Space is really, really big. In order to contend with it, the future of space exploration also needs to be equally vast and forward-thinking. That's why NASA has fifteen projects in development in order to help us unlock its infinite secrets as well as our own home planet.
While many of these projects involve exploring space, even more are being undertaken with the goal of understanding the ecosystems of Earth. Projects are being designed to measure our oceans, the atmosphere, and even natural disasters. After all, the more we know about our home, the more we'll have an easier time living in it. Mars is also getting plenty of attention, with several rovers in development to look for potential life as well as study the red planet's crust so we can know more about how it was formed.
So if you're curious what the future of space travel looks like, check out the list below!
Sometime between July 31, 2018, and August 19, 2018, NASA will launch the Parker Solar Probe. The Parker Solar Probe will be the first NASA spacecraft to swoop into the Sun's outermost atmosphere, going seven times closer than any other probe in the past.
The probe will use Venus's gravity over the course of seven flybys to slowly get closer and closer to the sun over the span of seven years. The probe will use a combination of in situ measurements and imaging to gain a deep look into the this outer layer of solar atmosphere, known as the corona. The data collected by the Parker Solar Probe will help scientists better understand the origins of solar wind and how fluctuations in the space surrounding Earth affects us.
NASA is planning the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission to investigate an asteroid that is near the Earth. The plan is to extract a big boulder from its body, then redirect it into a stable orbit around the moon. After that, an astronaut crew from the new Orion craft will dock with the ARRM and spacewalk over the boulder for five days while conducting tests. The proposed mission will hopefully launch by late 2021 and the information we glean from it will be used to help plan a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
The Cold Atom Laboratory is an expansion of the International Space Station designed to observe quantum phenomena that would be impossible to study on Earth. The CAL is also supposedly going to be testing the use of laser-cooled atoms for quantum sensors. The module is almost ready to go and will be installed on the ISS in April 2017.
The Deep Space Atomic Clock is a mercury-ion clock that is incredibly tiny and precise. It’ll be launched into Earth orbit in 2016 to test its ability to be a tool for spacecraft navigation system and expanded GPS systems. The device is meant to aid with long-distance navigation (especially in space travel) and is reportedly 50 times more accurate than the models used today.