Looking ahead at the year in space 2021

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The pace of space exploration appears to have been meteoric in recent years, and 2021 has some major milestones to look forward to. From maiden flights to fiery endings, long-awaited launches to history-making first steps, here are some of the biggest upcoming events in space exploration this year.

Three separate missions are currently en route to Mars and set to arrive in February.

First up is the Emirates Mars Mission, due to rendezvous with the Red Planet on February 9. The Al Amal (or Hope) orbiter will study weather cycles and events in Mars’ atmosphere.

Next is Tianwen-1, a Chinese spacecraft scheduled to arrive from February 11. The mission consists of an orbiter that will map the surface and study the atmosphere, and a rover that will set down on the surface on April 23, performing chemical analyses on the soil and searching for signs of life.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to land in Jezero Crater on February 18. There it will continue the mission of its long-running predecessor, Curiosity, searching for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is also packing an experimental aerial drone, and will stash samples of surface soil and rocks away in an ambitious plan to eventually return them to Earth for study.

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In September 2019 the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Vikram lunar lander crashed into the Moon’s surface. And in the second quarter this year, the agency is taking another crack at it.

Chandrayaan-3 is essentially a mission repeat of 2019’s Chandrayaan-2, which included Vikram. To prevent too accurate a replay, the new lander has a different engine configuration and a Laser Doppler Velocimeter (LDV) to help the craft judge its descent speed more precisely.

This time around, the mission only involves a lander and rover – Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter is still operating just fine around the Moon. If successful, Chandrayaan-3’s rover will explore the lunar south pole for evidence of water.

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Source: Michael Irving

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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