2018: The year of the solar system explorer
An artist's concept of NASA's Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
If you're in the mood for adventures in space, then 2018 should leave you satisfied — for now, at least. With a half dozen major planetary exploration missions launching or approaching their targets this year, the solar system is going to be a busy place:
- India's lunar lander and rover, Chandrayaan-2, will launch in March.
- NASA leads a return to the Red Planet in May with the departure of its Insight lander.
- Japan's Hayabusa 2 and NASA's OSIRIS-REx missions will arrive at their respective asteroid targets this summer.
- The European Space Agency's BepiColombo orbiter will depart for Mercury in October.
What's next: These missions will return a bounty of information on the history of Mars, the curious properties of Mercury's interior, and even the origins of the solar system itself. Of course, every question answered could prompt at least a dozen more.
Paul Sutter is a cosmological researcher at Ohio State University's Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics.