What’s next for NASA? A quick look at some of the big things coming up:
1. We will add to our existing robotic fleet at the Red Planet with the InSight Mars lander set to study the planet’s interior.
This terrestrial planet explorer will address one of the most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science - understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.
2. The Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of past microbial life, gather samples for potential future return to Earth.
The Mars 2020 mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on the Red Planet in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. The Mars 2020 rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside in a “cache” on the surface of Mars.
3. The James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier observatory of the next decade, studying the history of our Universe in infrared.
Webb will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own solar system.
4. The Parker Solar Probe will “touch the Sun,” traveling closer to the surface than any spacecraft before.
This spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the sun’s atmosphere about 4 million miles from our star’s surface. Parker Solar Probe and its four suites of instruments – studying magnetic and electric fields, energetic particles, and the solar wind – will be protected from the Sun’s enormous heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite heat shield.
5. Our OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in August 2018, and will return a sample for study in 2023.
This mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is the next step in the search for planets outside of our solar system (exoplanets), including those that could support life. The mission will find exoplanets that periodically block part of the light from their host stars, events called transits.
The mission will place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of Europa – a world that shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust and which could host conditions favorable for life.
We’ve issued a draft announcement seeking U.S. industry-led studies for an advanced solar electric propulsion (SEP) vehicle capability. The studies will help define required capabilities and reduce risk for the 50 kilowatt-class SEP needed for the agency’s near-term exploration goals.