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10 of the Biggest NASA’s Future Missions

10. InSight

10 of the Biggest NASA’s Future Missions
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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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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.

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)

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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)

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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.


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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.

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

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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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