Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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A Box of ‘Black Magic’ to Study Earth from Space

RainCube, due to fly in 2017, forced JPL’s engineers to get creative in order to squeeze an antenna into a CubeSat. (Credits: Tyvak/Jonathan Sauder/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
RainCube, due to fly in 2017, forced JPL’s engineers to get creative in order to squeeze an antenna into a CubeSat. (Credits: Tyvak/Jonathan Sauder/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Black magic.

That’s what radiofrequency engineers call the mysterious forces guiding communications over the air. These forces involve complex physics and are difficult enough to master on Earth. They only get more baffling when you’re beaming signals into space.

Until now, the shape of choice for casting this “magic” has been the parabolic dish. The bigger the antenna dish, the better it is at “catching” or transmitting signals from far away.

But CubeSats are changing that. These spacecraft are meant to be light, cheap and extremely small: most aren’t much bigger than a cereal box. Suddenly, antenna designers have to pack their “black magic” into a device where there’s no room for a dish — let alone much else.

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JPL CubeSat Clean Room: A Factory For Small Spacecraft

JPL's Integrated CubeSat Development Laboratory is 1,250 square feet of pristine tabletops and freshly scrubbed air dedicated to the manufacture and testing of CubeSat spacecraft. Four different CubeSat mission teams can utilize the clean room at the same time. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
JPL’s Integrated CubeSat Development Laboratory is 1,250 square feet of pristine tabletops and freshly scrubbed air dedicated to the manufacture and testing of CubeSat spacecraft. Four different CubeSat mission teams can utilize the clean room at the same time. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — There was a time when you could find spacecraft clean rooms in two sizes –- – big and bigger. After all, these harsh-white, sterile environments have to handle very large spacecraft, support equipment, and a small legion of highly trained technicians and engineers.

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NASA to Send 2 CubeSats to Mars

NASA's two small MarCO CubeSats will be flying past Mars in 2016 just as NASA's next Mars lander, InSight, is descending through the Martian atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO, for Mars Cube One, will provide an experimental communications relay to inform Earth quickly about the landing. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA’s two small MarCO CubeSats will be flying past Mars in 2016 just as NASA’s next Mars lander, InSight, is descending through the Martian atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO, for Mars Cube One, will provide an experimental communications relay to inform Earth quickly about the landing. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars – a stationary lander in 2016 – the flight will include two CubeSats. This will be the first time CubeSats have flown in deep space.  If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars.

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