The five: space missions for 2021 | Space
James Webb space telescope
This Nasa telescope, which is to replace the Hubble, has been subject to many delays – its first planned launch was in 2007. A March 2020 takeoff was delayed due to Covid, while its initial $500m budget has spiralled to more than $10bn (£7.4bn). It is a more sensitive telescope than the Hubble and once operational it will be able to observe the formation of some of the first galaxies. It will be launched on a European Ariane 5 rocket on 31 October.
Three missions that have already launched will have a Martian encounter in 2021. On 9 February, the UAE’s Hope probe should arrive and begin orbiting the planet in order to study its atmosphere and weather. A few days later, China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter will arrive to look for a potential landing site before depositing a lander on the surface a couple of months later. Also in February, Nasa’s Mars 2020 is due to join the party and release its Perseverance rover on 18 February, to search for signs of microbial life and drill for rocks that could be returned to Earth by a future mission.
Last year, Nasa announced plans to take astronauts back to the moon in 2024. The first stage in this programme – to send an unmanned craft to orbit the moon – is due to launch in November. However, further delays are likely and the cost of the programme will be scrutinised by the incoming Biden administration.
Chinese space station
The first module of this long-planned project is due to be launched in the first half of the year. The construction should take around two years and 18 taikonauts have been selected to crew the craft once it is in orbit about 240 miles (380km) above Earth.
In July, Nasa will kick off its Double Asteroid Redirection Test. A probe will be fired into space with the aim of visiting the asteroid Didymos in 2022; it will then strike the asteroid’s moonlet, Dimorphos. Two European craft will monitor the impact and its effect on the rock’s orbit.