All eyes on Mars

Two new missions successfully arrived at Mars, bringing the number of active missions there to 10. The UAE’s Hope probe entered orbit on 9 February, while China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover arrived a day later. Tianwen-1’s rover is still attached and will not land until May or June. Each of these arrivals marks their country’s first successful mission to Mars. NASA’s Perseverance rover will be next to arrive, on 18 February 2021. Our arrival guide has all the details. Pictured: Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, was lit red to celebrate Hope’s arrival at Mars. Image credit: AFP.


NASA announced the lander for PlanetVac’s Moon flight. PlanetVac is a sample collection technology funded in part by Planetary Society members and donors. Last year, NASA announced PlanetVac would join 10 other science and technology demonstrations on a 2023 Moon mission. The agency now says the lander will be Blue Ghost, built by Firefly Aerospace. Although Firefly also builds rockets, this flight will apparently take place using another rocket that has yet to be determined.


NASA and the space agencies of Italy, Canada, and Japan are considering a joint Mars mission to map water ice. The International Mars Ice Mapper, or I-MIM, would create detailed global maps showing the depth and location of water ice beneath Mars’ surface. The information would help scientists learn about the Red Planet’s past and select landing sites for future human exploration missions. If approved, I-MIM could launch as soon as 2026.


NASA plans to launch its Europa Clipper spacecraft aboard a commercial rocket in October 2024. The news, which came out during a meeting of outer planets scientists, frees the mission from a requirement to use NASA’s Space Launch System. A 2024 launch would put Europa Clipper on course to arrive at Jupiter in 2030.


The European Space Agency will soon accept applications for new astronauts. The window to apply runs from 31 March to 28 May 2021. It’s the first time ESA has accepted new applications in 11 years; the space agency says it will place a high emphasis on diversifying its astronaut corps.

small bodies

NASA’s Psyche mission, which will explore a metal asteroid of the same name, has moved into the final phase of launch preparations. The mission launches in August 2022. Psyche may be the exposed core of an ancient protoplanet. Studying it will provide insight into our solar system’s history and teach us more about asteroids, comets, and other small worlds.


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