Sci & Tech editor Amy Thompson tells Redbrick her top 5 space stories to look out for in 2016.
1…The year of the Red Planet
Mars, during its orbit of the sun, will become directly aligned with the sun when viewed from Earth and therefore will look the largest it ever has from Earth surface. This makes 2016 the best time to launch as many missions to Mars as possible so that we can learn more about the Red planet.
One of the most exciting missions is the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which was launched this April and will land on Mars in October, taking only 7 months, the shortest time for any spacecraft to reach Mars! The Trace Gas Orbiter will performing tests on the gas found in the atmosphere of the planet, enabling scientists to discover more about the planet.
2…Return to Earth
Two astronauts who have been based on the International Space Station for more than a year will return to Earth this March. One of the astronauts returning is Scott Kelly: he has an identical twin brother Mark, who stayed on Earth. Scientists for the first time will be able to make a direct comparison between two twins, to truly see the effects zero gravity has on the human body over a prolonged time period.
3…Rosetta says goodbye
September will see the Rosetta spacecraft end its mission. The spacecraft sent out a probe, Philae, which was the first to land on a moving comet. Unfortunately Philae did not anchor to the surface of the comet initially and bounced around into a dark area of the planet, where the signals it was transmitting could not reach Earth. Luckily, a few months later as the comet moved these signals could be intercepted again and the lost data was received. The Rosetta spacecraft is still orbiting the comet now and it has been programmed to collide with the comet this September. The slow collision course that has been set will allow close up photos of the comet’s surface to be taken by Rosetta and sent back to Earth for analysis.
4…Exploration of Jupiter
NASA’s Juno spacecraft will enter into Jupiter’s orbit this July. The craft will be collecting data such as wind speeds; this can be used by enabling scientists to help identify how the planet was formed. In addition the spacecraft has a camera, Junocam, which will be transmitting images back to Earth, so expect to see images like those we saw last August of Pluto that were sent from the New Horizons spacecraft.
5…Fly me to the moon
The Dream Chaser spacecraft will be launched this November by Sierra Nevada. The Dream Chaser which can carry a maximum of seven people, and can enter the Earth’s lower atmosphere is capable of launching vertically but can land horizontally like a normal aeroplane therefore can be landed on any runway. NASA have given contracts to Sierra Nevada and two other companies, in the hope of using their rockets to deliver supplies to the international space centre. Depending on the success of the Dream Chaser it is anticipated that more advanced rockets will be developed to enable tourists to travel to the moon in the near future!