It was in ancient times, when Greek astronomers began to observe the movements of celestial objects in the sky, that humans discovered that there were other planets besides Earth orbiting the sun. Thus, the idea of the solar system, our home in the universe, was created in our imagination. However, there are still many mysteries that remain to be solved and our curiosity has only increased. That’s why we don’t stop investigating and launching missions into space in search of answers.
“We study the solar system to understand its origin, to understand planet formation in general, to understand the resources that can be found (and perhaps used on Earth) and, last but not least, to answer the question ‘ Are we alone?’” says Markus Kissler-Patig, head of the Science and Operations Department (SCI-S) of the European Space Agency (ESA).
ESA and NASA
It aims to study the Sun and its surroundings to provide a new perspective on our star and its environment, including the polar regions, which have not been studied in detail before, as well as their influence on Earth and the rest of the solar system. It was launched in February 2020 and is expected to operate for at least seven years.
Living With a Star (LWS)
It is a program that includes several missions and research programs to improve our understanding of the Sun-Earth system and its effects on human activities and technology.
ESA and NASA
It was launched in October 2018 and is expected to reach Mercury, one of the least studied planets in our solar system, in December 2025. It is made up of two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), built by ESA, which will focus on the study of the surface and atmosphere, and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO), built by JAXA, which will investigate the magnetosphere.
It will focus on the geology of Venus, including its surface, interior and tectonic activity. It is currently in development and is expected to be released in 2031.
It is a program started in 1960 to collect data and provide information about the climate, land surface, oceans, atmosphere and other phenomena on Earth, in order to better understand and protect our planet. It includes different satellite missions grouped in the Earth Observation Satellite System (EOS). For example, Aqua measures the temperature of water in the oceans; GRACE, changes in Earth’s gravity to study climate change; and Terra, the temperature and humidity of the Earth’s surface.
Studies the Earth’s magnetic field and how it interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere, and upper atmosphere. The mission is made up of three identical satellites, launched in November 2013. The information collected is important for understanding how the magnetic field protects our planet from charged particles in the solar wind and how it affects navigation and terrestrial communications.
It aims to return humans to the moon and establish a sustainable presence there by 2028. This will be the first step towards making the leap to Mars in the 2030s. The Artemis program includes several stages. Artemis I was an unmanned mission launched in late 2022 that tested NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule in a flight around the Moon. Artemis II, scheduled for 2024, will be the program’s first crewed mission and will take three men and one woman on a flight around the Moon to test the systems and technology needed to land on the satellite. Artemis III will be the first manned mission to land on the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
It is the name of a series of Chinese space missions whose objective is to explore the Moon. The first mission in the series, Chang’e-1, was launched in 2007 and orbited the satellite for a year. The latest, Chang’e-5, collected lunar soil and rock samples and brought them back to Earth in 2020. The CNSA already has future Chang’e series missions planned, including one to build a lunar science station at long term.
And he adds: «Space missions in the solar system, unlike ground-based telescope observations that began with Galilei Galileo 400 years ago (in 1609), have been carried out during the last 50 years. Since then, we have visited all the planets orbiting the sun. Mars more than 60 times! Thanks to them, we have been able to understand that only four objects have substantial atmospheres: Earth, Venus, Mars and Titan (Saturn’s moon). We have also discovered that Mars used to have an ocean of water that evaporated during its early history; that many moons of Jupiter and Saturn harbored liquid water under their icy wind and could therefore support life; and much more. “We now have textbooks full of details that were unthinkable in the 1960s.”
Mars Sample Return (MSR)
NASA and ESA
It aims to bring rock and soil samples from Mars to Earth for study. The mission consists of three phases: the first is the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, which arrived on this planet in 2021, which in addition to collecting samples looks for signs of past life and carries instruments to measure the climate, geology and habitability of the red planet. ; the second is the Mars Sample Return Lander, which will launch in 2026; and the third is the Earth Return Orbiter mission, which will launch in 2028.
Since it began scientific operations in 2004, it has provided the most complete map of the chemical composition of Mars’ atmosphere, studied the Martian moon Phobos in unprecedented detail, and traced the history of water across the planet, showing that Mars once hosted environmental conditions that could have been suitable for life.
It aims to search for signs of past and present life on Mars. It is divided into two phases. The first, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbite, was launched in 2016. The second was planned for 2022 and included launching a rover called Rosalind Franklin. However, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ESA ceased its cooperation with Roscosmos, with which it was collaborating on this mission, and the launch was cancelled. NASA has announced that it will assist ESA and the launch has been rescheduled for 2028.
Martian Moons Explorer
ESA and JAXA
Mission to travel to Mars and study the two moons of the red planet; Phobos and Deimos. The spacecraft will explore both satellites and collect a sample of Phobos to bring back to Earth for analysis. The launch is planned for 2024.
Emirates Mars Mission
Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), the space agency of the United Arab Emirates. It seeks to study the atmosphere of Mars and its climate. The spacecraft, named Hope, arrived at Mars in February 2021 and is currently in orbit around the planet.
Mission proposed by the private organization Mars One that wants to establish a permanent human colony on Mars. The company had planned to send several unmanned missions to the red planet, but the project is on hold due to financial problems.
Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM o “Mangalyaan”)
ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization. It was launched in November 2013 and entered Martian orbit in 2014. It was the first interplanetary mission of India, the fourth country to reach Mars. Its goal is to study the upper atmosphere of the red planet and the geological and atmospheric processes that occur there.
CNSA, the Chinese space agency. It was launched in July 2020. It is China’s first interplanetary mission and is designed to carry out a wide range of scientific studies on the Red Planet, including surface mapping, searching for water and ice, studying the atmosphere and climate, and research into the geology and composition of the planet.
Mars Sample Return
It aims to collect samples from the surface of Mars and bring them back to Earth. It consists of three parts: an orbiter, a lander and a rover. The launch is scheduled for 2028.
It aims at space exploration and the eventual sustainable colonization of Mars.
JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE)
It was launched on April 14 towards Jupiter. The journey will last eight years and arrival is scheduled for July 2031. That will be when the spacecraft will begin its research, with a special focus on three of its moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, to discover if life is possible on these worlds. .
Planned for 2024. It will launch an unmanned spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa to study its surface and subterranean ocean. Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for extraterrestrial life, due to its underground ocean and ice-covered surface.
It will send an unmanned aerial vehicle to Saturn’s moon Titan to explore its surface and search for signs of life. The mission was announced in June 2019 and is expected to launch in 2027. Titan is the only body in our solar system, other than Earth, that has a dense atmosphere and stable liquids on its surface.
These missions are in different stages of development and could take decades before they are launched.
It intends to send a spacecraft to orbit Uranus and Neptune and carry out a series of close flybys of the satellites of both planets to study the atmosphere, magnetic fields, rings and their moons.
Mission proposed by ESA to analyze the atmosphere, magnetosphere and the moons of Uranus.
Mission proposed by NASA to perform a close flyby of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, to study its atmosphere, geology and chemical composition.
In addition to all these, there are also missions planned to explore other celestial bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids and comets. For example, OSIRIS-REx (NASA), which in 2020 collected samples from the asteroid Bennu and is on its way back to Earth for analysis; either DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), with which the human ability to divert the trajectory of asteroids was proven in 2021. This will be followed by the HERA mission (ESA), which will study the crater that DART left on the asteroid Didymus.
But not only that, “we now also know 5,000 planets in other solar systems and studying the planets around the sun helps us understand them better. The holy grail of all this research would be to find signs of life (past or present) in other parts of the solar system, which would help us understand much better what life is, since for now we only know what occurs on Earth. And we could even identify another habitable place in the solar system that humans could colonize,” adds Kissler-Patig.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), SPACE X, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Chinese Space Agency (CNSA), Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC)