Top 10 Upcoming Real Life Space Missions

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Top 10 Upcoming Real Life Space Missions

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Johnson
To infinity and beyond! For this list, we're looking at the most exciting space missions yet to launch, as well as missions that have launched but haven't reached their destination. Our countdown includes SpaceX Crewed Flight to Mars, China's Large Modular Space Station, Artemis Missions, and more!
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Top 10 Upcoming Space Missions


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 upcoming space missions.

For this list, we’re looking at the most exciting space missions yet to launch, as well as missions that have launched but haven’t reached their destination.

Let us know in the comments which one you’re most excited about.

#10: SpaceX Crewed Flight to Mars

All eyes are on Mars, and arguably the most ambitious future-Martian of all is Elon Musk. Though he initially had the lofty aim of sending the first unmanned mission in 2022 and a crewed mission in 2024, those dates have been pushed back: the unmanned mission is now slated for 2024, and the first humans in 2027. This, of course, depends on the completion of the SpaceX Starship, the vehicle designed to take humans to the Red Planet. It’s an ambitious timeline, and the dates aren’t set in stone, or this would rank higher up in our list! It could mark just the beginning of our presence on Mars; Musk hopes we’ll have a city there by 2050.

#9: Perseverance Rover

In July 2020, NASA launched the most advanced Mars rover to date: Perseverance, or Percy to the people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Perseverance still has a way to go and won’t be touching down in the Jezero Crater until February 2021. The rover is also carrying a small, autonomous helicopter, Ingenuity, to help scout the Martian landscape; this will hopefully help make things easier on future rovers. The mission will help experts answer a wide variety of questions, but there’s one big one in mind: are there any signs of life on Mars—past or present? Most excitingly, the samples that Perseverance collects could eventually make a return journey, although how they’ll be transported back is still in development.

#8: Psyche

In 2022, the spacecraft Psyche will set off on a long journey towards one of the solar system’s weirdest asteroids – named (somewhat confusingly) “16 Psyche”. This asteroid is worth investigating because it’s believed by scientists to be the iron core of a protoplanet – an object that may currently be on its way to becoming a true planet. The information Psyche collects will hopefully teach us lots about how planets form and how devastating asteroid collisions can be. If all goes to plan, Psyche will reach the asteroid belt by 2026 and its core mission will run for just shy of 2 years.

#7: ExoMars Rover

Originally slated to launch in July of 2020, ExoMars is a rover built for a joint mission between Russia’s Roscosmos and the European Space Agency. It’s now set to launch sometime in 2022 and is officially named Rosalind Franklin—after an English chemist. Roscosmos is building both the launcher and the lander. The rover is heading to Oxia Planum, a large plain full of clay deposits. There it will search for signs of past Martian life. The ExoMars mission has been ongoing since 2016, when the Trace Gas Orbiter was launched, and hopefully, Rosalind Franklin will launch on time.

#6: Martian Moons Exploration

Though much of our interest in space exploration revolves around our moon and Mars, Mars actually has two moons of its own, Phobos and Deimos. They haven’t gotten much attention to date, but a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency mission set to launch in 2024 will change that. By August 2025, the “Martian Moons eXploration” probe – or “MMX” – will have reached and landed on Phobos. It will also perform fly-bys of Deimos, the smaller moon, before its mission ends and the probe returns with samples to Earth. It’s aiming to find out how Mars’s moons were formed. Other space agencies, including NASA, are designing additional equipment for the probe.

#5: China’s Large Modular Space Station

The China National Space Administration has ambitious plans to launch an operational space station in 2022. It will be China’s third after Tiangong-1 and 2. The intention is that, unlike its two predecessors, this space station will be permanent. The CNSA will use the Long March 5B rocket to launch the necessary materials into orbit. Though construction has seen a few delays, the core module is set for launch in 2021. It’s thought that the space station will be able to aid future manned moon missions for China, who already made lunar history when Chang’e 4 became the first spacecraft to soft land on the far side of the moon in 2019.

#4: Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE)

There’s a lot to be learned from Jupiter’s largest moons. Planned for 2022, the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission will launch for a closer look. The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or “JUICE”, will take seven years to reach its destination, arriving at the Jovian system in late 2029. It’s going to do flybys of Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede, all of which may host subsurface oceans and have the potential for alien life. This mission will last until 2032 when JUICE will end up orbiting Ganymede, becoming the first man-made probe to orbit an alien moon. When it runs out of fuel, estimated to be around 2034, it will crash into the surface.

#3: Dragonfly

One of the most promising bodies in the solar system for supporting life is Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. To date, however, we’ve been working with very limited knowledge based on the findings of a handful of missions. In 2027, NASA is looking to launch the Dragonfly spacecraft, a robotic rotorcraft that will explore Titan’s surface. Dragonfly should finally be able to tell us whether Titan might be able to support human life – or even alien life – more effectively than the inner planets. But even if all goes to plan, it’s still not going to arrive at Titan until 2036, so we’ve got a long wait ahead.

#2: James Webb Telescope Launch

A mission that’s likely to yield results much sooner, the James Webb Space Telescope is NASA’s replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope. The latter has made innumerable contributions to our knowledge of outer space, but technology has come a long way 30 years later. Unfortunately, the James Webb Telescope has been plagued by delays and has seen it’s original budget multiplied many times over. Be that as it may, it’s finally set to launch October 2021. The telescope will function in a much wider spectrum of light than Hubble, largely focusing on infrared; this means it’ll be able to capture low-light stars, like red dwarf stars, and observe entire galaxies previously hidden from view.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few Honorable Mentions:

Parker Solar Probe
In 2025, It Will Make Its Closest Approach to the Sun

ISRO First Manned Mission
In 2022, India Will Send Its Astronauts Into Space for the First Time.

#dearMoon Project
In 2023, Japanese Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa Hopes to Fly Around the Moon.

#1: Artemis Missions

1972 was the last time humans walked on the moon, after which point the Apollo program was abandoned. But NASA is looking to head back in the 2020s, launching the Artemis program that will aim to put more astronauts on the moon by 2024, including the first woman. Though not necessarily part of the Artemis program, NASA is also planning to build the Lunar Gateway, a space station in lunar orbit, the construction of which will also begin in 2024. It might not be useful to the first Artemis astronauts, but it’s sure to be an invaluable tool for lunar exploration in the late 2020s, 2030s, and beyond. Both Artemis and the Gateway also involve global cooperation from other leading space agencies.
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