These are exciting times for space exploration, and 2016 is no exception. This year, space fans can expect to see a lot of action going.
2015 was highlighted by the glorious July 14 Pluto flyby, in which NASA spacecraft New Horizons made its closest approach to the dwarf planet. It revealed flowing ice, stunning hazes, and icy mountains.
While that was a tough act to follow, this year has its share of spectacular milestones that can make any spaceflight enthusiast cry joyously inside.
The Space Coast, a Florida region around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is anticipating as many as 30 launches by a diverse rocket group as well as arrivals of incoming space vehicles. All manned NASA spaceflights depart from either of these two stations.
Col. Eric Krystkowiak, commander of the 45th Launch Group at the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, said the focus on more commercial space missions is marking a great transition.
“We’re in a transitional, transformational time in our history, where we’re looking to the entrepreneurial, commercial spirit to really bring that spaceport of the future,” he said.
This year, too, NASA and private companies such as SpaceX and Boeing will keep developing a range of spaceships for crewed missions in the future.
Take a look at this list of 2016 space missions to eagerly await:
Jason-3 Satellite Launch (Jan. 17)
The Jason-3 satellite of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is slated to launch towards the planet’s orbit on top of the Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX. The goal is to create accurate measurements of sea-level variations around Earth, enriching a wealth of climate change data amassed for over two decades.
During its launch, SpaceX will attempt to bring the Falcon 9’s first phase on an unmanned ship located off the Californian coast, as part of its efforts to create reusable rockets for greater spaceflight cost-efficiency.
Return-To-Flight Cargo Mission Of SpaceX (Feb. 7)
The private firm maintains a $1.6 billion contract with the American space agency to fly at least 12 robotic resupply missions to the International Space Station via Falcon 9 and its Dragon capsule.
While the first six fights went smoothly, the seventh was not as perfect: minutes after it lifted off on June 28, the Falcon 9 broke in the skies of Florida. The Feb. 7 mission will be SpaceX’s first ISS cargo mission from the time of the accident and since its rocket modification and improvement efforts.
Launch of ExoMars Mission’s First Phase (March 14)
Not to be left behind, the European Space Agency is set to debut the first phase of the ExoMars mission, which will blast the Trace Gas Orbiter toward Mars along with a lander. The TGO will orbit the Red Planet and look for methane, something mostly emitted by living creatures on Earth.
The lander, on the other hand, will collect data as it descends through Mars’ atmosphere and explores its surface. However, its main objective is to serve as a launch pad for the ExoMars rover that will seek for signs of life on the planet starting 2018.
Astronaut Journey To ISS (March 18)
It’s a field day for NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams along with cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Aleksey Ovchinin as they travel toward the ISS, launching with a Russian Soyuz space vehicle from Kazakhstan.
Other crew launches will follow and will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on June 21, Sept, 23, as well as Nov. 16.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket’s Maiden Launch (April)
Sometime this month, the company will launch its massive Falcon Heavy rocket – a 68-meter tall booster deemed the strongest today and able to loft 53 metric tons to low Earth orbit.
This rocket was an original part of SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s plans since 2002 to colonize Mars.
Culmination Of NASA’s Dawn Mission (Summer 2016)
Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting Ceres since last year in March, studying the dwarf planet’s intriguing bright spots as well as other features. The $466-million space mission is poised to end this June, a time when it will be out of fuel. Its mission team, however, expressed optimism over extending its lifespan.
Arrival Of Juno Spacecraft At Jupiter (July 4)
NASA’s spacecraft is slated to enter Jupiter's orbit on this date, which is almost five years since the probe was launched. This solar-powered mission will record the gravitational and magnetic fields of the giant planet, providing details in its core, structure, and evolution.
Blastoff Of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission (Sept. 3)
This is the projected launch of the agency’s OSIRIS-REx, which will proceed to the Bennu asteroid, a potentially hazardous asteroid, and arrive there by 2018. The spacecraft will snatch at least 2.1 ounces of material from the space rock and return the sample to the living planet in 2023.
The mission is expected to help scientists zero in on potential asteroid impacts and the solar system’s origins.
Rosetta Comet Mission’s Historic End (Sept. 30)
This mission – the first ever that has orbited and landed on a comet – is scheduled to culminate on this date. Rosetta spacecraft will spiral down onto comet 67P’s surface.
It will also call to mind the bittersweet journey of the Rosetta lander Philae, which has returned data and images to Earth but remains asleep after several attempts to bring it back to life.
Europe’s Satellite-Navigating System (Late 2016)
ESA officials announced that Europe’s version of the United States’ GPS or Global Positioning System will become operational in late 2016.
The Galileo satellite navigation system will have four more space vehicles launched this year and will eventually comprise 30 satellites orbiting Earth.
At present, 12 satellites of the civilian-run network have already been launched.