Hello folks! Firstly, Happy New Year! Its been two awesome years of House of Geek! I would like to take a moment to thank everyone for your marvellous support!
Well, 2018 was a crazy year for space missions. Elon Musk’s SpaceX was at the front every time! With the kickass SpaceX Falcon Heavy launching Starman & his Tesla roadster, 2018 was indeed remarkable!
ISRO had a very successful year, with its PSLV becoming the country’s most reliable and successful launch vehicle ever!
And another space agency got in on the asteroid-visiting fun: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft touched down on the asteroid Ryugu in October, that arrived at Ryugu on June, and began a 1.5-year long survey of the asteroid! Crazy, right?
Lastly, NASA’s voyager 2 finally crossed the boundary into interstellar space, and became the only spacecraft to have visited all four gas giants- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune– Yep, we did it!
So how does it look for space missions in 2019? Well, they’re looking great!
1. Return of the US to the ISS
A few years back, SpaceX unveiled the prototype Dragon capsule to carry astronauts to the ISS. Well, it made waves back then, and it continues to do so!
SpaceX is set to make the first test-launch of its human-rated capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) in January. Called the Crew Dragon Demo-1, the it will be uncrewed. If successful, it will be followed by a crewed test flight in June, carrying two astronauts to the ISS.
Boeing, the other company with a NASA Commercial Crew Program contract, has a similar schedule. The first uncrewed flight of its human-rated capsule – the CST-100 Starliner – will be in March, followed by a crewed test flight in August if all goes well.
Assuming both the SpaceX and Boeing missions will be successful, they will mark the return of American astronauts to the ISS onboard made-in-American spacecraft. The ultimate goal is to replace the (retired) Space Shuttle programme and also forgo the increasingly expensive use of Russian rockets.
2. Moon, Moon and Moon!
The Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) is aiming for an early 2019 launch of the Chandrayaan 2, its second moon mission and the first that will attempt to land! Chandrayaan 2 consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover! Yep, India is in the big games now! The lander will carry instruments like a seismometer and a thermal probe, while the rover will carry spectrometers to analyse the lunar soil.
SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit, will be launching their lunar lander in the first quarter of 2019 onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The lander will try to land in an interesting lunar feature called a “swirl“, which are known to have local magnetic fields! If successful, SpaceIL will become the first privately funded entity to achieve a lunar landing! *Fingers Crossed*
China too is gearing up to launch its Chang’e mission in 2019- its first lunar sample return mission! A capsule carrying a sample of the lunar soil (regolith) will perform an autonomous rendezvous and dock with a return module, which will then bring the sample to Earth!
3. New players in the game!
After a spectacular debut in 2018, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is set to operate as the most powerful operational launch vehicle in the world. In March 2019, it will attempt to launch the Arabsat 6A satellite to a geostationary orbit. This is a communications satellite intended to provide TV, internet, telephone and secure communication services to customers in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Also in 2019, another rocket company is set to enter the arena. Billionaire-entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit. With the successful test-flight of its long-awaited Launcher One craft in December 2018, Virgin Orbit will now aim for a steady launch pace to deliver SmallSat payloads starting as early as Q1 2019.
Also notable in this category is ISRO’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), which will be a smaller cousin to the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). While the PSLV can lift 3,000 kg to the low-Earth orbit, the SSLV will be able to lift 500 kg. It is design ready and the first SSLV test-flight is expected to happen in May, followed by the second one in October, if all goes well.
4. Space has no bound
Well, apart from all the planned missions, there are a few on-going missions for a science packed 2019!
On to Mars: In February, NASA’s Insight lander will begin studying the red planet’s interior by drilling up to 5m into its surface and measuring the subsurface temperature with a thermal probe.
On April 4, NASA’s Parker solar probe will make its next close approach to the Sun, followed by two more on September 1 and December 26. Its final close approach, when it enter the Sun’s atmosphere – the corona –, will be in 2024. And to get so close to the Sun, the probe will use from Venus, the first of which is slated for December 26, 2019.
So that’s all for now folks. Let me know what you guys think. Follow me on Twitter here. Stay tuned for more updates!