The BepiColombo Mission To Mercury is Losing Power

Artist's impression of the European Space Agency/JAXA BepiColombo mission in operation around Mercury. Credit: Astrium

BepiColombo is a joint ESA/JAXA mission to Mercury. It was launched in 2018 on a complex trajectory to the Solar System’s innermost planet. The ESA reports that the spacecraft’s thrusters have lost some power.

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Here’s Where China’s Sample Return Mission is Headed

Chang'e-6 will land in the Apollo Basin inside the much larger SPA basin. Image Credit: Zeng et al. 2023.

Humanity got its first look at the other side of the Moon in 1959 when the USSR’s Luna 3 probe captured our first images of the Lunar far side. The pictures were shocking, pointing out a pronounced difference between the Moon’s different sides. Now China is sending another lander to the far side.

This time, it’ll bring back a sample from this long-unseen domain that could explain the puzzling difference.

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How Knot Theory Can Help Spacecraft Can Change Orbits Without Using Fuel

These diagrams show a set of possible routes a spacecraft could take between different regions near to the Moon. Image via a new paper by Danny Owen and Nicola Baresi.

When a spacecraft arrives at its destination, it settles into an orbit for science operations. But after the primary mission is complete, there might be other interesting orbits where scientists would like to explore. Maneuvering to a different orbit requires fuel, limiting a spacecraft’s number of maneuvers.

Researchers have discovered that some orbital paths allow for no-fuel orbital changes. But the figuring out these paths also are computationally expensive. Knot theory has been shown to find these pathways more easily, allowing the most fuel-efficient routes to be plotted. This is similar to how our GPS mapping software plots the most efficient routes for us here on Earth.

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What a Swarm of Probes Can Teach Us About Proxima Centauri B

Artist’s impression of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri. The double star Alpha Centauri AB is visible to the upper right of Proxima itself. Credit: ESO

You’ve likely heard of the Breakthrough Starshot (BTS) initiative. BTS aims to send tiny gram-scale, light sail picospacecraft to our neighbour, Proxima Centauri B. In BTS’s scheme, lasers would propel a whole fleet of tiny probes to the potentially water-rich exoplanet.

Now, another company, Space Initiatives Inc., is tackling the idea. NASA has funded them so they can study the idea. What can we expect to learn from the effort?

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Want to Leave the Solar System? Here’s a Route to Take

A future interstellar probe mission aims to travel beyond the heliosphere to the local interstellar medium to understand where our home came from and where it is going. Credit: John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

The edge of the Solar System is defined by the heliosphere and its heliopause. The heliopause marks the region where the interstellar medium stops the outgoing solar wind. But only two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, have ever travelled to the heliopause. As a result, scientists are uncertain about the heliopause’s extent and its other properties.

Some scientists are keen to learn more about this region and are developing a mission concept to explore it.

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The ESA’s Mars Rover Gets a New Map

European scientists have created an extremely detailed geological map of Oxia Planum, the landing site for the ESA's Rosalind Franklin rover. Not only will it help guide the rover's driving, it will help the rover sample the most promising sites. Image Credit: Fawdon et al. 2024.

Rosalind Franklin, the ESA’s Mars rover, is scheduled to launch no sooner than 2028. Its destination is Oxia Planum, a wide clay-bearing plain to the east of Chryse Planitia. Oxia Planum contains terrains that date back to Mars’ Noachian Period, when there may have been abundant surface water, a key factor in the rover’s mission.

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Someone Just Found SOHO's 5,000th Comet

The 5,000th comet discovered with the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft is noted by a small white box in the upper left portion of this image. A zoomed-in inset shows the comet as a faint dot between the white vertical lines. The image was taken on March 25, 2024, by SOHO’s Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO), which uses a disk to block the bright Sun and reveal faint features around it. Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was designed to examine the Sun, but as a side benefit, it has been the most successful comet hunter ever built. Since early in the mission, citizen scientists have been scanning through the telescope’s data, searching for icy objects passing close to the Sun. An astronomy student in Czechia has identified 200 comets in SOHO data since he started in 2009 at the age of 13. He recently spotted the observatory’s 5,000th comet.

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Phew, De-Icing Euclid’s Instruments Worked. It’s Seeing Better Now

Artist impression of the Euclid mission in space. Credit: ESA

From its vantage point at the Sun-Earth L2 point, the ESA’s Euclid spacecraft is measuring the redshift of galaxies with its sensitive instruments. Its first science images showed us what we can expect from the spacecraft. But the ESA noticed a problem.

Over time, less light was reaching the spacecraft’s instruments.

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A Single Grain of Ice Could Hold Evidence of Life on Europa and Enceladus

The Cassini spacecraft captured this image of cryovolcanic plumes erupting from Enceladus' ice-capped ocean. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/CalTech

The Solar System’s icy ocean moons are primary targets in our search for life. Missions to Europa and Enceladus will explore these moons from orbit, improving our understanding of them and their potential to support life. Both worlds emit plumes of water from their internal oceans, and the spacecraft sent to both worlds will examine those plumes and even sample them.

New research suggests that evidence of life in the moons’ oceans could be present in just a single grain of ice, and our spacecraft can detect it.

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Europe Has Big Plans for Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

A false-colour image of the plumes erupting from Enceladus. Image Credit: NASA/ESA
A false-colour image of the plumes erupting from Enceladus. Image Credit: NASA/ESA

Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, is a gleaming beacon that captivates our intellectual curiosity. Its clean, icy surface makes it one of the most reflective objects in the entire Solar System. But it’s what’s below that ice that really gets scientists excited.

Under its icy shell is an ocean of warm, salty water, and the ESA says investigating the moon should be a top priority.

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