Washington: As we wait for Juno’s first close-up images of Jupiter on August 27, NASA continues to explore our solar system to help answer fundamental questions about how we came to be, where we are going and whether we are alone in the universe.
“Juno is the latest example of the extraordinary science we have to look forward to right in our own solar system,” said Jim Green, Director of NASA Planetary Division.
“There are many uncharted, promising worlds and objects we are eager to explore with our current and future missions,” he added in a statement.
In September, NASA will launch OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer) – the first US mission to a near-Earth asteroid (Bennu) to collect a sample for return to Earth in 2023.
OSIRIS-REx will help unlock secrets of the history of our solar system, and shed light on how life may have come to be on our planet.
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb telescope), set to launch in 2018, can observe not only faint objects across the universe but also our neighbouring planets and their moons within our solar system.
Webb’s angular and spectral resolution will allow us to observe these targets with unprecedented sensitivity and even follow geologic activity.
With Juno exploring Jupiter, NASA is also intrigued by its largest moons.
Io’s intense geological activity makes it the most volcanically active world in the solar system, something Webb could potentially follow-up with.
The US space agency has selected nine science instruments for a future mission to investigate whether Europa — a mysterious moon that scientists believe to have a liquid ocean beneath its icy surface — hosts habitable environments.
Hubble, with its suite of upgraded instruments, has captured Jupiter’s auroras and found evidence of saltwater on Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede.
The mission has been extended another five years, and NASA expects it to continue to provide excellent science.
“NASA’s Cassini spacecraft continues exploring Saturn, its rings and moons, as it has since 2004. In 2017, during the final phase of its long mission, Cassini will complete 22 dives through the narrow gap between Saturn’s outer atmosphere and its rings,” the statement read.
Titan is one of the major satellites of Saturn, with a rich atmosphere and surface chemistry that has been observed extensively by Cassini and ESA’s Huygens Probe.
After Cassini’s mission ends, Webb will begin operations, providing an excellent platform for continuing studies of Titan with its unique new capabilities.
“On our journey to Mars, we are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to our neighbouring Red Planet,” Green noted.
The next Mars rover scheduled for launch in 2020 is under construction and NASA’s InSight Mission to study the interior of the Red Planet is scheduled to launch in 2018.