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We bring you a few upcoming missions that will be testing technology for future asteroid prospecting, trying to find more exoplanets, and continuing China's quest for a crewed moon mission.

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Caitlin: Happy kinda-belated New Year! Like we do every January, we figured we’d start off the year with a sneak peek at what space missions you can expect to hear more about during 2017. Some of these missions will expand what we know already, but others will venture into uncharted territory.

Take Prospector-X, which will test technology for the first commercial asteroid prospecting mission. Asteroids are rich in water and metals, which can be used to power spacecraft or for manufacturing. But right now we don’t have a way to access those resources.

So Deep Space Industries, an asteroid-mining company from California, is designing technology to change that. Prospector-X is due to launch to low-Earth orbit in September, and while it’s there, it’ll test three key technologies for later asteroid mining missions.

First is the propulsion system, called Comet-1, which uses water as a propellant. Prospector-X will also test the optical navigation system, which will use two cameras to determine just how close the spacecraft is getting to its asteroid target. And finally, it will test the deep space avionics: the electrical systems and computers used on the mission. If all goes well, the technology will be used on Prospector-1, the first commercial mission to survey and land on an asteroid, which will launch sometime in the next few years.

A few months after the Prospector-X launch, in December of this year, NASA will launch a new satellite to learn more about exoplanets. It’s called TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, and it will search 200,000 of the brightest stars near the Sun to try to find planets around them. It’ll look for planets using the transit method, which involves searching for periodic dips in a star’s brightness — a key sign that there might be a planet passing in front of it. Then, various telescopes back here on Earth will confirm that the objects really are exoplanets and that TESS’s observations were correct.

Those other telescopes will observe how the exoplanets’ gravity affects their host stars, which will help researchers determine the masses of these new planets and figure out which ones they want to study more. TESS is expected to find more than 2,000 new exoplanets, adding to the almost 3,500 we already know about.

Other missions, like the Kepler space telescope, have looked at exoplanets before, but the stars TESS studies will be 30 to 100 times brighter than what Kepler looked at, and it will survey an area 400 times larger. Studying exoplanets can teach us more about how the Earth formed and what conditions need to be like for life to evolve, so we’re about to learn a whole lot more about the universe.

And finally, China is going to the moon! Since 2007, the China National Space Administration has been launching moon missions in the Chang’e program, named after the Chinese moon goddess. And Chang’e 5 is due to launch in the second half of 2017. Chang’e 1 and 2 were both lunar orbiters, and Chang’e 3 was a lander that put the Yutu rover on the moon in 2013.

Chang’e 4 is another lander-rover combination, but it actually won’t launch until 2018, after Chang’e 5. Meanwhile, this year Chang’e 5 will land on the near side of the moon and will collect and return lunar samples to Earth. These will be first new samples brought back to Earth since 1976!

Studying samples of the moon’s rocks and soil can teach us about how the early days of the moon, the Earth, and the solar system as a whole. If everything goes well for Chang’e 5, Chang’e 6 will launch in 2018 to return samples from the far side of the moon. That’s never been done by any country, so it would provide brand-new information about an unexplored part of the moon’s surface.

And if Chang’e 5 doesn’t go as planned, they might try landing Chang’e 6 on the near side of the moon again instead of going around to the far side. It mainly depends on the success of Chang’e 5!

All of this is building up to China’s first crewed mission to the moon, which they hope will happen by 2036. That’s a lot of missions! The teams behind all these missions have been working hard for years, and it’s finally show time! So it looks like this will be a year of new discoveries and you can be sure to learn more about them here at SciShow Space.

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