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13 of the Biggest NASA’s Future Missions

[Estimated read time: 8 minutes]

For more than a century, NASA has been exploring the universe while developing critical advances in aerospace and technology. The world’s leading space agency has landed humans on the moon, rovers on Mars, sampled the atmosphere of Jupiter, explored Mercury and Saturn and even recorded the data from Pluto – to name a few.

Some of the missions like Juno, Kepler, SeaWinds, Dawn are relatively new. We are going further than this and presenting you a subjective list of NASA’s future mission. Only time will tell if they join the ranks of NASA’s finest work. Here is what is next for NASA.

13. Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM)

Expected Launch Date: December 2021
Budget: $1.25 billion

NASA wants to advance the new technologies and spaceflight experience required for missions related to Martian system in the 2030s. ARRM is the first robotic project to visit a huge near-Earth asteroid, take tons of (4-meter) boulder from its surface, and send it to the stable orbit around the Earth’s Moon. From there, astronauts can explore it and return with samples in the 2020s.

The spacecraft would be propelled by solar electric propulsion and electricity will be generated by UltraFlex-style solar panels. The advanced ion engine can increase efficiency by 50% and process 3 times the power of antecedent design. There are over 16,000 near-Earth asteroids cataloged as potentially hazardous objects. NASA has yet to select a target for ARRM.

12. ECOSTRESS

Image source: NASA

Expected Launch Date: April 2018
Budget: $30 million

ECOSTRESS stands for ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station. It will measure the loss of water through the tiny pores in leaves and use that data to better understand how much water plants need. The mission will address the 3 following questions: –

  • How terrestrial biosphere responds to changes in water availability?
  • How diurnal vegetation water stress affects global carbon cycle?
  • Could we reduce agricultural vulnerability via advanced monitoring and improved drought estimation?

The ECOSTRESS will answer these questions by accurately calculating the plants’ temperature. It will use multispectral thermal infrared radiometer to measure the surface temperature. The radiometer will collect the most detailed temperature pictures of the surface ever captured from space, and will be able to calculate the temperature of and individual farmer’s field.

11. Mid-Infrared Instrument

Expected Launch Date: October 2018
Type: A part of James Webb Space Telescope
Mid-Infrared Instrument (short for MIRI) is developed to play a key role in James Webb Space Telescope – it will image galaxies and stars in infrared light. The instrument contains both a camera and a spectrograph that measure mid-infrared wavelength range from 5 to 28 micrometers. To make these observations possible, it uses silicon arrays doped with Arsenic.
Since MIRI views the longer wavelengths it needs to be cooler as compared to other instruments. Therefore, it is equipped with an additional cooling system that includes a Joule-Thomson Loop heat exchanger and a Pulse Tube precooler. It allows the instrument to be cooled down to 7 Kelvin during space operation.

10. InSight

Launch Date: 5 May, 2018
Budget: $150 million

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It is based on NASA’s successful Phoenix Mars lander design. The aim is to place a stationary lander equipped with a heat-flow probe and a seismometer on the surface of Mars. This would help scientists better understand the evolution of Mar’s as a rocky planet.

InSight will study the thickness, size, density and overall structure of Mar’s core, mantle and crust, and the rate at which heat escapes from the Mar’s interior. It will determine if there is any seismic activity, estimate the size of Mar’s core by measuring the amount of heat flow from its interior, and whether the core is solid or liquid. The measured accuracy will be 3 to 10 times better compared to current data.

9. Euclid

Expected Launch Date: Quarter 4, 2020
Budget: $540 million

Euclid is designed to investigate the profound cosmic mysteries of dark energy and dark matter. It’s a European Space Agency mission with some major contributions from NASA, including 16 state-of-the-art infrared detectors and 4 spare detectors for one of the two instruments. NASA will perform detailed testing on flight detectors before delivery.

The aim of the mission is to better understand dark matter and dark energy by accurately calculating the acceleration of the universe. To do this, the spacecraft will measure the redshift of the galaxies at varying distances from Earth and analyze the relationship between redshift and distance.

8. Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3)

Credit: NASA (OCO-2 test)

Launch Date: Not decided yet
Budget: $150 million

The third Orbiting Carbon Observatory is a future space instrument (to be hosted on International Space Station) developed to investigate the distribution of carbon dioxide on Earth as it relates to increasing urban populations and altering patterns of fossil fuel combustion. The plan is to assemble the instrument using spare material of its previous version (OCO-2).

OCO-3 has three high resolution grating spectrometers that collect the data of atmospheric carbon dioxide with precision, and coverage required to assess the spatial and temporal variability of carbon dioxide over an annual cycle. The instrument has a planned operational life of 3 years. It will gather data in three different measurement modes: Glint mode, Nadir mode and Target mode.

7. Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT)

Expected Launch Date: Mid 2020
Budget: $755 million

SWOT is jointly developed by NASA, the Canadian space agency, and the French space agency CNES. It will be the first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water – satellite will gather detailed data of how water bodies on Earth change over time. It will survey more than 90% of the globe, studying rivers, lakes and oceans at least twice every 21 days. The aim is to improve ocean circulation models and climate predictions.

The instrument used in SWOT mission is based on a new type of radar called Ka-band Radar Interferometer (KaRIN). The satellite will fly 2 radar antennae that will measure the elevation of the surface along a 75 mile wide swath below. The mission will have a lifetime of 3 years.

6. Lucy and Psyche

Lucy (left) and Psyche (right)

Expected Launch Date: October 2021 (Lucy) / October 2023 (Psyche)
Budget: $450 million

Lucy will visit multiple Trojan asteroids that share Jupiter’s orbit and Psyche will visit the unusual metal asteroid named 16 Psyche. They will study antique leftover from the early beginnings of the Solar System, providing new information on how the planets and other bodies formed. It will be a perfect example of cross collaboration between two different missions and how they can perform together instead of being sent to widely separated regions.

Lucy will begin to explore 6 of the Trojan asteroids from 2027 to 2033, including one binary asteroid, Menoetius and Patroclus. It will investigate the surface composition, surface geology, interior and bulk properties, and will determine the number, size-frequency distribution and location of dense rings.

Meanwhile, Psyche will be sent to investigate something never seen before – a metal asteroid. Psyche, meanwhile, will be sent to explore something never seen before: a metal asteroid. Unlike most asteroids which are rock or ice, it consists of metallic iron and nickel. The spacecraft will study the asteroid’s elemental composition, remanent magnetic field, and gravity field.

5. Europa Clipper

Expected Launch Date: 2022
Budget: $2 billion

Europa Clipper comprises of an orbiter and a lander. The objective is to conduct a detailed study on Jupiter’s Moon Europa and discover whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. Europa has always been on a high priority for exploration because it contains a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust.

The clipper will study the distribution and chemistry of key compounds, characteristics and formation of surface, including sites of current or recent activity. The spacecraft will be powered by solar panels, which is only 4% as intense at Jupiter as it is in Earth’s orbit. However, it is cheaper and practical to use on the spacecraft as compared to plutonium.

4. Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL)

Launch Date: June 2017
Budget: $12.7 million

NASA is developing an experimental instrument for International Space Station. CAL is designed to be maintained on orbit and it will use microgravity environment to analyze quantum phenomena. In this environment, atoms could be observed over a longer period, and mixtures of various atoms could be analyzed free of the gravity effects, where cold atoms can be trapped easily by magnetic fields.

The investigation would help scientists to monitor the gravity of Earth and other planetary bodies, or for developing advanced navigation systems. The mission will have a duration of 1 year with up to five years of extended operation.

3. Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)

Expected Launch Date: Mid 2020s
Budget: 2.7 billion

WFIRST is a NASA observatory developed to perform wide field imaging and surveys of the near infrared space. It will be a 6 year mission, and might able to answer vital questions in both exoplanet detection and dark energy. The telescope will have a primary mirror (2.4 meters in diameter), and two instruments: Wide Field instrument and Coronagraph instrument.

The Wide Field instrument will provide a wide field of view, 100 times greater than the Hubble infrared instrument. It will measure light from a billion galaxies over the 6 year course, and will perform a microlensing survery of the inner Milky Way in order to find over 2,500 exoplanet. The second instrument, Coronagraph will work on high contrast imaging and spectroscopy of different nearby exoplanets.

2. NISAR

Expected Launch Date: Mid 2020
Budget: $1 billion

NISAR (NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar) is a project between NASA and ISRO to develop and launch a dual frequency synthetic aperture radar satellite. It will be the first satellite to use dual frequency, and it is planned to be used for remote sensing to investigate some of the most complex, natural processes of our planet, including ice-sheet collapse, ecosystem disturbances, and natural hazards like tsunamis, landslides, earthquakes and volcanoes.

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ISRO will provide a spacecraft bus, S-band SAR (synthetic aperture radar) payload, the launch vehicle and associated services. NASA will provide mission’s L-band SAR, a high rate communication system for science data, a payload data subsystem, GPS receiver and a solid state recorder. The 2,600 kg satellite will be 3-axis stabilized and likely to be launched from India.

1. Mars 2020

Expected Launch Date: July 2020
Budget: $2.5 billion

The Mars 2020 rover will investigate the planet’s surface geological processes, the possibility of life on Mars in the past, and potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geological materials. Throughout the process, it will collect samples of rock and soil, and cache them on the Mar’s surface for future missions. The rover’s design is based on the Curiosity, but will carry a different scientific payload. A radioisotope thermoelectric generator will power the rover.

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The rover can measure and demonstrate technology to help scientists understand any hazards posed by Martian dust, and it will test technology to create oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. Moreover, the rover will be equipped with x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, ultraviolet Raman spectrometer, ground-penetrating radar, stereoscopic imaging system, and a solar powered helicopter drone.