Earth to Jupiter: Get ready for some big space missions in 2024

Posted at 9:01 AM, Jan 30, 2024

DENVER — This year is going to be a big one for space flight. Already there have been some exciting launches and there's a whole lot more on the horizon.

Here’s a look at some of the top missions to pay attention to this year:

Commercial Lunar Payload Service Program

The CLPS program, or commercial lunar payload service program, is heading to the moon. Its mission is to speed up delivery of experiments and equipment onto the moon for science, exploration and commercial development.

It's been a rocky start; the Peregrine Lander didn't make it to the moon and instead burned up in the earth's atmosphere but that's not stopping the mission from moving forward.

In February, the mission’s second launch by the Intuitive Machine’s Company will take place on a Falcon 9 rocket. The first ever radio astronomy telescope is onboard that mission. The lander is expected to touch down on the south pole of the moon, something researchers are particularly excited about.

“We have not had a NASA-funded payload on the moon in over 50 years. Since December of 1972,” said Jack Burns, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Burns says that while the U.S. had made it to the moon decades ago, there’s still a lot of research to be done.

“With Apollo we just hit a couple of sites, six landings, all on the near side of the moon, all near the equator, and as it turns out from what we know today, we didn't even go to the most interesting places, which include the South Pole of the moon where today we know thee is water ice and that can be mined and help make for a sustainable exploration initiative,” he said.

Burns is particularly enthusiastic about the first radio telescope landing in a place that is the only truly radio quiet location in the inner solar system. It will look for the beginnings of the first starts and galaxies.

“I never thought it was going to take this long to happen but finally it is,” he said. “This is finally a true step into the cosmos, into the solar system.”

VIPER Mission

Later this year, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover will also be landing on the moon’s South Pole.

VIPER’s 100-day mission will be to travel 12 miles on the moon’s surface to analyze ice on the moon’s surface and subsurface.

The rover will then help researchers to map the distribution of the water ice. This ice could serve as an important resource to help people get to Mars eventually.

Other Moon happenings

NASA isn’t the only one with its eye on the moon. Private companies are also looking at their own missions.

“There's some serious startup companies that are looking at how they would go about mining the moon with the extraction of resources from the moon, like aluminum and silicon,” Burns said.

Countries like Japan and China also have their eye on the moon as do private companies.

Europa Clipper Mission

NASA'S Europa Clipper Mission is headed to Jupiter to check one of its moons and determine whether it has conditions that are suitable to support life.

A orbiter is set to be launched in October but it won’t arrive at the Europa moon until 2030.

The mission’s objectives are to examine the ice shell and ocean beneath it and to get a better understanding of the moon’s composition and geology.

To do this, the orbiter will perform a series of flybys, at one point circling just 16 miles overhead.

Hera Mission

Also planned for this year, the Hera Mission launched by the European Space Agency.

It's headed to the Dimrophos asteroid that NASA had collided with last year to try to change its trajectory. This mission will analyze how much the collision affected the asteroid.

The Hera Mission will measure the size of the crater that was created by NASA’s Souble Asterois Redirection Test (DART), the debris could caused by the impact and more. It is set to Launch in October.

All of this is part of an international effort to come up with a planetary defense strategy in the event that an asteroid is on a trajectory to collide with earth.

There's a whole lot more happening in space this year, so get ready for some exciting launches and some big steps forward in science.