There’s a bit or two of pieces of news relating to future space missions about today. The first of these is Solar Orbiter, an ESA probe to investigate the Sun. The probe will have work done on it by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory and so there’s a video of an MSSL scientist explaining solar maxima and why they’re important on the UCL website.
Also built in the UK, the Gaia mission is the successor to Hipparcos. It is an astrometry mission, measuring the positions of stars repeatedly with great precision over a five year period and seeing how those positions change with time. There will also be an eye out for things like asteroids, brown dwarfs, exoplanets and the like that may drop into the field of vision. More info and interviews at the BBC website.
The Decadal Survey, which will determine the order of importance attached to twenty-eight potential NASA missions to be launched in the next ten years, is due to report back in March last year. Spaceflight today concentrates an article on the implications for Martian exploration and a possible sample return mission that may blast off in 2018, putting two new rovers on Mars in a mission run with ESA (as well as another one before that).
Of course with things going up, it does help to do a little house keeping. Electric Optics Systems, an Australian company, have developed a laser tracking system, aiming to track objects above around ten centimetres in length. The Lidar system would require multiple stations around the Earth in order to properly track the debris and ensure no two orbits overlap at the wrong time.
But before anything can be tracked, it needs to be launched. Russia has long been looking for an independent alternative to Baikonur, the spaceport developed during the Soviet era in Kazakhstan. Now, they are to begin construction of a smaller spaceport close to the border with China in order to perform civillian launches. The construction of the Vostochny (‘East’) cosmodrome near the town of Uglegorsk in the Far Eastern Amur region, is expected to begin in 2012, with the first launches due in 2015 and the first manned launches in 2018.
And finally, as he celebrates the forty-first anniversary of stepping foot on the Moon after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin has written a piece on the immediate future of manned US spaceflight.