NASA has once again extended several of its missions. Among them are such centenarians as Curiosity. Here’s what’s in store for them in the coming years
The list of missions selected for continuation is: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), InSight, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons.
Most of the selected missions will continue for another three years, assuming there are no disruptions to the spacecraft, NASA said. A few exceptions include OSIRIS-REx, which will run for nine years, and InSight, which will run until the end of this year if the Mars station’s power system doesn’t allow it to run longer.
What missions has NASA extended?
Mars Odyssey – launched in 2001
The Mars Odyssey orbiter will conduct new thermal studies of rocks and ice below the surface of the planet, will monitor the radiation environment and continue to monitor the climate. It will also continue to provide support to other spacecraft on Mars.
MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) – launched in 2005
As part of its sixth extended mission, the MRO orbiter will study the evolution of the Martian surface, ice, active geology, atmosphere and climate, and support other missions on Mars.
New Horizons – launched in 2006
The New Horizons probe flew past Pluto in 2015, and past the farthest Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), Arrokota, in 2019. On its second extended mission, the spacecraft will continue to explore the distant solar system, with additional mission details coming later.
LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) – launched 2009
NASA’s Lunar Orbiter, after cleaning, can continue to study the surface and geology of the Moon. “The evolution of LRO’s orbit will allow it to study new regions far from the poles in unprecedented detail, including permanently shadowed regions near the poles where water ice may be present,” the space agency said in a statement.
MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) – launched in 2011
MSL and its Curiosity rover have traveled more than 27 kilometers across the surface of Mars so far, exploring Gale Crater. This is the fourth time that the MSL mission will be expanded, and this time the mission will focus on high elevations that will provide a unique insight into the history of water on Mars.
MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) – launched in 2013
The MAVEN spacecraft studies the loss of Red Planet gases into space. As the Sun’s activity levels approach the maximum of its 11-year cycle, ongoing MAVEN observations “will deepen our understanding of how Mars’ upper atmosphere and magnetic field interact with the Sun,” NASA said.
OSIRIS-APEX – launched in 2016
The OSIRIS-REx mission is just returning to Earth to deliver samples of the asteroid Bennu collected in 2020. Upon completion of the current mission in 2023, it will be renamed OSIRIS-APEX as the spacecraft will be redirected to closely study Apophis, a 370-meter diameter asteroid that will come within 32,000 kilometers of Earth in 2029.
InSight – launched in 2018
The NASA InSight lander has the only active seismic station outside of Earth. Its seismic monitoring of “marsquakes” has provided scientists with data on the interior of Mars, formation and current activity, and NASA intends to continue this work.
Contact us: [email protected]