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Here's a sneak peek at three missions coming up in 2018. We have rockets launching, spacecraft arriving at their destinations, and missions coming to an end.

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You have made it almost all of the way through 2017. There are moments where it felt like maybe we wouldn’t.

Next year in space news, we’ve got a lot to look forward to, from rockets launching, to spacecraft arriving at their destinations, to missions coming to an end. And like we do around this time every year, we wanted to give you a sneak peek. There are three missions that you can expect to hear more about in 2018.

In late November, Mars will receive another visitor: NASA’s InSight mission, which will likely launch in May. It’ll land on Mars to study its interior to learn more about how the rocky planets formed. All the rocky planets in our solar system have similar interior structures, with separate layers including a crust, mantle, and core.

While scientists know the basics of how these layers formed, how they separated is still poorly understood. But Mars happens to be an ideal size to study how that happened. It’s massive enough to have experienced most, if not all, of those fundamental processes, but not so massive that it lost evidence of them through years of geologic activity, which is what happened to Earth.

InSight will be studying the basic properties of Mars’s layers, like their size, thickness, density, and composition, as well as how heat flows through them. It’ll also monitor seismic activity, the rate of meteorite impacts, and how Mars wobbles due to the gravity of its moons and the Sun. One of its three instruments will also hammer a probe 5 meters into Mars’ surface, much further down than any mission before it.

InSight was originally meant to launch in 2016, but engineers found a leak during testing, so it missed its launch window. And it took another 26 months for the Earth and Mars to line up for another shot. Thankfully, InSight passed its most recent battery of tests this past November, so now it’ll be ready to launch in just a few months.

Speaking of delayed missions, the finalists of Google’s Lunar X-PRIZE have a new deadline: March 31, 2018. This competition was announced back in 2007, and a year ago, five finalists were selected to compete for the 20 million dollar grand prize. To win, a team has to land a spacecraft on the Moon, move it at least 500 meters, and transmit a variety of data, including videos, a panorama, and an email and text message.

The projects have to be almost entirely funded by private investors, and it has to happen by the end of March. Piece of cake, right? The five final teams are Israel’s SpaceIL, the US’s Moon Express, India’s TeamIndus, Japan’s HAKUTO, and the international team Synergy Moon.

SpaceIL would be the first group from Israel to land on the Moon, and if they win, they’ve promised to donate the prize money to advance STEM education in their country. To travel the required distance on the Moon, their lander will perform a “space hop.” They’ll land, take off again, then land 500 meters away. Moon Express is also performing a space hop.

They have a contract with the company Rocket Lab and will launch from New Zealand, traveling on a rocket that only had its first launch last May. Synergy Moon, on the other hand, is the only team that can completely send itself all on its own to the Moon, since one of companies involved builds and launches its own rockets. Meanwhile, HAKUTO and TeamIndus will hitch the same ride to space aboard a rocket from ISRO, India’s space agency.

HAKUTO’s four-kilogram rover has 3D printed wheels and is built out of plastic reinforced with carbon fiber. And TeamIndus’s rover, called ECA for short, might be the most adorable of the bunch. It even has its own comic strip on the team’s website.

They’re planning to land in the same region Apollo 15 did. So far, it’s still too early to say how many of the finalists will make it to the Moon by Google’s deadline, but if any of them clinch that grand prize, it’ll open up a totally new phase of lunar exploration. The jury’s still out on X-PRIZE, but we do know about one spacecraft that will definitely reach its target next year: OSIRIS-REx, which will arrive at the asteroid Bennu this August.

Asteroids are left over from when the solar system formed, and are basically unchanged records of the solar system from 4.5 billion years ago. We can occasionally study them when meteorites hit Earth, but OSIRIS-REx will go straight to the source, collecting a sample and bringing it home. It launched back in September 2016 and has been making its way to Bennu, which is located between Earth and Mars, ever since.

When it gets there in August, it’ll spend a year mapping potential sampling sites before approaching the surface and blasting Bennu with nitrogen, which will dislodge rocks and dust to be captured. Bennu is a rare, primitive type of asteroid that’s chock full of carbon. It’s expected to have organic molecules and water-containing clays, and OSIRIS-REx will be able to confirm those hypotheses.

It will also study how Bennu’s momentum changes as it rotates and emits heat, which will help scientists understand its long-term trajectory. That’s important because, over a century from now, Bennu could hit Earth, although it’s a slim chance, so, you probably don’t need to worry too much about your, like, potential grandkids. OSIRIS-REx won’t return to Earth until 2023, so like a lot of science missions, we’ll have to wait a few years before we get all that juicy data.

But luckily for us, there are way more missions running through 2018 and beyond, so we’ll have plenty to tell you about in the upcoming year. Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow Space! If you would like to keep learning about the universe with us next year, you can do that!

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