10 Defining Missions in the 2019 Space Race

As social, environmental and political problems increase on Earth, humanity is once again turning its eye to the sky Now more than ever, we seem to be entering a second Space Race

Here are ten of the most significant, and curious, space missions taking place in 2019 10 NEW HORIZONS On the furthest edge of the solar system lies The Kuiper Belt Comprised of icy comets, asteroids and dwarf planets, it is believed to contain the debris from the formation of our solar system In January 2019, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft travelled 1

6 billion kilometres beyond Pluto, to become the first probe to make contact with an object in the Kuiper Belt The object is called Ultima Thule NASA hopes that investigating this relatively small chunk of rock will unlock secrets about the origins of the Milky Way 9 BREAKTHROUGH INITIATIVES Before his death in March 2018, physicist Stephen Hawking spoke passionately about the necessity for mankind to migrate into space

He believed that unless we populate other planets, the human race will risk being wiped out by climate change, asteroids, disease or war In 2019, the private Russian-American venture Breakthrough Initiatives will begin the search for a new homeworld at our nearest star, Alpha Centauri With the assistance of the European Southern Observatory, Breakthrough Initiatives says it wants to demonstrate a proof of concept for an ultra-fast, solar powered “nanocraft” which could theoretically reach speeds of up to 100,000 kilometres per hour This could reach Alpha Centauri 20 years after launch 8

CHANDRAYAAN-2 On 14th November 2008, the Indian spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 released a Moon Impact Probe which deliberately crashed into the Lunar South Pole Just over a decade later, on 31st January 2019, Chandrayaan-2 is returning to the Moon, this time with a more controlled landing The first Chandrayaan made headlines by discovering water molecules on the Moon’s surface The second could be the first step in Indian ambitions in space, according to Kailasavadivoo Sivan (KYE-LAS-SAVA-DEE-VOO SEE-VAN) of the Indian Space Research Organisation These ambitions include greatly expanding India’s presence in space

This in turn would lead to, according to The Diplomat journalist Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, “a seat at the high table of global governance of outer space” However, China, Russia, Europe and the US are all competing for real estate in space, As Jan Worner, director general of the European Space Agency states, “we need new legal restrictions” in order to safeguard missions and prevent them from falling prey to Earth-bound politics

7 PTSCIENTISTS India isn’t alone in launching an expedition to the Moon PTScientists is a privately financed German team who plan to launch a lunar mission in 2019 They intend to land near the Apollo 17 rover Officially they want to investigate the corrosive effect of the Moon’s atmosphere

The initial rovers will be followed by a flotilla of spacecraft on a launch cycle of every 18 to 24 months In addition to exploring further in the Taurus-Littrow region of the Moon, PTScientists hope to reveal why man hasn’t returned in nearly fifty years 6 BLUE ORIGIN Blue Origin, the sub-orbital flight company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will start selling tickets for space tourism in 2019 Blue Origin Senior Vice President Rob Meyerson anticipates test flights will begin “soon”

Prices have yet to be finalised, but Meyerson is already looking ahead to future projects “We believe setting up colonies on the Moon is the next logical step” However, Blue Origin’s ambitions pose worrying questions about whether humanity’s expansion into space should be driven by profit, instead of curiosity According to Robert Frost, a flight controller at NASA, the financial priorities of the private sector would restrict the scientific endeavours that broaden mankind’s knowledge of the great beyond 5

EXOMARS 2020 Despite a tense political climate, the European Space Agency and Russian Roscosmos joint project ExoMars 2020 is still on course It is due to have selected a landing site on Mars by the middle of 2019 Among its many duties, the ExoMars probe is expected to discover whether or not the Red planet has ever harboured life, and whether or not it could support it again The recommended site is Oxia Planum, which lies just north of the equator According to the ESA, it holds a rich record of the planet’s wetter past

ExoMars scientist Jorge Vago says, ""We are on a quest to find biosignatures [and] opportunities to explore ancient water-rich environments that could have been colonised by microorganisms” If ExoMars finds conditions suitable for supporting micro-organisms, it could bolster claims by geomicrobiologist Barry DiGregorio that NASA has deliberately suppressed evidence of life on the Red Planet 4 FEDOR Space exploration has always relied on non-human test subjects However, in 2019 the Russian Space industry will send humanoid robots to the International Space Station

The android, known as Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research, or FEDOR, will pilot a Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS However, FEDOR is not an ordinary android It is an artificially intelligent machine that was first built and trained to shoot guns Former Russian Deputy Prime Minister and current head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, says, “We are not creating a Terminator, but artificial intelligence that will be of great practical significance in various fields” Rumour has it that Russia plans to send FEDOR on solo missions to the Moon in years to come

3 ARTIFICIAL METEORS Japanese startup ALE is the first company to specialise in customised, artificial meteor showers Their first test will happen in March 2019 The mission will launch two micro-satellites, each carrying 400 chemical pellets They will stay in a low Earth orbit for nearly a year before activating above Hiroshima in February 2020

The mission will cost ALE over $20 million, but they plan to recoup this by selling commercial rights to private bidders Officially, the artificial meteors are just for entertainment But in theory, they could hit satellites in low Earth orbit and trigger a cascade effect that could wipe our entire communications infrastructure ALE says the risk of this is only one in one hundred million 2

TIANQIN In 1916 Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his general theory of relativity These ripples in the fabric of spacetime carry enormous energy at the speed of light and are generated by cataclysmic events that hint at the very nature of gravity itself In 2019, China plans to launch the first satellite in a program to detect and investigate this phenomenon The program, named Tianqin, or “Harp in the sky”, uses three satellites equipped with high-precision laser interferometry to measure any changes in the distance between them Yet U

S House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers says, war in space is going to happen, and projects like Tianqin display just how far behind America is in this new arms race 1 DEEP SPACE GATEWAY It has been nearly five decades since America last sent men to the Moon Remarkably, NASA’s 2019 budget includes a project to build an orbital space station above the lunar surface by 2028

This could be the first step in another manned mission to Mars The proposed Deep Space Gateway will require significantly more resources than NASA can generate In comparison, the ISS cost $125 billion, and that was a multinational effort NASA plans to have the first phase, of platforms facilitating power and propulsion, to be in place by 2022 But China has already announced plans to build a complete moon base in 2025

In light of this, former astronaut Eileen Collins says NASA is not being ambitious enough She says, “2028 for humans on the Moon seems like it’s far off… We can do it sooner” The race is on

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