NASA’s next 40 years of space exploration

20 07 2009

This is what NASA plans to do for the next 40 years.

Summer 2009: The new instruments installed on Hubble earlier this year will go live. The Wide Field Camera 3 will provide a major upgrade for Hubble in the visible and infrared spectra. You know what that means? Even prettier pictures. The Cosmic Origins Spectrograph will use ultraviolet light to try to reconstruct the origins of the universe. It’s an order of magnitude better at detecting ultraviolet light than Hubble’s previous instruments.

Aug. 30, 2009: The first test flight of the next-generation Ares rocket system will blast off. While it’s exciting, the review of the entire Constellation program shadows its development.

Oct. 9, 2009: The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, which launched earlier this year, will impact near the moon’s south pole, creating a plume of debris and a crater for its mission partner, the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, to study.

Oct. 14, 2009: Solar Dynamics Observatory will launch to study space weather generated by the sun’s activity. Some people are forecasting that the sun’s activity will wreak havoc with our communication and electrical systems in the next few years, but our star’s behavior has been a little unpredictable as of late. The SDO aims to make forecasting the sun’s behavior more accurate.

Nov. 2009: Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer will launch to create maps of the skies in the infrared area of the spectrum. It will also be used to survey some near-Earth objects.

Jan. 2010: The Glory mission will launch. The low-Earth orbit satellite will study the Earth’s energy balance, including the total amount of solar radiation striking the Earth and the impact of aerosols and black carbon.

June 2010: The National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project will launch. The joint NASA, Department of Defense and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project will measure atmospheric and sea surface temperatures.

2010: The space shuttle is slated to be retired. Maybe. Because we don’t have any viable domestic option for getting to the International Space Station, Congress could extend the fleet’s lifetime for years.

2010: The Aquarius satellite launches to create the first-ever global maps of salt concentrations in the ocean surface.

March 18, 2011: Messenger begins its year-long orbit of Mercury.

2011: This is the earliest date that scientists using the exoplanet-hunting satellite Kepler may be able to say for sure they have found an Earth-like planet in an Earth-like orbit.

2011: The Juno spacecraft will launch for Jupiter to study the structure and evolution of our solar system’s largest planet.

Fall 2011: The Mars Science Laboratory, a rover with the tools to assess whether Mars is or ever was inhabited, will launch.

May 2012: The Radiation Belt Storm Probe mission consists of two spacecraft that will orbit the Earth, helping to improve our understanding of how solar storms hit the Earth’s radiation belts and atmosphere.

2012: Mars Science Laboratory will arrive at Mars. If all goes well, it’ll operate for 687 Earth days, roving around the planet looking for signs of life, past or present.

March 2013: Soil Moisture Active Passive project will launch. Using a radiometer and high-res radar, it will measure surface soil moisture and its freeze-thaw state.

2014: The Orion crew exploration vehicle and Ares launch vehicles are supposed to be ready to go by 2014.

2014: The James Webb Space Telescope, generally considered Hubble’s replacement, will launch. It will give astronomers a better sense of the early universe and how stars form.

2015: The Joint Dark Energy Mission launches. The project, co-funded with the Department of Energy, will make very precise measurements of the expansion rate of the universe, which could yield fundamental insights about the nature of dark matter.

2015: New Horizons reaches Pluto, nine years after its launch. Right now, it’s about halfway between Saturn and Uranus.

March 2015: The first crewed Orion/Ares mission to the International Space Station will launch.

2015: IceSat II will launch to provide vital information about the polar ice caps and the environment that surrounds them.

2016: The European Space Agency will launch ExoMars, a rover mission to the surface of that planet. NASA is involved, however, helping provide communications via the Deep Space Network.

2016: Juno mission arrives at Jupiter.

2018: The Solar Probe Plus will launch. It will be the very first mission to visit the sun’s corona, which will provide valuable insight into the sun’s functioning.

2020: The International Space Station could be deorbited in this year, although its fate remains largely undetermined.

2020: Europa Jupiter System Mission will take off for Jupiter and two of its moons, Europa and Ganymede, to evaluate the possibility that they are habitable locations. If it confirms an ocean of liquid water on Europa, the number of possible habitable outposts in the universe will go up considerably. Not only can we hope to find life on Earth-like planets, but also on the satellites of gas giant planets.

2020: Planned date by which the new Constellation rockets and modules could provide crew transport to the lunar surface “for extended durations.”

2021: International X-Ray Observatory launches to study the high-energy universe in unprecedented detail. It could provide fundamentally new understanding of black holes and the formation of large-scale structures like galaxy clusers in the universe.

2026: The Europa Jupiter system mission will arrive at the Jupiter system.

2030: Any American landing on Mars throuh the Constellation program would come some time after 2030.




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