Turn the key and fly: the most interesting spacecraft exploring the solar system

The study of the far corners of the solar system is an important area of ​​human scientific activity. Before

All in all, this is the first step towards colonizing othersplanets, and therefore to the survival of humanity as a species in the event that an environmental or other kind of disaster occurs on Earth, as yet the only home of man. What directions have scientists chosen and why is it so important to send a spacecraft beyond the solar system? These questions can be answered by examining existing space exploration missions.

Voyager and Voyager 2

US research missions Voyager andVoyager 2, which were launched with a difference of a week in 1977, today are among the farthest from the Earth artificial space objects. Now automatic interplanetary stations are located at a distance of about 18 billion km from Earth - outside the heliopause, but still inside the solar system.

Until the end it is not clear how many stations will leaveour system — it is surrounded by the Oort cloud — a hypothetical giant cluster of comets that are affected by the gravity of the sun. In practice, the existence of the cloud has not yet been confirmed, but many mathematical models indicate its presence. According to experts, Voyager can go beyond the outer limits of the cloud in about 30 thousand years.

In this case, the first mission of Voyager, launched more40 years ago, is the fastest artificial object in the universe. Despite the fact that a similar probe - New Horizons - was launched much later and technically faster, Voyager made a successful gravitational maneuver between the planets, which greatly accelerated it. For example, the implementation of the gravitational maneuver of Voyager 2 in Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus allowed the station to reach Neptune 20 years earlier than its speed allowed by direct movement.

Now the approximate speed of the stations isabout 17.5 km / s - or 0.005% of the speed of sunlight. In a certain period of the year, the distance between Voyager 1 and the Earth decreases. This is due to the fact that the speed of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun (about 30 km / s) is higher than the speed with which Voyager 1 moves away from it.

Initially both Voyager missions launched forstudies of the far corners of the Solar System - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (Voyager 2 is the only probe that reached this planet, and astrophysicists still use data from it to study it) and Neptune, as well as key satellites of these planets.

Later - after 2025 - both deviceswill lose touch with the Earth. Their sensors are not enough to transmit data over such distances. According to calculations, only after another 40 thousand years Voyager will reach its first star - Ross 248 - a single star in the constellation Andromeda, located 10.4 light years away from the Sun.

In the period from 1958 to 2019, mankindlaunched into space 224 research missions and several thousand commercial and domestic satellites. The first successfully launched automatic interplanetary station was the Soviet "Luna-1", which flew past the moon due to an error in the calculations.

New horizons

Automatic station New Horizons - anotherAmerican mission to explore the far corners of the solar system. The New Horizons mission was launched in 2006, and the initial time of using the probe was calculated as 15-17 years.

At launch, it was assumed that New Horizonswill become the fastest artificial object in the Universe — when launched, its speed was 16.2 km / s relative to the Earth, and the heliocentric speed exceeded 45 km / s, which would allow the mission to leave the Solar System even without a gravitational maneuver near Jupiter. Gradually, however, the speed of New Horizons began to decline and today it turned out to be at the level of 14.5 km / s.

The main goal of New Horizons is to researchthe formation of the system of Pluto and Charon, the study of the Kuiper belt, as well as the processes that took place in the early stages of the evolution of the solar system. The mission will study the surface and atmosphere of the objects of the Pluto system and its immediate environment - to make maps, explore geology and look for the atmosphere.

As a result, after collecting all the information about theseplanets, the mission decided to send New Horizons to the Kuiper Belt - a giant asteroid region on the outskirts of the investigated zone of the solar system. It contains hundreds of thousands of asteroids over 100 km in diameter, partially Pluto, long-period comets from the Oort cloud with a 200-year orbit around the Sun and trillions of comets.

In the same place, New Horizons will study one of the most distant asteroids in the solar system, Ultima Thule, which we described in detail here.

Recently, New Horizons has recorded a hugehydrogen mass at the edge of the solar system, where interstellar hydrogen collides with the solar wind. Scientists analyzed a 360-degree snapshot of ultraviolet radiation around the probe and found a strange brightness — it could mean the presence of potentially condensed hydrogen. It is believed that around this place the solar wind reduces its speed, so in this way interstellar hydrogen and radiation coming from other stars can influence it.

In addition to scientific equipment, aboard NewHorizons has the flags of the United States, a fragment of the first habitable private spacecraft SpaceShipOne, a CD with photos of the device and its developers, a US postage stamp, two coins and a capsule with a piece of the dust of astronomer Clyde Tombo, the discoverer of Pluto.

Parker solar probe

NASA's Parker Solar Probe spacecraftlaunched relatively recently - in the summer of 2018. Its main mission is to study the outer corona of the Sun from a distance of 6.1 million km - in this place the temperature will exceed 2 million degrees Celsius, while the probe even touches it and does not melt.


The probe will not melt due to the fact that the crown,through which the Parker Solar Probe will fly, has an extremely high temperature, but a very low density. Due to this property, the heat shield covering the Parker Solar Probe will only heat up by 1,644 ° C. In more detail about the Parker Solar Probe mission and the features of the solar corona we have already told in a separate article.

The Parker Solar Probe holds the record among all the objects that reach the Sun - previously, several space probes reached a distance of about 7 million km from the Sun.

Thanks to the Parker Solar Probe, scientists will tryfind out how the solar wind appears, what influence magnetic fields have on it, and study plasma particles around the Sun and the impact on the solar wind and the formation of energy particles.

So far, humanity knows very little about solarcrown. Sources for studying for decades were only solar eclipses, because the moon blocked the brightest part of the star - this allowed us to observe the dim external atmosphere of the sun. And only in recent years, NASA began to launch a mission to study it.

It’s too early to talk about the results of the mission - less than a year has passed since the launch of the Parker Solar Probe, and the first full-fledged rapprochement with the Sun will happen only in 2024.


The launch of the Martian mission InSight watched live literally the whole world - on November 26, 2018, NASA and hundreds of media outlets conducted their broadcasts from this event.

InSight's mission is for 720 days. During this time, the probe will study the seismic activity of the planet and, most importantly, drill a well with a depth of up to 5 m. Perhaps this will allow to detect the accumulation of liquid water or ice under the surface of Mars.

InSight has now drilled a well with a depth of just50 cm, when the drill came across an obstacle, and the mission team decided to temporarily stop this process. An analysis has shown that the barrier is not a boulder, but a layer of duristrust. Engineers believe that the drill will be able to overcome it, however, due to the shedding of the well, the tool return will inevitably fall.

Now scientists are going to raise a littleInSight with IDA (Instrument Deployment Arm) robotic arm, thereby compensating for recoil on impact. There is probably a lack of adhesion between the drill and the surrounding soil due to the fact that the well is filled with detrital material. According to the plans, the process of lifting InSight will take place in several stages from the end of June 2019.

InSight seismometer recorded in MarchThe first marshake with an amplitude of 2.5 points, while science is not the first time trying to record earthquakes on the Red Planet. In 1975, the Viking-1 and Viking-2 rovers with similar missions were launched to Mars, but the first device did not make a seismometer, and the second did not have sufficient sensitivity, because it was installed in the probe itself, and not in the soil of mars.

Chang’e 4

In early January 2019, the Chinese probe Chang’e4 for the first time in history, sat on the reverse side of the Moon in the crater Von Karma - one of the most unexplored areas on the surface of the Earth satellite with a length of almost 2 thousand km and a depth of 10 km. It is planned that Chang’e 4 will not bring anything to Earth from the far side of the Moon — that would be a very complicated and expensive mission.

Chang’e 4 will study the insides of the moon withback side thanks to a powerful radar, as well as a mobile laboratory. The moon rover also delivered an aluminum container with mustard seeds, potatoes and silkworm eggs to the moon, and scientists reported that they managed to germinate one of the cotton seeds. However, with the onset of the first moonlit night - January 12, a few days after landing, the rover went into sleep mode and the experiment had to be interrupted.

All the information received rover will transmiton the artificial satellite of the moon, when it will fly over its location, and from the satellite the signal will already go to the mission team. In addition, China has another satellite Queqiao, located at the Lagrange point Earth-Moon at a distance of 37 thousand km from Earth. This will also allow faster transmission of signals to Earth. You can read more about how the Lagrange points are arranged and why there is no gravity in them, you can read in a special study “High-tech”.

In addition to scientific tasks, the mission allowed China to test opportunities in the implementation of long-distance space communications systems.

Now Chinese engineers intend to buildthe mission of Chang’e 5 is the first probe in the history of the country returned from the moon, which should bring more than 2 kg of lunar soil. The launch of the mission is scheduled for December 2019.