2018: Spaceflight Goes Mainstream


Jet Asia Pacific - - Contents - Text by Anthony Lam and Lucy Brydon

2018 looks set to be the year that Spaceflight goes mainstream, and we’re excited about the new frontiers ahead. Aside from NASA launching a new mission to Mars, two of its vehicles that are already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets. Add to that the plethora of new developments on international commercial projects coming to fruition – including a spacecraft that will get closer to the sun than ever before – and you know this year is going to be one to remember. It’s not just NASA that has a busy year in front of them; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned with billionaire entrepreneurs continuing to dominate much of the activity.

To provide some background, founder, chairman, and CEO of Amazon.com Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin is developing reusable rockets and spacecraft. Paypal founder Elon Musk’s Spacex has a US$2.6 billion NASA contract to carry astronauts to and from the space station, with another short-term future goal being that one or both private space taxis will be up and running by 2017. Richard Branson’ Virgin Galactic is currently developing a six- passenger vehicle called Spaceshiptwo, which is part of its wider strategy to push the frontiers of tourism into

suborbital space. And Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems has part financed Spaceshipone, an experimental vehicle which became the basis for Spaceshiptwo. It was designed by Scaled Composites, with the aim of launching satellites and crewed vehicles beneath an enormous airplane (which will be the largest aircraft ever built with a wingspan of 385 feet.

Specific to Asia, there are a number of out-of-this-world developments set to push the boundaries of space exploration in the East this year. For mainland China, this means a range of rockets are being launched, including the Gaojing-1 03, Jilin-1 07, Jilin-1 08, Huaian, Xiaoxiang 2 - 5, Quantutong 1 and Yaogan-30 J. Most excitingly, China’s space agency will attempt the first lunar sample return mission since 1976. Current plans mean that the Chang'e 5, the moon rock sampling spacecraft, will be carried into space by a Long March 5 rocket. The craft will be the first to attempt to land on the dark side of the moon, and it is hoped that the voyage will bring about some exciting discoveries for scientists back on earth. China will also launch the core module Tianhe-1which is the first of three large modules that will make up the completed Chinese Space Station (CSS).

India also has bold plans for its space programme, with its Chandrayaan 2 craft scheduled for launch in March. The craft, which includes an orbiter, lander and rover, will be delivered into high-earth orbit before travelling to the moon with the intention of studying lunar soil. Japan's space agency similarly intends to launch several Earth-monitoring satellites, as well as a space station resupply mission. Perhaps most excitingly, JAXA is also assisting the ESA'S mission to Mercury.

As for the rest of the globe, January should see Spacex’s Falcon Heavy to finally lift off after years in development and many delays. February will see US spaceflight startup Rocket Lab launch its experimental rocket, the Electron, which is designed to send small satellites into orbit. This is big news for potential commercial travellers; if the flight goes well, Rocket Lab may stop test flights and go straight to commercial missions.

March is pencilled to see NASA’S launch their next exoplanet-hunting spacecraft, TESS. TESS has been created to study stars throughout the entire night sky and find the closest rocky exoplanets to Earth. This will help astronomers see if there are any suitable rocks for hosting life. April will see NASA’S Commercial Crew Test Launch; both Spacex and Boeing have been developing capsules to carry passengers to the space station, so it will be particularly exciting to see these giants bring their dreams to life.

July will herald the launch of NASA’S Parker Solar, which will swoop to within 4 million miles of the sun's surface in order to provide data on solar activity and impact our ability to forecast space-weather events. August will see the arrival of the Osiris Rex on the asteroid Bennu, after almost two years in space. From there, Rex will send back samples of Bennu before continuing on its seven-year journey. Later in the year, October will see the launch of the Bepicolombo, while November will see the Insight land on Mars, rounding off an action-packed year of space travel.

As you can see, 2018 looks set to be an incredible step forward for man - and mankind, for that matter. With private space tourism just around the corner, and from billionaire entrepreneurs to the everyman, we are looking forward to seeing when and how these big dreams – and scientific developments - become a reality.

2018年看来要成为太空飞行兴起之年,我们正怀着激动的心情开拓未来新疆域。除了美国国家航空航天局( NASA)向火星发射的一台新探测器外,两台此前已经进入太空的飞行器将最终抵达它们的预定目标。同时,国际商业项目上的众多新发展也取得丰硕的成果——包括一艘太空飞船将比以往更加靠近太阳,你将意识到,今年将是值得铭记的一年。不光NASA在2018年会非常忙碌,商业太空行业也计划进行多次重要试飞,而亿万富翁企业家们仍将继续主导大部分太空活动。

典型的例子包括:亚马逊公司的创始人、董事长兼CEO杰夫·贝佐斯( Jeff Bezos)的蓝色起源航天公司( Blue Origin)正在开发可再利用的火箭和宇宙飞船。Paypal公司的创始人埃隆·马斯克( Elon Musk)的Spacex公司获得了NASA价值26亿美元的合同,负责运送宇航员往返空间站,该公司的另一未来短期目标是到2017年底将一架或两架私人太空巴士投入运行。理查德·布兰森( Richard Branson)的维珍银河公司( Virgin Galactic)目前正在开发一艘称为Spaceshiptwo的6座飞船,这是该公司的将旅游边界扩展到亚轨道太空的更广泛战略的一部分。保罗·艾伦( Paul Allen)

的Stratolaunch Systems公司为Spaceshipone提供了部分资金, Spaceshipone是一艘实验飞船,它是Spaceshiptwo的前身。它由Scaled Composites设计,旨在通过一架巨型飞机(它将是迄今为止建造的最大的飞行器,翼展385英尺)发射卫星和载人飞船。

今年,亚洲地区也取得了众多了不起的成就,因而大大推进了东方世界的空间探索边界。例如,中国大陆发射了多枚火箭,包括:高精一号03组、吉林一号07组、淮安、潇湘二号5组、全图通1号和遥感30J号卫星。最令人激动的是,中国航天局将自1976年以来开始执行首次月球样本返回任务。目前的计划是,嫦娥5号月球岩石取样飞船将由长征5号火箭送入太空。嫦娥5号将是第一艘试图在月球背面着陆的飞船,人们希望这次飞行将为地球上的科学家带来一些惊喜的发现。此外,中国还将发射中国空间站( CSS)的核心模块天河1号,它将是建成后的中国空间站( CSS)的3大构成模块的第一个模块。

印度的太空项目也有雄心勃勃的计划,比如,印度定于3月份发射Chandrayaan 2号飞船。这艘飞船包括一个轨道飞行器、一个着陆器和一台月球车,它将被送往高环地轨道,然后飞往月球以研究月球土壤。日本宇航开发局同样打算发射多枚地球监测卫星,并将进行一项空间站补给任务。或许最令人激动的是,日本宇航开发局同时在协助欧洲空间局( ESA)实施向水星发射探测器的任务。

对于世界其他地方,经过多年研发和多次推迟后, Spacex的猎鹰重型 ( Falcon Heavy)火箭将于2018年1月升空。2月份,美国的太空飞行创业公司Rocket Lab将发射其实验火箭Electron,它用于将小型卫星送入轨道。这对于潜在的商业旅行者来说是个大消息,因为如果这次飞行进行顺利, Rocket Lab可能停止试飞,直接进入商业运行。

NASA定于3月份发射其下个系外行星搜寻太空飞船TESS。TESS旨在研究整个夜空中的恒星,以及寻找距离地球最近的岩质系外行星。这将帮助天文学家研究是否有任何合适的岩石供生命生存。4月份, NASA将进行商业载人试验发射;此外, Spacex和波音公司都在开发太空胶囊,用以将乘客送往空间站,看到这些巨头正在将它们的梦想变成现实着实令人激动。

7月份, NASA将发射Parker Solar太阳探测器,它将飞到距太阳表面400万公里以内的区域,以获得关于太阳活动的数据,并将对我们预测太空天气事件的能力产生影响。8月份,经过大约2年的太空飞行, Osiris Rex探测器将抵达贝努( Bennu)小行星。从那里, Rex将发回贝努小行星的样本,然后,继续其为期7年的旅行。到今年晚些时候, 10月, Bepicolombo将发射, 11月, “洞察”号探测器将在火星着陆,从而为这个太空飞行活动密集的年份画上句号。

正如你所看到的, 2018年将成为个人和整个人类在太空旅行领域取得难以置信进展的一年。随着私人太空旅行即将到来,从亿万富翁企业家到普通人,我们都对这些伟大的梦想以及科技发展何时及如何成为现实翘首以盼。

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