There are four major missions bound for Mars this year, with the USA, Europe, China and the United Arab Emirates all preparing to depart in the summer.
The flurry of Martian launches are due to the fact that, in July 2020, Earth and Mars are ideally positioned relative to each other for spaceships to land.
Three of the four missions will see rovers landing on the planet in search of ancient signs of life, the other mission will see a UAE-built orbiter study the atmosphere.
There are hundreds of other space missions in 2020 not going to Mars, including the first commercially operated flights to the International Space Station.
There will also be hundreds of new satellites sent into space by SpaceX and OneWeb as part of their ‘clusters’.
Here are the big launches to watch out for in 2020.
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NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover will pick up samples of rock and soil from the red planet, deposit them in tubes and leave them on the ground for a future mission to return them to Earth.
NASA Mars 2020 rover launch
By July all the talk will be of Mars, as rovers destined for the Red Planet are launched by by Europe, America and China.
There are multiple missions to Mars in 2020 due to its optimum position relative to Earth, making journeys shorter than they would be otherwise
NASA is launching the Mars 2020 Rover and the Mars Helicopter Scout to gather rock samples for an eventual return to Earth.
The rover will leave for Mars in July or August 2020 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base and will travel aboard the two-stage Atlas V-541 rocket, provided by the United Launch Alliance.
NASA’s robotic vehicle passed its ‘driving test’ last week and won’t move again until it arrives on the Red Planet in mid-February 2021.
The semi-autonomous vehicle will search for signs of ancient microbial life within the Jezero crater, which contains a dried up lake once filled with water.
During its mission, the rover will drive about 650ft a day collecting rock and soil samples, depositing them in small tubes and leaving them for later collection.
ESA and Roscosmos ExoMars mission
The European Space Agency (ESA) are working with the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) to launch the Rosalind Franklin rover using the Kazachok lander.
The European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin Rover has been named after the English chemist who helped unlock the secrets of DNA. It will launch in July 2020
The Rosalind Franklin, previously called the ExoMars rover, is named after the English chemist who made key contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite.
Like the NASA Mars 2020 rover, the Rosalind Franklin’s goal is to find out whether life has ever existed on the Red Planet.
The British-built rover will head out on an eight month mission that will see it travel 330ft per day as part of its study of the surface of the Red Planet.
The Trace Gas Orbiter, which has been at Mars since October 2016, will act as a relay station for the mission that also includes the Russian stationary service platform.
China’s Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter, Lander and Small Rover mission
China are sending the Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover to the planet – the first Chinese mission to another planet using its own delivery vehicle.
In 2020 China will launch a mission to Mars that will see it deploy a lander and an orbiter over the Red Planet
The Chinese mission will launch in July 2020 on board the Long March 5 heavy lift rocket in search for evidence of past life and to assess the planet’s environment.
On December 27 China successfully tested the Long March 5 by launching a test satellite into low Earth orbit.
The solar-powered rover will carry ground-penetrating radar, multi spectral camera, a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy instrument and payloads for detecting the climate and magnetic environment.
UAE’s Hope Mars Mission
The United Arab Emirates are also planning to launch for the Red Planet. They are launching the Hope Mars Mission orbiter on a Japanese rocket in July 2020.
The United Arab Emirates are also launching a probe for Mars in 2020 that will see it study the lower atmosphere on the Red Planet
The probe will study the climate of the Red Planet every day and through seasonal cycles to better asses weather events in the lower atmosphere such as dust storms.
It’s the first planetary space mission led by an Arab-Islamic country and will arrive in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation.
It was built in collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder, University of California Berkeley and Arizona State University.
All four missions are due to arrive at the Red Planet in February 2021 and have the search for ancient signs of life as part of their objectives.
ESA and NASA Solar Orbiter launch
In February the European Space Agency are launching the Solar Orbiter on board an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral in the USA.
The European Space Agency are launching their Solar Orbiter in 2020 in the hope of discovering the secrets of how the Sun’s ‘Plasma Bubble’ envelops the solar system
Its goal is to help astronomers understand how our star creates and controls the giant bubble of plasma that surrounds the whole solar system.
The mission in collaboration with NASA, will investigate how this solar fired plasma bubble influences the planets within it.
Once in space the craft will repeatedly use the gravity of Venus and Earth to raise its orbit above the poles of the Sun.
ESA says this will provide new perspectives on our star, including the first images of the Sun’s polar regions ever captured.
NASA Orion lunar spacecraft launch
The first flight of the Orion lunar spacecraft is also due to happen in 2020 – launching on the new NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rockets.
In 2020 in Orion spacecraft will fly to the moon in a test flight for the Artemis mission that will eventually see the first woman and next man step foot on the lunar surface
The SLS will be the largest rocket ever built and will get the Artemis astronauts to the moon, carry parts into space for the Lunar Gateway space station, and launch future some commercial International Space Station missions.
Artemis 1 will see the uncrewed Orion craft spend three weeks in space including a six day retrograde orbit around the moon.
The launch, expected for November 2020, is designed as a test of the module that will take astronauts back to the moon in 2024.
There is speculation the SLS and first uncrewed Artemis flight around the moon could slip until 2021, but at the time of writing it was scheduled for 2020.
ISS astronaut launches
It’s not just the rovers and uncrewed modules having all the fun – there will be crewed missions from Virgin Galactic, China, SpaceX and Boeing in 2020.
SpaceX are one of two commercial companies expected to start operating flights to the International Space Station for international astronaut crew in 2020
There will also be a crew change on board the International Space Station as Russian and American crew change over on the space station.
The first two missions there and back will be on board Russian owned Soyuz crafts but NASA says a commercial ship will take crew to the ISS in May.
The SpaceX Dragon 2 module is due to take Expedition 64 and 65 to the station in May as part of the NASA Commercial Crew program – including two American and a Japanese astronaut.
It will be the first time a craft other than the Russian Built Soyuz has been used to transfer people to the station since the Space Shuttle Atlantis made its final trip in November 2009.
Boeing, who recently had a problem with its first uncrewed Starliner test flights, is also expected to operate the commercial space taxi service to the ISS from 2020
Then in December 2020 the Boeing Starliner CST-100 will take expedition 66 and 67 crew to the station – including two Americans, a European and a Russian.
That mission will be only the fourth US Spaceflight with a female commander.
Boeing’s Starliner ran into issues during its uncrewed test flight in December when a timing glitch meant it couldn’t dock with the ISS.
This is likely going to have to be repeated before a crewed mission, although NASA said if there were crew aboard the issue could have been resolved to allow the docking to happen.
Chinese Tianhe-1 space station launch
The first part of the Chinese space station is due to be launched in 2020 – the core module is known as Tianhe-1 or Harmony of the Heavens.
The first module is being launched by the heavy-lift rocket Long March 5.
The complete Chinese space station will be assembled in orbit from pieces launched from Earth on separate missions.
The final, complete Chinese space station will be about a fifth the mass of the International Space Station and is due to be completed and occupied by 2023.
Japan’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample-return mission
We will also get some samples of an asteroid returned to Earth as Japan’s Hayabusa-2 is expected to drop its samples of the Ryugu asteroid in the Australian desert.
Scientists hope will provide clues into what the Solar System was like at its birth some 4.6billion years ago
Hayabusa-2 was launched in 2014 by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA with the aim of bringing samples from under the soil of an asteroid back to Earth.
The probe was sent 186 million miles from Earth to the asteroid Ryugu, whose name means ‘Dragon Palace’ in Japanese.
The return of the samples should happen in December, so any delay could see it slip to 2021, according to the Japanese space agency JAXA.
China’s Chang’e 5 sample return mission
China is also launching the Chang’e 5 sample return mission to the Moon where it will collect sample and bring them back to Earth for study.
It will launch on the Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre on Hainan island late in 2020.
The aim of China’s space agency is to bring back about 4lb of lunar samples from a site near a volcanic formation on the western edge of the near side of the moon.
In another sample return mission, OSIRIS-Rex by NASA will sample Bennu in July although the samples won’t return to Earth until after 2021.
Commercial launches including Virgin Galactic
Other launches in 2020 will see hundreds of small communications satellites launched by OneWeb and SpaceX as part of their ‘constellations’.
Virgin CEO Richard Branson, appeared in a sky diving simulator as he wears Virgin Galactic’s new space-wear system, developed in partnership with Under Armour. He is expected to fly to the edge of space with his spaceliner in 2020
These have proved controversial as astronomers claim they interfere with observations, creating a streak that obscures the view of stars and planets.
Both companies say they are working to ensure their satellites have minimal impact on the sky as viewed from Earth.
Richard Branson is due to make his first flight to space in 2020 – he will be going up on the next crewed Virgin Galactic test flight.
The billionaire entrepreneur will fly to space on board the VSS Unity with other astronauts employed by the spaceliner.
Launches will be happening all over the world – from Russia and the USA to China and India – it’s going to be a busy year for space ports.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT NASA’S MARS 2020 ROVER?
Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet.
The machine will explore an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600-foot (500-meter) deep lake.
It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.
Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet
The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 is planned to launch in July 2020, and land in February 2021.
Mars 2020 is designed to land inside the crater and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.
Nasa says a second mission will need to fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s.
This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system