Emily LakdawallaJan 04, 2013

Looking ahead to spacecraft activities in 2013

Hello, 2013! I'm looking forward to a fun year in planetary exploration -- but then every year is a fun year. What's ahead?

First of all, there are four solar system launches planned.

The biggest solar system launch of this year was one that I must admit I knew nothing whatever about until this week. I vaguely knew that there was a Chang'E 3 in the Chinese lunar mission pipeline, but I hadn't clued in that it was a soft lander. And it's a big one, tipping the scales at 1200 kilograms. That's heavier than Curiosity. Like Curiosity, it'll have an RTG to provide power and heat -- the heat part being particularly important for surviving long lunar nights. And while the lander itself is immobile, it will deploy a 100-kilogram rover. According to this post on nasaspaceflight.com, the lander will be equipped with a near-UV optical telescope for astronomical observation; a far-UV camera for studying Earth's ionosphere; a sounding radar; several optical cameras; and a soil probe. The rover will carry optical cameras and an APXS. I'm working on a longer post about this mission, because it's an exciting one. I don't actually know what the launch date is, only that it's supposed to be later this year. Assembly began last March.

Also headed to the Moon this year is LADEE (short for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer). LADEE is a lunar orbiter that will be studying the tenuous lunar atmosphere and the dust that levitates above its surface. It'll also be validating some new technologies, like optical communications. Its ride to space will be the first flight of Orbital Science Corporation's Minotaur V rocket. LADEE will have a short operational lifetime of about five months, including 100 days of science operations, in an orbit at 50 kilometers altitude. Here's an LPSC abstract (Delory et al. 2010) with more information about the mission's science goals. LADEE is currently expected to launch in September 2013. It's proceeding well toward that launch date; an update posted on their website yesterday described the attachment of its solar panels and preparation for "shake-and-bake" testing.

Two missions are preparing to take advantage of the 2013 Mars launch window, which opens in November. NASA's MAVEN mission will be studying Mars' upper atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind as a means to understand Mars' climate history. Its elliptical orbit will actually take it into Mars' upper atmosphere at each periapsis. MAVEN will be equipped with an Electra transceiver so that it can relay data to and from rovers and landers on Mars' surface, but its elliptical orbit will make it more difficult to use for relay than Odyssey or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Like LADEE, MAVEN is well on its way toward launch. Most NASA missions use Twitter now, but MAVEN's use is better than most, with frequent updates on assembly progress accompanied by photos, like this one.

Finally, India's Mars Orbiter Mission will launch into Earth orbit in October and then perform several orbital boosts before it departs on a Mars-bound trajectory in November. I just posted an update with what information I have been able to glean about the spacecraft and payload from recent articles in Indian media. Mission objectives are mostly engineering ones related to the challenges of operating India's first deep-space mission.

Those four will join a flotilla of spacecraft in ongoing missions. I haven't done one of my "what's up" updates for a while, because I wasn't satisfied with the format I was using -- I was repeating too much text from month to month. So many missions are in routine operations! It's not as if exploring the solar system could ever be "routine," but my updates had become kind of dull to write, and when writing about space gets boring, I'm doing it wrong. Thus the hiatus.

So what major mission events can we expect in 2013? To begin, here's Olaf Frohn's diagram of where our intrepid explorers are across the solar system:

At Mercury, MESSENGER's extended mission runs out in March, and rumor has it that NASA may choose to shut down an active spacecraft rather than spend the money to support another mission extension, despite the fact that MESSENGER has fuel enough for two more years of operations. You will likely be hearing about this from me again!

Nearer home, Juno will be flying by Earth on October 13, and you can hope to see some spectacular photos of Earth shot with JunoCam during the encounter. After that it'll take more than two more years to get to Jupiter.

On Mars, it is now Ls 239 of Mars Year 31, meaning that we're a bit more than midway between the southern vernal equinox and summer solstice. Curiosity (whose 2013 will comprise sols 144 to 499) is expected to spend January and February using the drill for the first time, then, finally, embark on the road trip to the base of the mountain. The trip will likely take the rest of the year. Opportunity (whose 2013 will comprise sols 3177 to 3533) will no doubt be noodling around on the rim of Endeavour crater all year. Jim Bell said in this week's hangout that the current thinking is that they'll wrap up at Cape York and drive south within a few months. Mars solar conjunction is in April; Jim said that'd make for a natural break between phases of Opportunity's mission. Of course, decisions are made tactically, and anything could happen!

At Saturn, Cassini will spend all of 2013 in a highly inclined orbit. That orbit has it spending most of its time on the sunward side of Saturn, until July, when back-to-back Titan flybys swing the apoapsis of Cassini's orbit to the opposite side of the planet.  Throughout the year there will be eight targeted Titan flybys (used both for science and for tweaking the orbit), as well as one 1000-kilometer-altitude Rhea flyby in March.

As for everyone else: Venus Express, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, ARTEMIS, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Voyagers are in multiply-extended missions; there's no reason to doubt that they'll spend 2013 in normal mission operations. Akatsuki, Dawn, New Horizons, and Rosetta will spend all of 2013 cruising, cruising, cruising toward Venus, Ceres, Pluto, and comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, respectively. In fact, Rosetta will be totally silent all year, waking up from hibernation in January 2014. Finally, Deep Impact and ICE are still alive out there, awaiting further orders.

Following is a listing of all active missions, with links to places I use to check up on their status. It's a long list! It currently includes 13 spacecraft (11 missions) actively returning science data, plus 9 others in cruise or post-mission phases. Since this is the first time I've posted this list, there are likely some bad links; please do let me know about them and I'll fix them. Also let me know if there are good resources that I've missed!

Eight spacecraft actively returning science data and regularly posting images to the Internet:

NASA Mercury orbiter

Main website - image gallery - UMSF forum
This site: MESSENGER blogs - MESSENGER images

Launched: 3 Aug 2004
Entered orbit: 18 Mar 2011
in extended mission (ending March 2013?)
Earth flyby: 2 Aug 2005
Venus flyby 1: 24 Oct 2006
Venus flyby 2: 5 Jun 2007
Mercury flyby 1: 14 Jan 2008
Mercury flyby 2: 6 Oct 2008
Mercury flyby 3: 29 Sep 2009

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
NASA Moon orbiter

NASA website - GSFC website - LROC website - LROC gallery - Quickmap access to PDS data - UMSF forum
This site: LRO blogs - LRO images

Launched 18 Jun 2009
Entered orbit 23 Jun 2009
Transferred to SMD Sep 2010
in extended mission (ending 2014?)

Mars Odyssey
NASA Mars orbiter

Main website - THEMIS images - UMSF forum
This site: Odyssey blogs - Odyssey images

Launched 7 Apr 2001
Entered orbit 24 Oct 2001
in extended mission

Mars Express
ESA Mars orbiter

Main website - science website - VMC image Flickr page - VMC blog - UMSF forum
This site: MEX blogs - MEX images

Launched 2 Jun 2003
Entered orbit 25 Dec 2003
in extended mission

Opportunity (Mars Exploration Rover B)
NASA Mars rover

Main website - status reports - raw images - Road to Endeavour blog - UMSF forumDamien Bouic panoramas - James Canvin panoramas - Midnight Planets raw image updates
This site: Opportunity blogs - Opportunity images

Launched 7 Jul 2003
Landed 25 Jan 2004
in extended mission

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
NASA Mars orbiter

Main website - HiRISE images - MARCI weather - CTX images via ASU global map website - UMSF forum
This site: MRO blogs - MRO images

Launched 12 Aug 2005
Entered orbit 10 Mar 2006
in extended mission

Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)
NASA Mars rover

Main website - status reports - Science Corner - REMS weather report - Learn about Gale crater - Ken Herkenhoff blog - UMSF forum
Raw images: official site - curiositymsl.com (Joe Knapp) - Mars Ogler (Dan Lidral-Porter) - raw images listing (Ludo Stellingwerff) - Damien Bouic panoramas
This site: sol-by-sol summary - Curiosity blogs - Curiosity images

Launched 26 Nov 2011
Landed 6 Aug 2012
in prime mission

NASA - ESA - ASI Saturn orbiter

Main website - significant event reports - Raw images - Looking Ahead - UMSF forum
This site: Cassini's Tour - Cassini blogs - Cassini images

Launched 15 Oct 1997
Venus flyby 26 Apr 1998
Venus flyby 24 Jun 1999
Jupiter flyby 30 Dec 2000
Entered orbit 30 Jun 2004
Saturn impact 15 Sep 2017
in extended-extended mission

Five spacecraft (three missions) returning science data:

NASA lunar orbiters


Launched as THEMIS B and THEMIS C 17 Feb 2007
Repurposed April 2011

Venus Express
ESA Venus orbiter

main website - science website - status reports - UMSF forum
This site: Venus Express blogs - Venus Express images

Launched 9 Nov 2005
Entered orbit 11 Apr 2006

Voyager 1 and 2
NASA outer planets flyby/heliosphere explorers

main website - weekly reports - UMSF forum - Voyager blogs - Voyager images

Voyager 1:
Launched 5 Sep 1977
Jupiter closest approach 5 Mar 1979
Saturn closest approach 12 Nov 1980
Voyager 2:
Launched 20 Aug 1977
Jupiter closest approach 9 Jul 1979
Saturn closest approach 26 Aug 1981
Uranus closest approach 24 Jan 1986
Neptune closest approach 25 Aug 1989

Five spacecraft cruising to a future science destination:

Dawn NASA Vesta/Ceres orbiter (launched 27 Sep 2007, arrived Vesta 16 Jul 2011, departed Vesta 5 Sep 2012, will arrive at Ceres Feb 2015)
UMSF forum - Dawn blogs - Dawn images

New Horizons NASA Pluto/KBO flyby (launched 19 Jan 2006, Jupiter flyby 28 Feb 2007, will fly by Pluto 14 Jul 2015, future flybys TBD)
UMSF forum - NH blogs - NH images

Akatsuki JAXA Venus orbiter (launched 20 May 2010, missed Venus 7 Dec 2010, to return to Venus Nov 2015)
UMSF forum - Akatsuki blogs - Akatsuki images

Juno NASA Jupiter orbiter (launched 5 Aug 2011, approaching Earth flyby 9 Oct 2013, will arrive at Jupiter Jul 2016)
UMSF forum - Juno blogs - Juno images

Rosetta ESA comet orbiter/lander (launched 2 Mar 2004, entered hibernation Jun 2011, expected out of hibernation Jan 2014, to arrive at Churyumov-Gerasimenko Aug 2014, Philae landing Nov 2014)
Also: Earth flyby 4 Mar 2005, Mars flyby 25 Feb 2007, Earth flyby 13 Nov 2007, 2867 Steins flyby 5 Sep 2008, 21 Lutetia flyby 10 Jul 2010)
science website - UMSF forum - Rosetta blogs - Rosetta images

Four spacecraft in flight but without current assignments:

Chang'E 2 China lunar orbiter / asteroid flyby (launched 1 Oct 2010, entered lunar orbit 5 Oct 2010, departed Moon 15 Apr 2012, 4179 Toutatis flyby 13 Dec 2012)
UMSF forum - NASAspaceflight forum - Chang'E blogs - Chang'E images

Deep Impact NASA comet flyby (launched 12 Jan 2005, Tempel 1 encounter 4 July 2005, Hartley 2 encounter 4 Nov 2010, possible 2002GT encounter Jan 2020)
UMSF forum - Deep Impact blogs - Deep Impact images

ICE NASA comet flyby (launched 12 Aug 1978, repurposed 10 Jun 1982, hibernated 5 May 1997, awakened 18 Sep 2008, returning to Earth 2014)
UMSF forum - ICE blogs

IKAROS JAXA solar sail (launched 20 May 2010; status currently unknown)
UMSF forum - official IKAROS blog - IKAROS blogs - IKAROS images

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