We have ranked the Top 5 Space Exploration Achievements of 2020 based on their proximity to the Earth and left for you and for the future to decide on their significance:
🚀 Elon Musk’s SpaceX
On May 31st, 2020 the world was watching as the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launched into space and successfully docked with the International Space Station. In an effort to decrease the costs and improve the reliability of the access to space Elon Musk and his Space Exploration Technologies Corporation have made a series of test launches and flights of the reusable space vehicles Dragon and SpaceX Dragon 2. It is the first private company to successfully send a spacecraft to the International Space Station, which has opened a new era of space flights since the retirement of the famous Shuttle.
🚀 Moon exploration returns
On December 1st, the Chinese Change 5 robotic mission landed on the Moon. It is the first sample-return mission since the Soviet Luna 24 mission back in 1976. It is part of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program and was launched on November 23rd. The expected return to Earth date is December 16th. The mission aims to take at least 2 kilograms of the Moon’s soil and rock samples and bring them to Earth for further research.
🚀 NASA’s 2020 Mars exploration
Following the success of the previous missions deploying Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers, this time NASA has sent a rover plus a helicopter. The rover, whose name is Perseverance (nicknamed Percy), is based on Curiosity’s chassis, but with improved wheels and suspension. It carries more equipment than its predecessor, overall 5 advanced measuring instruments, and it is the size of a car weighing over 1000 kilos. Accompanying it would be an on-board solar panel-powered helicopter named Ingenuity, whose task would be to scout for the optimal driving route for the rover. The Perseverance’s mission goals include looking for habitability, catching samples, seeking biosignatures, and preparing for humans. The mission was launched on July 30th, 2020 and the expected landing date is February 18th, 2021.
🚀 The first Chinese Mars exploration mission
On July 23rd, 2020, 7 days ahead of NASA’s mission, the CNSA (China National Space Administration) launched their Tianwen-1 mission to Mars consisting of a rover, a lander, an orbiter, and a deployable camera. Its objective is to explore the planet’s environment and to find evidence of the past as well as current life. This first Chinese mission to Mars would serve as a demonstration of technological capability to launch a further sample-return mission to Mars in the 2030s.
🚀 The first United Arab Emirates Mars exploration attempt
If the previous two missions were not enough for a hot Martian exploration race, here is the 3rd one – launched even sooner, July 19th, 2020, the UAE Mars exploration mission powered by a Japanese rocket. However, this one carries only an orbiter, called Hope, which will study the Martian atmosphere, its weather cycles, and various phenomena (such as dust storms), and will attempt to find the causes behind drastic climate changes on Mars. The Hope was developed in cooperation with several USA universities, including Arizona State University and the University of California, Berkeley. As with the first two missions, the UAE mission is expected to arrive on Mars in February 2021.