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Jason DavisOctober 25, 2019

The Downlink: Shields Up for James Webb, Breakthrough Eyes New SETI Targets

Shields up for James Webb Space Telescope

NASA/Chris Gunn

Shields up for James Webb Space Telescope
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope sits with its five-layer sunshield fully deployed during testing at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California.

Welcome to issue 4 of The Downlink, a planetary exploration news roundup from The Planetary Society! Here's everything that crossed our radar this week.

Universe NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) successfully deployed its sun shield during a ground test. It was the first time the five-layer shield, which will block the sun’s rays and keep the telescope chilled to -223° C (-370° F), unfurled with the telescope mirrors attached. JWST is scheduled to launch in 2021.

Universe Breakthrough Listen, a privately funded group which searches for signals from extraterrestrial life forms, plans to start targeting star systems with exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS launched in 2018 on a mission to find Earth-like planets around other stars. 

Mars NASA released a new selfie of the Mars Curiosity rover comprised of 57 images taken by a camera on the rover’s robotic arm. Curiosity also recently completed a “wet chemistry” experiment by placing a drill sample into a special cup containing solvents. By heating the solvents and sample, Curiosity can scan for carbon-based molecules important to the formation of life.

Mars NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is standing on its own 4 wheels for the first time. The rover is undergoing tests prior to next year’s launch; it lands on Mars in February 2021. Learn more about the mission.

Moon China’s Yutu-2 rover, which is exploring the far side of the Moon, woke up for its eleventh lunar day of operations. The rover must hibernate at night to survive the Moon’s frigid temperatures, which drop below -170° C (-274° F). If Yutu-2 survives lunar day 11, it will become the longest-lived Moon rover to stay mobile

Moon Engineers at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Mississippi installed the first engine on the first Space Launch System rocket. The massive launcher is an integral part of the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the Moon in 2024. 

Mercury The European Space Agency’s BepiColombo spacecraft, which will enter orbit around Mercury in 2025, has been in space for one year. The mission team released a video compilation of space selfies to celebrate. 

Mars The heat probe experiment on NASA’s Mars InSight spacecraft has almost buried itself in the Martian soil. The probe got stuck in March and mission officials are currently using InSight’s robotic arm to pack the soil around the probe to help it dig.   

Bennu NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has passed its critical design review, paving the way for its construction. The spacecraft, which will visit multiple asteroids near Jupiter, is scheduled for launch in 2021. 

Solar system Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell released a new catalog that tracks the last-known orbital parameters of objects humanity has launched beyond Earth orbit. The catalog includes curiosities like the upper stage used to launch Apollo 11 to the Moon, which entered solar orbit in 1969.

Solar system NASA selected 10 mission concepts it will study ahead of the next planetary science decadal survey. Seven of the 10 principal investigators are women. Every 10 years, planetary scientists produce a decadal survey to help NASA decide which missions to pursue in the coming decade.

Read more: InSight, Humans in Deep Space, Lucy mission, Chang'e 4, James Webb Space Telescope, the Moon, Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), The Downlink, SETI, TESS, trojans and centaurs

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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