ON THE HORI­ZON

Mis­sions set to launch, or do their most im­por­tant work, in the com­ing years

Sky at Night Magazine - - SPACE 2019 -

While 2019 sees many space projects do­ing great work, there are plenty of oth­ers get­ting ready for their big mo­ment in the years to come. The most fa­mous of these – and the one that’s been be­set by nu­mer­ous de­lays and con­tro­ver­sies – is NASA’s James Webb Space Tele­scope (JWST). The agency an­nounced in June last year that the or­bit­ing in­frared ob­ser­va­tory – with a huge 6.5m-wide seg­mented mir­ror – will have its launch pushed back once again to late March 2021. But many astronomer­s are will­ing to wait, given the po­ten­tial for truly ground-break­ing sci­ence from the tele­scope. By ob­serv­ing at in­frared wave­lengths, the JWST will be able to peer much far­ther back in time than even the ven­er­a­ble Hub­ble. It should also rev­o­lu­tionise ex­o­planet sci­ence and give re­searchers clues about other im­por­tant eras of the Uni­verse, like when the first stars lit up their sur­round­ings.

An­other mis­sion be­ing read­ied for lift-off in the next few years is ESA’s So­lar Or­biter, due to launch to­wards the Sun in Fe­bru­ary 2020. The space­craft has been largely built by UK en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists, with con­tri­bu­tions from other Euro­pean na­tions, and is equipped with a range of in­stru­ments for ex­am­in­ing our star’s at­mos­phere and so­lar wind. In or­der to make its ob­ser­va­tions, the probe will po­si­tion it­self in an el­lip­ti­cal or­bit that will see it – at times – loop­ing around the Sun within the or­bit of Mer­cury, so it will be equipped with a heat shield to pro­tect its elec­tron­ics from the high tem­per­a­tures.

Look­ing fur­ther into the fu­ture, there’s also the 2021 launch of ESA’s Eu­clid mis­sion, which will study the enig­matic phe­nom­ena ‘dark en­ergy’ and ‘dark mat­ter’ by ac­cu­rately mea­sur­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tion of the uni­verse. So space fans can be guar­an­teed of a brim­ming sched­ule for many years to come.

So­lar Or­biter, the ul­ti­mate sun seeker

The lat­est es­ti­mated cost for NASA’s James Webb Space Tele­scope is $9.6 bil­lion

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