Space travel – it seems to be all everyone is talking about at the moment. With some pretty exciting announcements from NASA last year, and the development of the SpaceX project, we can’t get enough of it all. So, what have we got to look forward to this year? Will we be exploring any new planets or solar systems? Let’s take a look at what 2016 has in store for all of you space fans.
International Space Station
There is going to be a lot more action at the International Space Station this year, so keep your eyes and ears peeled. At the end of last year, Tim Peake became the first British man to board the ISS and we’re expecting to see a lot more about him in the coming months. He will be conducting scientific experiments and maintaining the space station over the next 6 months, so good luck to him! The International Space Station is an exciting prospect, as it means we have a hub way up there in the sky. It’s a bit like the space bases you see in sci-fi movies, only apparently a lot smaller and a lot less glamorous.
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter
Mars is big business for NASA right now, so we’re not surprised to see it make the list a few times. The first is thanks to the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter which is due to launch in March 2016 and (hopefully) make it to the Red Planet by October. This joint project with the European Space Agency will see the Orbiter spacecraft blasted onto the planet, carrying equipment from Russia and Europe. The entire purpose of this clever little machine is to try and detect any kind of important gases on the surface of Mars, including those which could have biological importance – such as methane. The entire project is expected to last 5 years and could unearth some pretty exciting findings.
At the same time as the Trace Gas Orbiter, another important spacecraft is going to make its way to Mars – again, hoping to be in place by October of this year. The Schiaparelli is an entry, descent and landing demonstrator. What this means is that it is going to test landing and touchdown, in order to provide Europe with the information they need to create their own technology for Mars landings. This is an extremely important project that will provide the European Space Agency with the knowledge it needs to develop the right technologies for exploration in the future.
Okay, so admittedly one of their first missions didn’t go to plan this year after the rocket they landed on a barge exploded. However, they have a huge deal with NASA to fly resupply missions up to the ISS, so you’re going to hear a lot about them this year. By the looks of it they need a little bit of work on their landing technique if they want to hold up their end of the bargain. The first ISS flight is due at the beginning of February, all being well.
Finally, we couldn’t put together this list without one of the most exciting events due to happen this year. Juno, a NASA spacecraft, is due to enter the orbit around Jupiter in July this year. The probe took off nearly 5 years ago and has been designed to gather information about this mostly unknown planet. The information can help space agencies work out the evolution of Jupiter, whether it has a solid core, and a whole lot more. Pretty useful stuff!