6SDFH LJKW AMBITION
Humanity’s aspirations to explore the Solar System have grown in 2017
Since 2001, the International Space Station has been humankind’s only full-time foothold beyond the surface of the Earth. Staying on the permanent station has allowed astronaut Peggy Whitson to rack up an impressive 665 days in space, setting a new flight time record for a US astronaut. But the ISS might not be alone much longer. The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has conducted several orbital docking and refuelling tests on its second temporary space station, Tiangong-2, throughout 2017. The station is intended as a testbed for technologies to create a future permanent Chinese space station. In August, two ESA astronauts Samantha Christoforetti and Matthias Maurer spent nine days with Chinese taikonauts, training for a water landing on return from such a station, boding well for potential European collaboration on the station.
However, CNSA’s lunar ambitions hit a snag on 2 July, when one of their Long March 5 rockets failed. Another Long March 5 was meant to take the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission to the far side of the Moon this November, but has been postponed while the agency investigates the fault.
NASA and ESA’s ambitions have met with complications too, as real-term funding cuts have caused the agencies to cancel the joint AIDA mission, intended to intercept and deflect an asteroid.
The year has been much more fortuitous for SpaceX. The company finally achieved one of its long term aims of reusing a rocket booster stage, and later one of its Dragon cargo modules. However, in October company founder Elon Musk announced SpaceX was abandoning its stalwart Falcon rockets to develop a completely reusable system, the BFR, which could take people to Mars as early as 2024.
SpaceX has made 15 successful launches in 2017 so far
SpaceX successfully landed its first reused Falcon 9 in March
Samantha Christoforetti during joint training with Chinese taikonauts this August
Peggy Whitson holds the US record for cumulative time in space – a huge 665 days
The ambitious joint NASA/ESA asteroid mission AIDA fell victim to funding troubles