Space 2010

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Published in 1982 and put to film in 1984, Arthur C. Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two tells the story of a joint U.S. and Russian investigation into the events surrounding Dave Bowman, HAL, Discovery One and the Jupiter monolith mission from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A great story and a great film if you’ve never read or seen either of them.

With 2010 beginning to spread its wings, let’s take stock of what reality has planned for the space community this year. While I wish we were so far advanced in our space endeavors that we were actually planning to send a second human-mission to Jupiter, it is not to be just yet. However, the year promises to be an exciting one nonetheless.

NASA

If the schedule holds, then 2010 will be the year the Space Shuttle stopped flying. STS-133, currently scheduled for September 16th, will deliver a final set of modules and repair parts to the International Space Station. However, the shuttle may get a reprieve. The Obama administration is currently reviewing the recommendations delivered by the Augustine commission, where a few scenarios called for an extension of the program. Word on the street is that decisions are currently being made and announcements are expected as the year’s budget is presented.

In addition to the remaining shuttle launches, a whole host of Earth science satellites (GOES-P, Aquarius, & Glory) as well as a space weather satellite (SDO) are scheduled. As my fellow GeekDad, Brian McLaughlin, posted earlier this week, we can also expect to continue to receive great science from some of NASA’s existing programs. Hubble-fans are still raving over the images and data being collected by the refurbished & upgraded space telescope. Kepler is just beginning to build up its collection of exo-planets. Cassini is just hitting its stride and WISE is getting set to begin delivering more detailed infrared data as well. In the “cruise” category, Dawn (2011) and New Horizons (2015) continue to race towards their destinations.

European Space Agency

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft completed its final Earth fly-by late last year as it makes its way out to a rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. The Europeans are also cultivating candidates to participate in the Mars500 “super sleep-over”. Six crew members will participate in a 520 day Mars simulation, locked away from the rest of the world in a Moscow facility. After proving out the technology for an automated transfer vehicle with the Jules Verne, ESA’s second ATV, the Johannes Kepler, is set to send up supplies to the ISS in November 2010.

Russian Federal Space Agency

The Russians ended 2009 with a bang by declaring that they were gunning for Apophis. The details are sketchy, but at least someone is looking to test the concepts for asteroid deflection (hint, hint NASA). As the shuttle program winds down, the Soyuz will be the primary means of human transportation up to the ISS, charging guest-riders $51 million a seat. In addition to preparing humans for an extended Martian mission along with ESA (see Mars500 above), Russian engineers are also completing tests for the Phobos Grunt mission. The sample return spacecraft will launch in 2011 and land on Mars’ moon Phobos. After collecting soil samples, a return rocket will send the material back to the home planet in 2012.

China National Space Administration

The Chinese have been relatively quiet since the success of their Shenzhou 7 mission in 2008. They have mentioned that more launches for the Shenzhou series are yet to come, but a definite schedule has not been set. The Russian Phobos Grunt mission is being conducted in cooperation with CNSA. They plan to piggyback an orbiter (Yinghou-1) on the Russian launcher to study the magnetic field and atmosphere of the Red Planet. And finally, CNSA has launched a full-blown lunar exploration program. I would not be surprised to see a launch or two this year.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

The Japanese plan to follow-up the successful test of their own space-based automated transfer vehicle with a supply run to the space station using their second H-II Transfer Vehicle. In May 2010, the Venus Climate Orbiter dubbed Akatsuki/Planet-C will be launched aboard an H-IIA rocket. The spacecraft will settle into orbit around Venus later in the year, turning its science instruments towards the planet to collect atmospheric data. The satellite will join ESA’s Venus Express which has been studying the 2nd planet from Sol since 2005.

The Commercial World

Not to be outdone by governmental agencies, 2010 also promises to be a banner year for commercial spaceflight. Two companies in particular have important projects planned. First up, SpaceX will oversee the first launch of their Falcon 9 rocket. The launch will also be the first flight for the Dragon spacecraft. The goal for Dragon this year is to have a successful docking with ISS, however a human-rated version will soon follow.

After rolling out the stunningly beautiful White Knight 2, Virgin Galactic is expecting to run through test flights of WK2′s carry-along shipmate, Space Ship 2, in 2010. The only downside to this is that regular flights for the paying public are not scheduled for another two years. However, that is two years it will take for me to even start to save up for the $200K expense.

Summary

It is looking to be a great year for space enthusiasts. Hopefully, as the space highways continue to become more crowded, the competition to be “the first” will help to drive innovation and exploration in human spaceflight. During the height of the Augustine commission’s meetings and presentations, The Planetary Society put out their roadmap for the way forward. I was immediately drawn to their proposed list of space program goals:

  • The first human voyages beyond the Earth-Moon system
  • The first human voyages beyond the gravitational influence of Earth
  • The first human exploration of near-Earth asteroids
  • The first human voyages to another planet, culminating with a Mars landing and safe return to Earth
  • The first human outpost on Mars with self-sustaining power and resources

Let’s see the world’s space programs take on these challenges!

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