Prepare for liftoff! 17 upcoming space missions worth getting excited about

1251680 autosave v1 2 launch
U.S. Department of Defense
Over the past half century, we’ve blasted a bevy of scientific instruments into the unforgiving vacuum of space in an effort to better understand our cosmos. From the first grainy Mariner images of Mars to stunning closeups of Saturn’s moons and stately rings, these pioneering probes have transmitted invaluable data back to us Earthlings from millions of miles away. And while we may have recently lost the stalwart Saturnian orbiter, Cassini, there are dozens of future space missions on the docket for the next decade.

To help you keep track of all these efforts, we’ve listed the most important and exciting missions slated to launch over the next ten years — as well as a few notable flybys performed by spacecraft already in cosmic transit. With a great bit of luck, a boatload of money, and pinch of can-do spirit; these initiatives will further pull back the curtain on our quirky and wonderfully mysterious universe.


November 30 – Chang’e 5

Mons Rümker Formation
Mons Rümker Formation on the moon. Photo Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
Mons Rümker Formation on the moon. Photo Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) will launch the Chang’e 5 mission to the moon later this year. This is a lunar sample return mission set to land in the Mons Rümker formation and collect a sample of regolith from a depth of roughly six feet. Once excavated and transferred to a module in orbit, these samples will be returned to Earth for analysis.


TBD Early 2018 – Chandrayaan-2

future space missions chandrayaan 2 mission

The Chandrayaan-2 mission is a joint research and exploration program between The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). This program will send two rovers and a lunar orbiter to the moon to analyze mineral composition and study the moon’s exosphere.

May 5 – InSight

future space missions insight nasa
Insight Mission — NASA/JPL
Insight Mission — Photo credit:NASA/JPL

Utilizing a custom-built lander, the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) program will analyze the interior of the Red Planet to better understand the processes that shaped the inner planets of our solar system billions of years ago.

June – Hayabusa-2

Hayabusa 1
Hayabusa 1 after landing on an asteroid. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
Hayabusa 1 after landing on an asteroid. Photo credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXAHayabusa-2 mission was launched in 2014, and in mid-2018 the craft will rendezvous with asteroid Ryugu (1999 JU3) and return a sample to Earth.  Unlike the previous Hayabusa mission, Hayabusa-2 will utilize an impactor to create a crater and expose “fresh” sediments beneath the surface. These samples will be returned to Earth in late 2020.

JulyParker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe
Parker Solar Probe undergoing Completes Pre-Environmental Testing Review. NASA/JHUAPL.
Parker Solar Probe undergoing Completes Pre-Environmental Testing Review. Photo credit: NASA/JHUAPL.

The so-called “Mission to Touch the Sun” or the Parker Solar Probe program will send a craft to within a mere four million miles of the sun’s surface. This proximity to our star will give the probe unprecedented data on solar activity, allowing us to more aptly forecast potentially catastrophic space weather events in the future.

October – BepiColombo

BepiColombo at full stack after testing. ESA–C. Carreau
BepiColombo at full stack after testing. Photo credit: ESA–C. Carreau.

BepiColombo will be the European Space Agency’s first mission to Mercury. The mission itself is comprised of two orbiters: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). These craft have been designed to withstand temperatures greater than 660 degrees Fahrenheit and will arrive at Mercury in late-2025.

October – Solar Orbiter

This joint ESA/NASA mission will set the Solar Orbiter payload in an elliptical orbit around the sun. Every five months this probe will orbit our star at a distance of roughly 26 million miles (for perspective sake, that’s closer than the planet Mercury). The primary objectives of this mission are to better understand the sun’s heliosphere by observing the star’s “solar wind plasma, fields, waves, and energetic particles.”

TBD – Chang’e 4

future space missions 42 54820863
Chang'e 3 on the surface of the moon. Photo Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences/NAOC
Chang’e 3 on the surface of the moon. Photo Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences/NAOC

Currently slated for the end of 2018, the Chang’e 4 mission — a Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) endeavor — will place a lander on the far side of the moon. The South Pole Aitken Basin (one of the largest impact basins in our solar system) has been mentioned as a potential landing spot.

TBD – Hayabusa-2

future space missions hayabusa 2
Artist rendition of Hayabusa 2 approaching asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Photo credit: Go Miyazaki
Artist rendition of Hayabusa 2 approaching. Photo Credit: Go Miyazaki

The aforementioned Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is projected to arrive at asteroid 1999 JU3, also called “Ryugu,” in 2018.


January 1 – New Horizons

pluto nasa closest photos dwarf planet new horizons horizon
Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI
On July 13, 2015, enroute to 2014 MU69 (a Kuiper Belt Object about 4 billion miles away from earth), New Horizons took this high resolution photo of Pluto’s “encounter hemisphere”.  Photo Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons craft will make a fly by of Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69 as part of the New Horizons Extended Mission.

October – OSIRIS-REx

future space missions osiris rex solar array
OSIRIS-REx undergoing environmental testing in October of 2015. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin Corporation
OSIRIS-REx undergoing environmental testing in October of 2015. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin Corporation

OSIRIS-REx launched in September 2016, and in October 2019 the craft will rendezvous with the asteroid 101955 Bennu to collect samples. The return cruise containing this payload will reenter Earth’s atmosphere in September 2023.

TBD Spring — James Webb Space Telescope

future space missions jwst

More of Hubble’s successor than full-on replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope — equipped with a with a 6.5-meter primary mirror — will be launched from French Guiana in early 2019 (although this date could be pushed back). One of the onboard instruments has multiple programmable microshutters that the telescope to monitor up to 100 objects at once.


July/August – ExoMars 2020

Exomars 2020
Artist rendition of ExoMars 2020 Rover. Photo Credit: ESA
Artist rendition of ExoMars 2020 Rover. Photo Credit: ESA

As best illustrated by the recent Schiaparelli lander incident, even after meticulous planning and successful Earth exit, dire mishaps can still occur while faring the final frontier. The ESA hopes to avoid this same tragic fate with the ExoMars 2020 follow-up program.

The ExoMars mission will send a European rover as well as a Russian “surface platform” to the Red Planet. After a nine month journey to Mars, the ExoMars rover will traverse Martian surface looking for evidence of life. The vehicle will be equipped with a drill capable of boring up to two meters into the Martian soil. The onboard laboratory will test these samples and identify organic substances.



future space missions juice  1
Artist rendition of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. Photo Credit: ESA
Artist rendition of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. Photo Credit: ESA

The JUICE mission — a jumbled acronym meaning JUpiter ICy moons Explorer — will arrive at Jupiter in 2030. The craft will spend three years studying the gas giant and its three largest moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.

TBD – Psyche

future space missions psyche asteroid
Artist rendition of 16 Psyche, a massive asteroid in the Kuiper Belt, believed to be once be the nickel-iron core of a planet. Photo credit: NASA
Artist rendition an orbiter and 16 Psyche, a massive asteroid in the Kuiper Belt, believed to be once be the nickel-iron core of a planet. Photo credit: NASA

Tentatively scheduled to launch at some point in 2022, the Psyche mission will study the metal asteroid of the same name orbiting in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It’s believed that Psyche may actually be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet. Studying this potential planetary core could give us better understanding about how terrestrial planets formed.


January 1Europa Clipper Mission

future space missions europa full
Artist rendition of the Europa Clipper spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA

The Europa Clipper mission will place a spacecraft in orbit around the gas giant Jupiter to search for evidence of life on the nearby moon Europa. The craft will make repeated flybys (up to 45 total) of the icy moon to investigate the surface and interior structure of this ocean world.



future space missions plato mission 2026
Artist rendition of the (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) satelite. Photo Credit: ESA
Artist rendition of the (PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) satelite. Photo Credit: ESA

Planetary Transits and Oscillations (PLATO) is a photometric monitoring mission with a payload of 24 cameras designed to detect terrestrial exoplanets orbiting bright solar-type stars. PLATO will specifically search for exoplanets orbiting within the so-called Goldilocks Zone, –or more formally, the habitable zone— in nearby star systems. PLATO will have an operational lifetime of about six years.

The year 4,002,017

TBD – Pioneer 11 probe

future space missions pioneer 11
Artist rendition of the Pioneer 11 probe. Photo Credit: NASA

And, well, if we’re setting our calendars, go ahead and pencil in the Pioneer 11 probe (and its infamous plaque) — launched in 1973  — for a flyby of the star Lambda Aquila in about four million years — a relative drop in the cosmic bucket.

Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft will collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu by shooting at it

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will soon touch down on the asteroid Ryugu, where it will collect a sample by shooting a bullet into the soil. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2020 to learn about the formation of asteroids.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s space observatory will map the sky with unprecedented detail

NASA is preparing to launch a cutting-edge space observatory to create the most detailed map ever produced of the sky. Doing so will involve surveying hundreds of millions of galaxies. Here's how it plans to do it.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s ‘Refabricator’ lets astronauts recycle 3D-printed tools to make new ones

The International Space Station just received a fancy new gadget in the form of a Refabricator, a machine capable of 3D printing using recycled plastic materials. Here's how it works.
Smart Home

No strings attached: This levitating lamp uses science to defy gravity

Now on Kickstarter, the Levia lamp is a cool industrial-looking lamp which boasts a levitating bulb. Looking for a table light that will dazzle visitors? You've come to the right place.
Emerging Tech

The Great White Shark’s genome has been decoded, and it could help us end cancer

In a significant step for marine and genetic science, researchers have decoded the genome of the great white shark. The genetic code revealed a wealth of insight into what makes these creatures so successful from an evolutionary standpoint.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

‘Guerrilla rainstorm’ warning system aims to prevent soakings, or worse

Japanese researchers have created a "guerrilla rainstorm" early-warning system aimed at preventing severe soakings, or worse. The team hopes to launch the system before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.
Emerging Tech

No faking! Doctors can now objectively measure how much pain you’re in

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered the blood biomarkers that can objectively reveal just how much pain a patient is in. Here's why that's so important.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch the world’s first privately-funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.
Emerging Tech

FDA warns about the dangers of anti-aging young blood transfusions

It turns out injecting old people with blood from healthy youngsters may not be the answer to health rejuvenation. That’s according to the FDA, which says such claims are dangerous junk science.