Exploration of Lunar
China’s lunar exploration program “Chang'e-4” is scheduled to launch this year, and it will have a soft landing on the back of the moon. This mission will implement the first human exploration and research on the back of the moon. Another Chinese mission to the moon, “Chang'e-5”, was originally planned to launch in November 2017. However, the mission could be delayed by 2018 due to the launch failure of “Long March-5” rocket. The “Chang'e-5” mission, which aims to realize China’s first unmanned lunar surface sampling, is the last official battle for China's lunar exploration program.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plans to launch its new unmanned probe into the moon around March 2018, and the mission was named “Chandrayaan-2”. “Chandrayaan-2” probe is a continuation of India’s first lunar probe “Chandrayaan-1”, which launched in 2008. The mission of “Chandrayaan-2” is to continue mapping and studying the surface of the moon for minerals and geology as well as exploring whether there is water on the moon.
Exploration of Planets and Stars
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will perform two planet probe missions and one star probe mission this year. In March, NASA plans to launch a “Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)” into low earth orbit to find new exoplanets. In May, it schedules to launch the “InSight” Mars probe, exploring the geology of Mars. Between July and August, it plans to launch the "Parker Solar” probe, which will travel directly into solar corona to explore the sun at an unprecedented close range.
The mercury exploration program “BepiColombo” developed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and European Space Agency (ESA), which includes European mercury planet orbiter (MPO) and Japan's mercury magnetosphere orbiter (MMO), will be launched in November 2018 and reach the planet closest to the sun, Mercury, in 2025. This mission will carry out a comprehensive probe into mercury's origins, internal geology, thin atmosphere and magnetic fields, etc.
In addition to basic planetary and stellar exploration, several asteroid missions are expected to reach their targets by 2018. The “Hayabusa-2”, which is being studied and launched by JAXA, will reach its target asteroid “Ryugu” in July, and return to earth in 2020 after collecting samples. This target asteroid may provide rock samples containing water and organic substances for scientists to study.
Immediately after Japan, the "Osiris - Rex" probe from NASA will be landing on another near-earth asteroid "Bennu" in August, and back to earth together with samples in 2023. This target asteroid is a threatening near-earth object and is regarded as one of the small objects that could hit the earth.
Commercial Space Race
Besides the national space agency's exploration of space, the private commercial space race will also show its unprecedented splendor in 2018. Elon Musk's private astronautic enterprise SpaceX plans to launch its “Falcon Heavy” rocket for the first time this year. At the end of the same year, SpaceX will also try to launch its manned spacecraft “Crew Dragon”, and carry two private tourists to fly around the moon.
Boeing, OneWeb, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are formidable competitors of SpaceX, even if their manned space missions have not yet exceeded the SpaceX so far. No matter what, 2018 is an exciting year for space exploration.