12 Space Missions of 2012

The year 2011 was full of space news – most successful and some about failed mission. However, the coming 2012 does not supposed to be less production in the means of space launches and discoveries. Let us bring the most anticipated space missions for 2012 and hope that all of them will appear under the successfully accomplished list by the end of the year.

1. First Commercial Spaceship Flights to ISS

As far as space shuttle program has terminated in 2011, NASA was encouraging engineering companies to develop a new spacecraft that will be able to deliver space  cargo and passengers to the International Space Station.

By the results of competition, Dragon space capsule was selected to make its first launch in 2012. The new spacecraft is developed by Hawthorne, company Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX) and is scheduled to launch atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket on February 7, 2012. Another spacecraft which is still in development by the Orbital Sciences Corporation, of Dulles is also planned to launch in May 2012 atop Orbital’s Taurus 2 $200,000.

2. Flight by Virgin Galactic

Commercial flights and tourism was always one of the major goals of $200,000and now in 2012, it is planned to fly paying passengers to the suborbital joy rides to the edge of space and back. A leader in the commercial development is Virgin Galactic, a California based company that is headed by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson. The space orbital flight estimation per passenger is around $200,000. The spacecraft SpaceShipTwo and its mothership WhiteKnightTwo developed by Virgin Galactic, have already performed test flights to the Earth orbit but the official launch date is not yet announced. However, around 400 passengers have already paid for the flight in advance and got their place in the queue of space tourists.

3. First Chinese Manned Space Station

With the growing role of China in space flights development, it is pretending to have its own first manned space station. On September 29, China has already launched its first space station test space module, Tiangong-1 module, and conducted its first in-orbit rendezvous and docking. The test space module is still in orbit. Further, on October 31, the robotic Shenzhou 8 mission launched, which succeeded to meet with Tiangong-1 multiple times before returning to Earth in November. China plans to launch Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 missions during 2012 for developing the building a space station plans. At least one of the flights will be crewed.

4. NASA’s GRAIL Probes will Arrive to Moon

On September 10, NASA has launched a $496 million GRAIL spacecraft on a mission to map the moon‘s gravity, to help learn about its interior and formation. The two probes are planned to arrive to their target on the New Year’s Day. The spacecrafts will spend 3 months on the orbit of the Earth for tracking the moon‘s gravitational field by measuring minute changes in the distance between the two spacecraft due to gravitational variations.

5. The Launch of LightSail-1

The first launch of the LightSail-1 unmanned solar sail spacecraft is planned in 2012. It is developed by a nonprofit organization Planetary Society that is working on the space exploration. The mission will be dedicated for using the sun’s radiation to push a spacecraft farther and faster than traditional propulsion does. The LightSail-1 space vehicle is the first of three planned tests of the technology by the Planetary Society. LightSail-1 is made of three small cube-shaped spacecraft attached to four triangular Mylar sails arranged like a kite. It is planned to work purely on solar batteries.

6. Dawn Probes will Start Moving towards the Second Asteroid

NASA’s Dawn probe launched on 2007 has reached asteroid Vesta in July 2011. Vesta is the second-most- massive body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  In July 2012, the Dawn probe is planned to leave the Vesta orbit and move forward the dwarf planet Ceres, the only larger body in the asteroid belt. It will reach the Ceres in February 2015. The probe is dedicated to study the planets for clues about the solar system history and the formation of the planets.

7. Curiosity Rover will Arrive on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity space rover, which was launched on November 26, 2011, will reach the planet Mars on August 9, 2012. The rover which was designed by the Mars Science Laboratory, is the largest and most ambitiously designed Mars rover to date, packed with 10 different science instruments to search for signs of life on the red planet Mars.

8. Dream Chaser Drop Tests

The Dream Chaser is a private space plane built by Sierra Nevada Corporation of Colorado which is supposed to become an orbital flier used for delivering NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. It is planned that the Dream Chaser will fly atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. But before space launch, it is planned to launch the vehicle closer to the ground in summer 2012. The vehicle will be lofted to high altitudes by Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo mothership and then it will be dropped back to the Earth for testing the vehicle’s landing capabilities.

9. Secret Air Force Space Plane Return

The U.S. Air Force secretive spy spacecraft called X-37B which is in the orbit since March 5, 2011 is planned to land back to the Earth early in 2012. The spacecraft has been launched atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral. There might be another launch of the Air Force spacecraft but the details on this mission are kept secret.

10. New Additions on ISS

New additions are planned to be done on International Space Station in 2012. Though the $100 billion space station is practically complete, there are still facilities and tools missing. ISS is football field-size collaboration among the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada. In May 2012, Russia is planning to launch the Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MPLM) which will add a new room to the ISS’s Zvezda nadir port, replacing the Pirs docking compartment currently there. Nauka will house science experiments and cargo and will be used for docking, as well as work and rest areas for the crew. The same Russian Proton rocket that launches Nauka will carry the European Robotic Arm. This new tool will be attached to the Russian side of the space station to assist with work on the station‘s exterior.

11. Planetary Exploration

Many robotic probes are currently exploring the solar system and some of them will reach their destinations in 2012. For example, the Cassini orbiter, which has been flying in the Saturn orbit since 2004, will make multiple flybys of the Saturnian moons Titan and Enceladus, as well as distant flybys of many other moons, including Helene, Mimas, Janus, Polydeuces, Telesto, Pallene and Dione. NASA’s Messenger mission that is currently frying around Mercury’s orbit will continue its up-close study of the planet closest to the sun. NASA’s New Horizons mission launched in 2006 will come closer to Pluto than any other spacecraft did so far. New Horizons is due to reach its target in 2015, when it will fly by Pluto to study the dwarf planet and its moons. The spacecraft has already passed the orbit of Uranus and is due to pass Neptune’s orbit in 2014.

12. Permanent Human Presence in Space

Since 2000, International Space Station that is working for 5 partner agencies have a permanent human presence in space. This approach will be maintained in all the coming years and up to 2020 until the ISS will be functioning. In 2012, twelve astronauts are planned to travel to the ISS on four different spacecrafts. Men and women who will join ISS in 2012 will spend around six months each living and working in space, performing experiments in a wide range of sciences inside humanity’s only microgravity laboratory.
source: www.space.com