If you’re interested in space science and exploration you could be forgiven for thinking we’re in for a barren few years. Space exploration seems to have been hit by boring earth bound problems like debts, rubbish banks and property crashes. We’re always hearing about budget cuts in the ESA, NASA and all the other cool projects that expand our horizons but not our bank balances.
But things might not be as bad as I thought initially. This evening whilst settled in a boring French hotel, I was surfing through all the usual US news sites online. I always miss the American News more when I’m abroad – so have to go and get a US IP address like this – http://www.proxyusa.com/. But it was all a bit depressing so I switched to the French TV stations and actually got a bit of a boost. There was a report on the European Space probes from the European Space Agency chief Jean-Jaques Dordain.
He suggested that 2013 was going to be a fabulous year which would ’yield and extraordinary harvest’ of knowledge about space. Here’s some of the highlights –
On February 22, he said, scientists will report back on the soil moisture and salinity mission, in which a satellite launched in 2009 is mapping the Earth’s land surface and oceans for changes linked to global warming.
On March 21, astrophysicists will release the first all-sky map of cosmic microwave background – the backwash of ancient radiation from the universe’s creation 14 billion years ago. The map has been generated by the probe Planck, launched in May 2009.
And in June, ESA experts will release a complete “mineralogical map” of Mars, assembled from remote-sensing data from the Mars Express space exploration mission, Dordain said. Displaying hydrate soils that point to the signature of past water, the map will help select sites for an ambitious European-Russian science mission, ExoMars, comprising an orbiter that will launch in 2016 and a rover in 2018. On December 29, Mars Express will make the closest-ever fly-by of the Martian moon Phobos, “skimming” it to within less than 50 kilometres of its surface.
It’s pretty exciting stuff! But better still there’s even more to follow, Herschel will complete a map of the plane in the Milky way. Plus we should all be looking forward to the launch of Gaia the wonderful new astrometry telescope which can survey millions of stars and then produce a 3-D map !