The Downlink: CHEOPS Exoplanet Mission Launches, ISS Test Flight Goes Awry
ESA / CNES / Arianespace Optique Video du CSG
A Soyuz rocket blasts off from French Guiana on 18 December carrying CHEOPS, the CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite. CHEOPS is a European Space Agency mission that will spend at least three-and-a-half years precisely measuring the diameters of known exoplanets.
Welcome to issue 12 of The Downlink, a planetary exploration news roundup from The Planetary Society! Most of our staff will be on vacation next week, so this will be our last Downlink of the year. See you in 2020!
Here's everything that crossed our radar this week.
Scientists on NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter detected a new cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole. When Juno first arrived in 2016, it saw 5 cyclones churning in a hexagonal pattern around a central cyclone. But during Juno’s 22nd flyby on 3 November 2019, a sixth had formed. Scientists are eager to see what happens by the next Juno flyby on 26 December. Unlike Jupiter’s equatorial storms, the polar cyclones can’t be imaged from Earth; Juno’s flybys provide our only opportunity to see them.
The European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2020 mission completed a successful parachute extraction test, marking an important step towards next year’s launch. The mission has been plagued by parachute problems and faces a series of do-or-die tests next year before mission officials commit to launch.
NASA celebrated the 10-year launch anniversary of WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer. The spacecraft’s original purpose was to study asteroids, stars, and galaxies, until it was repurposed as the NEOWISE asteroid-hunting mission in 2013. As of mid-December, NEOWISE has completed 12 sky surveys, observing more than 1,000 near-Earth objects and almost 200 comets. The spacecraft’s orbit around Earth is deteriorating to the point where it will eventually no longer be able to observe. NASA has a replacement mission in the works that could launch by 2024. Learn more about NEOWISE here.
Scientists have released an upper-atmosphere wind circulation map for Mars, the first such map for any planet besides Earth. Data for the map were collected by NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft. The model may help scientists better understand how Mars lost its atmosphere and transitioned to its current cold, dry state.
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