ESA’s Juice mission launched last month on April 14, beginning its long journey to explore Jupiter’s icy moons, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto. But soon after launch, mission controllers realized a 16-meter (52.5 ft)-long antenna for a radar instrument was jammed and couldn’t deploy. The Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna is mission critical, as it gathers data for the instrument that will be able to map beneath the ice at these moons.
But, whew, the story has a happy ending. After nearly a month of efforts to free the stuck antenna, engineers figured out a fix for the RIME antenna. They fired a mechanical device in the jammed bracket, which created enough jiggling and rattling to allow the antenna to fully deploy.
Most everyone is familiar with Olympus Mons, the largest volcano on Mars and also the largest in the Solar System. But there are several other enormous shield volcanoes on Mars. The second largest is Ascraeus Mons, and new images from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft reveal some interesting features on the side or flank of the mountain.
When there’s a permanent base on the Moon, astronauts will need a way to replenish their oxygen supply. Fortunately, there’s an almost infinite amount of oxygen in the surrounding regolith, locked up the rocks and soil. The key would be to figure out a cost-effective way to extract it.
Now, NASA has demonstrated that they can harvest oxygen from the lunar regolith, even in the vacuum conditions of space. They used a device called a carbothermal reactor to successfully extract oxygen from a simulated lunar regolith, while also simulating the heat that would be produced by a solar energy concentrator.
We’ve seen our share of photos of Mars from orbit and the surface, but what about its moons? The United Arab Emirates Hope orbital mission to Mars sent home new beautiful high-resolution images of the Red Planet’s moon Deimos when it flew within 100 km of the moon last month. This is the closest any spacecraft has been to Deimos in almost 50 years.
In the photos, the science team says that their images of Deimos help provide evidence that the moon wasn’t a captured asteroid but came from Mars itself during an impact in the ancient past, much like Earth’s Moon.
On April 10th, ESA’s Solar Orbiter made its closest flyby of the Sun, coming to within just 29% of the distance from the Earth to the Sun. From this vantage point, the spacecraft is performing close-up studies of our Sun and inner heliosphere. This is basically uncharted territory, as we’ve never had a spacecraft this close to the Sun.
One of the goals of the mission is to figure out why the Sun’s corona — its outer atmosphere — is so hot. The corona can reach temperatures of 2 million degrees C, vastly hotter than its 5,500 C surface. A new paper based on Solar Orbiter data, may offer some clues.
The highly-anticipated Dragonfly robotic rotocraft mission to Saturn’s moon Titan is scheduled to launch in 2027. When it arrives in the mid-2030s, it will hover and zoom around in the thick atmosphere of Titan, sampling the air and imaging the landscape. What could be more exciting than that!?
Well, actually … there’s more: Dragonfly will also be equipped with a mass spectrometer that will help it search for the chemistry of life in this alien world. Astrobiologists want to know if Titan has the same type of chemistry on its surface that Earth did in its early history, which could have helped give rise to life on our planet.
Where on the Moon will the first crewed Artemis mission Land? While NASA is still deliberating on the exact location, they’ve chosen several candidate landing sites near the lunar south pole. This new image captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter reveals what the astronauts might see out the window as they approach their destination.
In October 2021, NASA launched its ambitious Lucy mission. Its targets are asteroids, two in the main belt and eight Jupiter trojans, which orbit the Sun in the same path as Jupiter. The mission is named after early hominin fossils (Australopithecus afarensis,) and the name pays homage to the idea that asteroids are fossils from the Solar System’s early days of planet formation.
Visiting ten asteroids in one mission is the definition of ambitious, and now NASA is adding an eleventh.
It’s been over 35 years since a spacecraft visited Uranus and Neptune. That was Voyager 2, and it only did flybys. Will we ever go back? There are discoveries waiting to be made on these fascinating ice giants and their moons.
But complex missions to Mars and the Moon are eating up budgets and shoving other endeavours aside.
A new paper shows how we can send spacecraft to Uranus and Neptune cheaply and quickly without cutting into Martian and Lunar missions.