2 Exciting Space Missions for 2018

There’s no better way to celebrate another trip around the sun than praising the achievements you have unlocked on the course of it, right? Or wait, is it?

How about praising the great things that are yet to come?

Unlike the new resolution/me habits that people tend to forget about pretty quickly, on a whole, humankind has stuck to some pretty astonishing advancements for the past years. This year is no short of new space missions, rocket launches, and reaching destinations.

InSight Mission

One I am really excited to mention is the InSight mission (which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport). It involves Mars and is part of NASA’s Discovery Program which aims to find out how telluric (or solid planets like our own) form.

We do know that the interior of rocky planets (Earth included) is made of separate layers and we also know the basics of how these layers have formed, but scientists can’t really put their finger on how they actually separated with time.

So NASA is sending a geophysical lander which would dig deep down into the Red Planet’s surface basically trying to measure its ’’vital signs’’. It will try to find out more about the structure and composition of the layers, their seismic activity, how the heat flows through these layers, and how they behave in relation to the sun, meteorite impacts, and so on. All in all, many things that haven’t been done before on Mars.

inSight instrument details

InSight instrument callouts. [Source: NASA]

Just a quick recap, our planet has roughly the same layers, from the crust that you live on (and is the most widely understood) to the hot mantle (basically flowing lava) and all the way down to the extremely not-so-hot-yet-high-pressured-core (which would make you implode and eventually crunch you down into a bean-sized human if you ever tried to dig your way to China).

Structure of the Earth

The structure of the Earth -remember that it’s not flat [Source]


The reasons why Mars is a great candidate for this is because its size is big enough to allow it to undergo pretty much all the formation processes a rocky planet has to go through and yet it is not that massive to have lost the traces of how it all happened over time, unlike our planet.

In comparison with Earth it doesn’t have an atmosphere, nor does it have any tectonic plates, meaning it has been less geologically active.

The InSight launch will occur in May this year and it is expected to land on Mars on 26th of November 2018.

Google Lunar XPrize Competition

The next one is a rather unusual competition with a grand prize of 20 million dollars which involves getting your own spacecraft to the Moon.

The project is called the Google Lunar XPrize Competition and your spacecraft has to get past 3 essential steps in order to win. First it has to successfully land on the Moon’s surface, then travel 500 meters and manage to transmit some data back, including a HD video, a panorama, an email, and a text message. And all the funds need to come from a private source.

It addresses engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators from all around the world willing to come up with a new and affordable means of robotic space exploration.

journey mission team indus

The journey of the mission [Source: Team Indus]

The teams are SpaceIL from Israel, Moon Express from the USA, TeamIndus from India, Hakuto from Japan and the International Team’s Synergy Moon.

All will use rockets to reach Earth’s orbit, SpaceIL plans to use a SpaceX Falcon 9 and TeamIndus will share the ride with Hakuto using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle provided by the Indian Space Agency. The Synergy Moon mission will use a NEPTUNE 8 rocket and the Moon Express will fly on Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle.

They plan to land on the Apollo’s 15 site on the Moon, on Mare Imbrium, which is one of the largest craters in the Solar System, forming after the collision with a protoplanet during the Late Heavy Bombardment of the Moon.

This is also one of the reasons the Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17 landed there, to collect the remnants of asteroids and comets from billions of years ago who crashed and formed those craters.

ECA rover

EK CHOTI SI ASHA rover [Source: Team Indus]

Here are some cute facts about each team.

SpaceIL wants to create an ’’Apollo moment’’ to inspire the youth around the world to pursue careers in science and engineering and they also promised to donate the money to advance the education in their country. In order to travel the required distance on the Moon they developed a concept called space hop. After the landing, it will take off again with the remaining fuel and then land 500 meters away.

Moon Express will also use a space hop and sees this as an opportunity to advance the current technology and further debunk Moon’s mysteries and resources, deeming the Moon as the eighth continent.

TeamIndus has by far the cutest lander, code-named ECA (an acronym for Ek Chhoti si Asha meaning a small hope), which also has some comic strips made for it. It is one of the lightest models of rovers, has a matchbox-like body with cute wheels and eyes.

India was the forth nation to launch a probe into orbit towards Mars. And they did it on their first attempt, being widely known for their extremely successful missions which are also done on a shoe-string budget. They hold the record for delivering 104 satellites on a single rocket.

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Hakuto has a quite shiny lander with 3D printed wheels and is made of plastic reinforced with carbon fiber polymers. Its name comes from the Japanese folktale meaning white rabbit, in reference to a rabbit that lives on the moon, as seen from the Earth, based on pareidolia, the psychological process of thinking some markings on the moon resemble a face or some apparent pattern.

Synergy Moon aims to be ’’the lowest-cost launch provider in the commercial space industry’’ as stated by its co-founder and CEO.  They try to make it as DIY as possible, trying to use irrigation tubes and microcontrollers, also experimenting with low-cost fuels such as turpentine (a resin abstained from live trees).

“Since I was a little child I was homesick when I looked up at the stars and finally they are closer than ever before.” states Martine-Nicole Rojina, the co-founder of BEING IN SYNERGY.

The Google Lunar XPrize Competition was announced back in 2007 and a year ago from a total number of 29 teams, 5 finalists were selected to compete for the final prize and their landing deadline is set on 31th of March this year.

Let’s sit tight and see what this year has in store for us. I bet it’ll be a great one with a lot of stories to tell.

It may be that our cosmos curiosity is a genetically encoded force that we illuminate when we look up and wonder. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

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