch between 17 July and 5 August 2020

With the Mars 2020 rover, NASA aims to intensify the search for signs of life on Mars and further explore the martian atmosphere. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. A drill on the Mars 2020 rover will probe "promising" rocks and soils and store some samples. A future mission could potentially return these samples  to Earth. That would help scientists study the samples in laboratories with special room-sized equipment that would be too large to take to Mars. With this mission, NASA also hopes to be going one step closer to sending humans to Mars.

The Mars 2020 mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort to explore Mars. With a range of missions including many exploratory rovers and orbiters, NASA is leading human space endeavours in exploring Mars. 

Roscosmos and ESA's ExoMars 2020

Planned launch between 26 July and 11 Aug 2020

ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is an astrobiology programme by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The goals of ExoMars are to search for signs of past life on Mars, investigate how the Martian water and geochemical environment varies, investigate atmospheric trace gases and their sources and by doing so demonstrate the technologies for a future Mars sample-return mission. 

ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is an astrobiology programme by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The goals of ExoMars are to search for signs of past life on Mars, investigate how the Martian water and geochemical environment varies, investigate atmospheric trace gases and their sources and by doing so demonstrate the technologies for a future Mars sample-return mission.

This is part two of the ExoMars mission by ESA. In the first instalment, a Trace Gas Orbiter was launched in 2016 and it looked for evidences for the presence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases. It could not find methane in the atmosphere of Mars​1​, but is now helping to find a proper landing site for the ExoMars 2020 mission. 

NASA's Artemis 1

Planned launch in November 2020, could be postponed to early 2021.

Artemis 1 is the first part of NASA's ambitious plan to establish human presence outside Earth, on the Moon and then on Mars. With the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. The launch of the uncrewed Artemis 1 in 2020 will be the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems. These include the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS, the most powerful rocket ever built yet) and new ground systems on Earth. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond. 

NASA created history when Apollo 11 landed on our moon with a crew. Many believe that this was just a show of technology and will. Five decades later, NASA will attempt to do this again but with a much more ambitious goal of establishing extra-terrestrial human bases.

China's Huoxing-1 Mars Orbiter and Rover

Planned launch between July 23 and August 5, 2020

This new Chinese Mars spacecraft, developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is managed by the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) in Beijing. The lander carrying the rover will use a parachute, retrorockets, and an airbag to achieve landing. The aims of the mission include finding evidences for both current and previous life, and evaluating the planet's surface and environment. There are also planned solo and joint explorations of the Mars orbiter and rover to produce maps of the Martian surface topography, soil characteristics, material composition, water ice, atmosphere, ionosphere field, and other scientific data.

ISRO's Gaganyaan Uncrewed Test Flight 1

Planned launch in December 2020

India has declared ambitious plans to put astronauts in space with the Gaganyaan mission. But before they do so, they need to test their technology. The uncrewed Test Flight 1 will achieve exactly this. After the first test flight, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to perform a second test flight in mid 2021. Following these two non-crewed orbital flight demonstrations of the spacecraft, a crewed Gaganyaan is slated to be launched on the GSLV Mk III launcher in late 2021.

This article was first published on 27 Jan, 2020 and last updated on 14 Jun, 2020.
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