Melbourne. Last month, China successfully landed and deployed the Jurong rover on Mars. In this way, it became the second country to land a rover on the surface of the Red Planet. Last year the US, the United Arab Emirates and China sent their missions to Mars, taking advantage of the relatively short travel time due to the short distance from Earth.
Now the question arises, why are most of the scientists doing planetary research so passionate about going to Mars? Why is so much time and money being spent on this one planet, when there are at least seven other planets in our solar system, more than 200 moons, countless asteroids, and more.
Happily, we’re going to other places in space as well, and there are tons of missions to pretty exciting places in our solar system like ice volcanoes, icy debris rings, and huge magnetic fields. There are currently 26 active spacecraft around our solar system. Some are orbiting other planets and moons, some have landed on the surfaces of other worlds, and some are just circling through space just to take pictures. Only half of them are going to Mars. These 26 spacecraft, including those on long-term missions like Voyager 1 and 2 – have been operating for more than 40 years and are now somewhere between the stars except in the Solar System. are wandering. And there are also some such spacecraft, about which we know little, but it is interesting to know about them.
Take, for example, the Juno spacecraft orbiting around Jupiter. It was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter’s orbit after about five years. It is now measuring various properties of the giant planet, including its magnetic field, atmospheric conditions, and determining how much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
This will help scientists determine which planet’s formation theory is correct (or new theories are needed). Juno has passed the seven-year period of its mission, and has been extended until at least 2025.
One of the most complex feats of astronomy was accomplished late last year when the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) not only landed a spacecraft on an asteroid, but also sent a sample to Earth in a spectacular effort. The Japanese spacecraft, which has been named Hayabusa 2 after an falcon found there, stepped into the surface of asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018, surveying the surface and taking samples. During its return in 2019, Hayabusa 2 used its ion engines to change orbit and return to Earth. On December 5, 2020, a capsule the size of a hatbox and weighing 16 kg entered Earth’s atmosphere with the sample and landed at the Woomera test range in Australia. Here JAXA has started analyzing the rocks and dust collected from the Ryugu asteroid and on the other hand Hayabusa 2 is once again on its journey and this time it is determined to meet another asteroid, 1998 KY_(26), 2031.
There are some planets that were not previously included in the list of planetary missions, these are spacecraft that are trapped in ‘gravitational wells’ within our solar system. These are special places in orbits, called Lagrangian points, and which act as a gravitational balance between two space objects. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is one of four spacecraft located close to the Lagrangian point between Earth and the Sun, which is approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth (about four times that of the Moon). It observes the Sun’s outer layer and the solar wind, sending early warnings to Earth of potentially catastrophic space weather.
Now let’s talk about one of our fighting neighbor planet Venus. Despite rising surface temperatures and pressures, NASA recently approved funding for two major missions to explore the origins of Venus and its atmosphere. The discovery of phosphine gas in the upper atmosphere has led life scientists to believe that life may exist at more habitable and cooler temperatures at higher altitudes.
The successful flight of the Ingenuity helicopter to Mars fuels excitement – the first flight of any powered aircraft on another world – NASA’s Dragonfly mission will fly a drone into the atmosphere of Saturn’s icy moon, Titan. Launched in 2026 and arriving in 2034, the rotorcraft will fly to dozens of locations on Titan and seek conditions that are conducive to life similar to Earth.
So how much does all this cost?
Governments allocate a relatively small amount of their budget to science and space exploration. Countries typically spend less than 1% of their budgets on space missions – far less than social services or military defense. Deciding which space missions will receive funding is often motivated by public interest, but it is almost impossible to decide with certainty which probes or spacecraft will produce the most successful results. When humans first stepped on the Moon, 25 percent of the world’s population held their breath watching the video that inspired generations of space explorers for decades. You can’t put a price on it.