Aug. 10, 2020

NASA Perseveres Through Pandemic, Looks Ahead in 2020, 2021

With 2020 more than half way through, NASA is gearing up for a busy rest of the year and 2021.

Human Landing System 2024 Surface Astronauts Concept
Artist concept of Human Landing System and astronauts on the surface of the Moon.
Credits: NASA

Following the recent successful launch of a Mars rover and safely bringing home astronauts from low-Earth orbit aboard a new commercial spacecraft, NASA is looking forward to more exploration firsts now through 2021. The agency is sending the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024, establishing sustainable exploration by the end of the decade as part of the Artemis program while getting ready for human exploration of Mars.

“By putting the health and safety of the NASA team first, we’ve been able to safely navigate the challenges of COVID-19 and keep our missions moving forward as much as possible,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We will hit several key milestones for Artemis this year, including conducting a major test of our Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. We also plan to grab an asteroid sample and launch an ocean studying satellite to name a few missions ahead. These stunning NASA achievements have been made possible thanks to strong commitments from the President and Congress to fund and support NASA budgets and ushered in a new era of exploration for America’s space agency.”

2020 Perseveres

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SpaceX Crew-1
Credits: NASA

Among the activities the agency has for the rest of 2020, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission is targeted for launch from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station this fall, following certification of the system by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission will be the first in a series of regular, rotational flights with astronauts to the orbital laboratory as it marks 20 years of continuous human presence aboard the station Nov. 2. Flying four crew members on Crew-1 will expand the station’s crew to seven, effectively doubling the amount of time for crew members to support research investigations that advance scientific knowledge and prepare for human exploration farther into space. Boeing also is on deck to conduct a second uncrewed flight test for the Commercial Crew Program, before flying a crewed flight test in 2021 to meet program certification requirements. This is an important step in ensuring multiple providers are providing access to the space station from American soil.

In the America’s first asteroid sample return mission, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will do a touch, grab, and go move on Bennu in October to collect a small sample to return to Earth.

NASA also continues to make significant progress toward the first uncrewed flight test of SLS and the Orion spacecraft and plans to conduct a hot fire test by November. This critical milestone known as the Green Run, includes firing up the rocket’s massive core stage and four RS-25 engines in a test stand. Stacking operations will begin with the solid rocket boosters on the mobile launcher in the late fall after the hot fire and will continue into 2021 when the core stage arrives. Engineers are putting finishing touches on Orion so it will be ready for attachment, making us one step closer to sending astronauts to walk on the Moon.

NASA also will test a suite of lander technologies aboard a commercial spaceflight mission. As the main experiment of the rocket, the technologies tested will support safer and more accurate future landings on the Moon.

Finally, the agency is also expected to launch the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite in November, which will collect the most accurate data yet on sea levels.

2021 to Bring More Firsts

Next year is shaping up to be one of NASA’s busiest yet.

Following an initial design phase, NASA is expected to announce whether Blue Origin, Dynetics and/or SpaceX are moving forward with their human landing systems, one of which will be the first private company to safely land American astronauts on the Moon in 2024.

When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars in February, the robot astrobiologist / geologist will search for signs of ancient life and collect rock and soil samples. As part of the mission, NASA will deploy the Ingenuity helicopter from the rover in the first demonstration of rotorcraft on another planet. The agency also will attempt to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere – a critical step for future human exploration of the Red Planet.

DART at the Didymos system
Illustration of NASA’s DART spacecraft and the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) LICIACube prior to impact at the Didymos binary system.