China landed and successfully deployed the Jurong rover to Mars last month. In this way, it became the second country to land a rover on the surface of the Red Planet. Last year, the United States, United Arab Emirates and China sent missions to Mars, taking advantage of the relatively short travel time due to their short distance from Earth. Now the question arises, why are most scientists who do planetary research so passionate about the idea of going to Mars?
Why is so much time and money spent on this planet when there are at least seven other planets in our solar system, over 200 moons, countless asteroids and more. Fortunately, we go to other places in space as well, and there are a lot of missions to some pretty exciting places in our solar system, like ice volcanoes, icy debris rings, and vast magnetic fields. There are currently 26 active spaceships around our solar system.
Some of them are orbiting other planets and moons, some have landed on the surface of other worlds, and some are simply spinning in space to take pictures. Only half of them go to Mars. These 26 spacecraft include long-range missions like Voyager 1 and 2, which have been in operation for over 40 years and now roam between stars somewhere outside the solar system. And there are also such spacecraft, which we know little about, but it is interesting to know about them.
Take, for example, the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. It was launched in 2011 and reached Jupiter’s orbit about five years later. It now measures various properties of the giant planet, including its magnetic field, atmospheric conditions, and determines the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere. This will help scientists find out which theory of planetary formation is correct (or if new theories are needed). Juno has passed the seven-year term of its mission and has been extended until at least 2025.
The Complex Mission One of the most complex feats in 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, named Hayabusa 2 after a falcon found there, walked the surface of asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018, surveying the surface and taking samples. On 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 hat box and weighing 16 kg entered Earth’s atmosphere with the sample and landed at the Woomera Test Field in Australia.
On the other hand, JAXA has started to analyze the rocks and dust collected on the asteroid Ryugu and Hayabusa 2 is on its way again and this time it is determined to meet another asteroid, 1998 KY_ (26), 2031 Some planets were not previously included in the list of planetary missions, they are spacecraft that are trapped in “gravity wells” within our solar system. These are special places in the orbits, called Lagrange points, which act as a gravitational balance between two space objects. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is one of four spacecraft close to the Lagrangian point between Earth and the Sun, located about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth (about four times that of the Moon) .
It observes the outer layer of the Sun and the solar wind, sending early warnings to Earth of potentially destructive space weather conditions. Now let’s talk about one of our fighting neighbors, the planet Venus. NASA recently approved funding for two major missions to explore the origins of Venus and its atmosphere, despite increasing surface temperatures and pressures. The discovery of phosphine gas in the upper atmosphere has led life scientists to believe that life can exist at more habitable and cooler temperatures at higher elevations.
NASA’s Dragonfly mission will fly a drone through the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s icy moon. After launching in 2026 and arriving in 2034, the rotorcraft will fly to dozens of places on Titan and seek conditions conducive to Earth-like life. So how much does it all cost? Governments allocate a relatively small share of their budgets 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 the public interest. But it’s almost impossible to decide for sure which probe or spacecraft will produce the best results. When humans first set foot on the moon, 25% of the world’s population held their breath watching the video that has inspired generations of space explorers for decades. You can’t put a price on it.
Gail Ailes, Lecturer in Physics, RMIT University