2018 will see a raft of space missions that highlight the international nature of present-day space exploration. First up is Chandrayaan 2, India’s follow-up to its groundbreaking lunar mission launched in 2008.
While its predecessor was an orbiter, Chandrayaan 2 will comprise an orbiter, lander and rover developed by the country’s space agency, ISRO. The mission is currently slated to launch on a GSLV rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh around March.
In May, Nasa will launch its Insight spacecraft to Mars. Insight will use a sophisticated suite of instruments to probe deep beneath the surface of the Red Planet, looking for clues to how it formed. It will also listen for “marsquakes” which could shed light on the planet’s internal structure.
In July, the Japanese space agency’s (Jaxa) Hayabusa 2 spacecraft will arrive at its target, the asteroid 162173 Ryugu, in an effort to return samples of this space rock to Earth. Its predecessor, Hayabusa, captured the world’s imagination when, in 2005, it reached asteroid Itokawa.
Although that mission suffered some mishaps, it managed to return to Earth with some tiny specks of asteroid material – enough for scientists to get information from.
Engineers have made several improvements for Hayabusa 2, which aims to build on its pioneering predecessor by returning even more asteroid material and successfully deploying several small landers to Ryugu’s surface.
Japan won’t be the only country to visit an asteroid next year. Nasa’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft, launched in 2016, is due to rendezvous with the object known as 101955 Bennu in August. Osiris-Rex will also aims to collect a sample of soil and rock and get it back to our planet for analysis.
Finally, Europe and Japan could despatch a mission to explore the first planet from the Sun: Mercury. The mission, Bepi Colombo, will seek to deepen and extend the knowledge gained at Mercury by the US space agency’s recent Messenger spacecraft.
BepiColombo consists of two spacecraft launched on one rocket; the mission will carry out detailed mapping and investigate the planet’s magnetic field. Scientists hope to shed light on key questions, such as why Mercury seems to consist of a large iron core with just a thin shell of silicate rocks on the outside.