Six space missions are expected by 2024

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If 2023 ended on a high with the return to Earth of a rare cargo of debris from asteroid Bennu aboard the OSIRIS-REx probe, 2024 will be no less exciting for space enthusiasts. Here are some of the celestial missions that will mark the next 12 months.

A robot on the moon. Several robotic missions will launch in 2024 as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, in which NASA works with various private space companies to prepare the lunar soil for flesh-and-blood astronauts. Landers will be responsible for the occasional delivery of scientific instruments to our satellite aimed at, for example, measuring the amount of hydrogen on the surface (to be used as a possible source for obtaining fuel), or even evaluating the amount of radiation from which crews and instruments will need to be protected. Five launches of these “trailblazers” are expected this year, while in November 2024 the Artemis II mission is expected to launch, which will carry a crew into lunar orbit for several days.

Lunar Water Map. NASA’s Trailblazer orbiter will also observe the moon, expected to launch in the first quarter of 2024, and will conduct detailed top-down mapping of lunar water, the most sought-after resource for future human colonies. Where exactly is it located? Trapped in the very structure of the minerals or stored in large icy patches on the surface? This information will also serve to support the Artemis lunar program.

Exceptional souvenirs. In May 2024, the Chinese lunar probe Chang’e 6 will launch with an ambitious goal: to bring back to Earth soil samples taken from the south pole of the Aitkin Basin, the oldest and deepest impact crater on the Moon (as well as one of the oldest in the Solar System). Formed about 4.3 billion years ago, this region on the far side of the Moon is thought to have an abundance of water ice. Never before have scientists had in their hands fragments of soil from the eternally darkened part of the moon.

HERA. Remember the NASA Dart mission? In 2022, the probe deliberately crashed into Dimorphos, the smaller of the pair of binary asteroids (the partner is called Didymos). The mission was to demonstrate the possibility of diverting a dangerous asteroid from its orbit using a specially designed space mission. In October 2024, two years later, ESA’s Hera probe will fly to the same pair of asteroids to verify the effects of this first mission.

When it arrives, in 2026, it will try to understand whether Dimorphos has changed its orbit, as the first measurements indicated, and by how much: this will be key data for organizing the defense of the planet against a potential celestial danger.

The other Europe. Jupiter’s moon Europa is one of the main candidate worlds to host life. NASA’s Clipper probe, scheduled for launch in the fall of 2024, will for the first time thoroughly examine the salty ocean that lies beneath the satellite’s icy crust to understand whether it has the conditions necessary to support basic life forms. By analyzing the plumes of water that rise from the satellite during dozens of flybys, Clipper will look for traces of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, the basic elements of living things, measure the amount of salt dissolved in the moon’s underground ocean, and tell us something more about this fascinating satellite. However, we will have to wait until 2030 for its arrival in Europe.

martian moon. In September 2024, the Japanese space agency JAXA will launch the Martian Moon Exploration (MMX), a mission to the Mars moon Phobos. The goal is to bring the satellite samples back to Earth by 2029. The mission will also determine whether the Martian moons are captured asteroids or rather the result of a collision between the Red Planet and a large celestial body.



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