Countries around the globe are launching successful missions. The question is whether they will compete or collaborateby Philip Ball / January 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
I can’t remember a year that kicked off with quite as much excitement about space as this one, which partly explains why I found myself sitting in the BBC studios at an absurd hour on the morning of New Year’s Day to talk about it. The Chinese space programme was about to land its mission Chang’e 4 on the far side (don’t say the dark side) of the Moon, while NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was fast closing in on a bizarre object in the outer reaches of the solar system called Ultima Thule, revealing with unnerving seasonality that it resembles nothing so much as a giant snowman. And all in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landings.
There’s more on the way, though not so imminently. The BepiColombo mission, a collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is currently hurtling towards Mercury, the smallest and least explored of our neighbouring planets. But it won’t arrive there until 2025, because, ESA’s adviser for space exploration Mark McCaughrean explained to me as we munched soggy toast at the BBC, it must take a circuitous route to shed all the speed it gathers as it travels inwards towards the Sun, allowing it to enter orbit around the planet. ESA should also this autumn launch a space telescope called CHEOPS to investigate the known planets around other stars, while NASA’s Mars InSight lander, which touched down on th…