U.S. space agency NASA is set for a busy launch schedule next year, with destinations ranging from the International Space Station (ISS) to Mars.
In 2013, NASA will push ahead with an ambitious exploration program, continuing crew flights and commercial resupply missions to the ISS, and advancing the systems needed to send humans deeper into space. "We'll also be launching a new mission to the Red Planet, learning about our own planet, understanding our place in the universe, and developing technologies that benefit us right here on Earth," NASA says on its website.
"We'll be watching the skies with you when meteor showers, asteroid encounters and eclipses capture your attention, and we'll surely make scientific discoveries and technological advances we haven't even planned for yet," it adds.
NASA's launch schedule features missions by NASA and the partner nations in the ISS Program, including Russia, European Space Agency and Japan.
The 2013 launch schedule starts with Tracking and Data Relay Satellite-K (TDRS-K) on January 29, the countdown for which has already started. The TDRS-K spacecraft is part of the next-generation series in the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System, a constellation of space-based communication satellites providing tracking, telemetry, command and high-bandwidth data return services.
Then comes the February 11 launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM). LDCM is the future of Landsat satellites. It will gather valuable data and imagery of Earth to be used in agriculture, education, business, science and government.
Several ISS expeditions head to the orbital outpost, beginning with Expedition 35 in March.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) plans the second and third contracted commercial resupply flights to the ISS this year, with SpaceX CRS-2 to be launched on March 1 and SpaceX CRS-3 in September.
The Orbital Sciences Corporation plans test-flights with the goal of sending its Cygnus capsule to the ISS. The demonstration flight is scheduled for April 5.
On April 18, the European Space Agency's ATV-4, also known as the "Albert Einstein," will shoot up from Guiana Space Center, French Guiana, to deliver several tons of supplies to the ISS. It will dock with the Zvezda Service Module, part of the Russian segment of the station.
Next in line will be the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), "which looks to increase our understanding of energy transport into the Sun's corona and solar wind, and provide an archetype for all stellar atmospheres."
Scheduled for an August 12 launch, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will gather detailed information about conditions near the lunar surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission to Mars will be launched on November 18. It will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere, with a goal of understanding how Mars changed through time.
And in December, a Russian Proton rocket will deliver the Multipurpose Laboratory Module with European Robotic Arm (ERA) to the ISS.
by RTT Staff Writer
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