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Space 2024: Hope for Ariane 6 and the lunar missions

Space 2024: Hope for Ariane 6 and the lunar missions

NASA will fly to the moon in November, but landing there is not planned until 2025. The European Space Agency is building two new rockets.

Launch dates for rockets into space are by no means certain, but according to plans, the space calendar for 2024 is quite full: the first flight of the European Space Agency (ESA)'s Ariane-6 spacecraft, but also NASA's “Artemis 2” mission is eagerly awaited. Patience: A manned lunar mission is scheduled to launch for the first time since the 1970s, initially to orbit Earth's companion.

Moon missions are also a highlight for Nature: Three men and a woman are scheduled to participate in NASA's lunar mission in November in a ten-day orbit around Earth's satellite. This prepares for future landing missions, with the US lunar mission Artemis 3 scheduled to land on the moon in 2025. In preparation for a future lunar station, NASA is also planning smaller missions with the Lunar Trailblazer and Prime-1. In 2024.

China's Chang'e 6 unmanned lander is scheduled to launch in May, collecting soil samples in the Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon and bringing them to Earth. The landing site is in the south polar region, which is an interesting area for a future lunar station, simply because of the availability of water and, in some places, constant sunlight to provide energy. If successful, the mission will be “the first to collect samples from the far side of the Moon,” Nature writes.

NASA also wants to launch the “Europa Clipper” mission in October to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa. The space probe aims to examine the moon and its surroundings, which lies beneath a layer of ice whose thickness is estimated at three to 40 kilometers. The core of this moon will also be analyzed to search for evidence of life in the ocean. According to estimates, the depth of this ocean could reach 100 km, and the radius of the rocky core could reach 1,400 km, as Anneliese Hayka of the Vienna Astronomical Society explained in a recent lecture. According to the plan, the probe will reach Jupiter's moon in 2030.

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The moons of our neighboring planet Mars are also of interest: Japan is planning a mission with Mars Moons Explorations (MMX) in September to investigate the composition of Phobos and Deimos. Arrival is calculated in August 2025. Mars itself is the target of the “Escapade” mission of the UC Berkeley Space Science Laboratory and NASA, which begins in October. The probe aims to explore the atmosphere of Mars.

From a European perspective in particular: between mid-June and the end of July, four years later than originally scheduled, the European Ariane 6 carrier rocket is scheduled to take off for the first time from the European Spaceport in French Guiana. The successor model of Ariane 5, which has been in use since 1996, aims to carry satellites into space in the future. Ariane-6 components are also provided by Austrian developers, such as Vienna-based Beyond Gravity and TTTech.

The launch of Ariane 6 as well as the resumption of operation of the Vega-C rocket – after the successful first flight in mid-2022 and the failed first commercial launch at the end of 2022 – are key milestones for the European Space Agency in 2024 in order to ensure “independent European access to space”. The new launch of the Vega-C rocket, a further development of the Vega rocket that has been in operation since 2012, is scheduled for the fall of 2024.