This is what it could look like when the NASA rover “Perseverance” and mini-helicopter “Ingenuity” are on the move on Mars
Photo: Cover-Imagee / imago images
A robot car has been rumbling across Mars for around 3000 days.
The US rover "Curiosity" uses ten instruments in the Gale crater to investigate, among other things, the question of whether the red planet could have been alive in the past.
The “Insight” landing robot is around 600 kilometers from there.
For around two years he has been trying to dig his way into the ground with so far limited success.
This year two more research devices will land on Mars: the NASA rover “Perseverance” and its Chinese colleague “Tianwen-1”.
Both belong, so to speak, to the stars of this astronomical preview.
Because while looking ahead to the year ahead is not so easy in other areas of life - a look at those for 2020 shows how much such forecasts can be worth - a few things are definitely certain in space.
And a few others are at least planned, as good as it is currently possible.
"Jezero Crater is the perfect place to look for signs of past life."
Thomas Zurbuchen, head of science at the US space agency NASA
In any case, the Mars cars are well on course.
When it comes to landing, the Americans are likely to be ahead, they are aiming for February 18 for the dangerous maneuver that is to take place this time in the area of the Jezero crater.
Here, too, it will be about looking for traces of life.
Particularly: "Perseverance" should not only analyze exciting rock samples on site.
He will also pack them in metal containers that will be returned to Earth on later missions - even if they will be some time in coming.
The new robotic car even has a small helicopter called “Ingenuity” on board.
It is the first time that such a concept has been tested on Mars.
"The Jezero crater is the perfect place to look for signs of past life," says NASA head of science Thomas Zurbuchen.
"Perseverance" will make discoveries that will require rethinking questions about "how Mars was and how we understand it today".
Europeans and Russians have to wait
The Chinese researchers, who want to safely drop their vehicle "Tianwen-1" on the Mars Great Plain Utopia Planitia on April 23, should also hope for scientific results of a similar carrying width.
It would be the first time that China has a research device on the surface of Mars.
The mission also includes an orbiter that will, among other things, photograph Mars from an altitude of 400 kilometers and relay the rover's data to Earth.
Researchers from the United Arab Emirates also want to celebrate a premiere on Mars this year.
You shot your first spacecraft to the Red Planet with a Japanese rocket.
The orbiter "Hope" is scheduled to arrive in February and from there collect climate data for the first time over an entire Martian year.
These should help clarify how dust storms on the surface ensure that hydrogen molecules are carried into the high layers of the thin gas envelope.
The states of the European Space Agency (ESA) also originally had major Mars plans for this year.
Together with Russia, they want to drop the "Rosalind Franklin" vehicle on the surface.
But the technology caused problems, after the crash of the comparatively simple »Schiaparelli« landing robot in October 2016, no one wanted to risk a second crash landing.
The partners are now aiming for a landing in summer 2023.
New US space capsule should prove itself
The space division of the US company Boeing also had to struggle with technical difficulties - with the space transporter "Starliner".
It was supposed to have been flying astronauts to the International Space Station a long time ago, as a complement to the Russian Soyuz capsules and the Dragons from Elon Musk's SpaceX company.
But after a catastrophic test flight without a crew a good year ago, the project was delayed.
Boeing »Starliner« in a graphic representation: So far only a test flight - and that was extremely problematic
Photo: AFP PHOTO / Nasa / Boeing
"Boeing is making solid progress on the way to flying a second unmanned test mission and preparing for the company's crew flight test in 2021," says Nasa manager Kathy Lueders.
The unmanned test is currently in the books for March 29th, and the first astronauts could then - if everything goes well - fly in the summer.
However, quite a few things will change at NASA by then.
The authority gets a new boss.
Incumbent Jim Bridenstine was appointed by current President Donald Trump and has already announced that he will no longer be available under a new administration.
Bridenstine had earned recognition in the US space program, but also internationally.
Successors will first have to get used to it.
New boss for Esa
This familiarization phase with the new head of the European Space Agency (ESA) could possibly be a little shorter.
On July 1st, the Austrian Josef Aschbacher will take over the post at the headquarters in Paris from the German Jan Wörner.
He had repeatedly signaled that he would have liked to have done the job longer, but was not really supported in these efforts, especially by the federal government.
His successor, Aschbacher, is currently Director of Earth Observation at Esa.
He is very familiar with the challenges of the organization.
In addition to the constantly difficult relationship with the EU - Esa has members like Switzerland and Great Britain who do not belong to the EU - also the future of the European Ariane rocket.
Their newest model, the Ariane 6, was supposed to complete its maiden flight from the Kourou spaceport last year.
Now it will probably take until the second quarter of 2022. And it won't get any cheaper either.
Also because it has yet to be proven what the non-reusable European rocket can do against the cheap competition of the recycling rockets from SpaceX.
The James Webb space telescope is scheduled to launch with an Ariane 5 at the end of October.
This date has also been postponed several years.
The observatory is considered the most expensive and - hopefully - the most powerful telescope of all time.
For its start and operation, Europeans, Canadians and Americans joined forces, as they did with the legendary "Hubble" telescope.
"James Webb" is to be stationed 1.5 million kilometers from Earth and also be able to depict particularly old regions of the universe with unprecedented precision.
The effort is gigantic: the 6.5 meter main mirror of the infrared telescope is foldable so that it fits into the rocket.
When folded out, the sun protection will be as big as a tennis court.
The device's development costs alone are $ 8.8 billion.
"James Webb" telescope in a NASA assembly hall (2016)
Photo: KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS
With a network of radio telescopes stationed on Earth, the Event Horizon Telescope has already captured the black hole in the heart of the M87 galaxy.
This year, the consortium could present an image that researchers have been waiting for a long time: It would show the black hole Sagittarius A * in the center of our Milky Way.
This is much closer to the earth than M87.
But on the one hand it is nowhere near as massive, on the other hand it is very turbulent in the center of our galaxy and stars, dust and gas obstruct the view.
For this reason, the researchers initially concentrated on the M87 in their complicated image process - also to develop a suitable method for such an image.
But now this procedure is to be confirmed with Sagittarius A * and an image of the black hole in our Milky Way is created for the first time.
New measurements were recently not possible due to the corona pandemic.
What else does the Space Year bring?
A Chinese space station launch, maybe.
Beijing is not allowed to participate in the International Space Station because of a vote by the US Congress.
And, here, too, you can't be sure, the first test flight of a Starship heavy-lift space ship from SpaceX.
Suborbital tests are currently running with ever larger hops.
In addition, the German Esa astronaut Matthias Maurer is due to fly to the ISS in autumn this year, on board a SpaceX space capsule.
The NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn and another space traveler who could possibly come from Russia are to accompany him.
Maurer wants to call his mission "Cosmic Kiss" as a declaration of love for the cosmos.
He will have around 35 experiments from Germany alone with him.
Icon: The mirror