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2018 Space MissionsThere are a lot of exiting space missions to look forward to in 2018. SpaceX will debut its Falcon Heavy rocket, two companies may begin testing their private human space taxis and robotic missions will sample asteroids, hunt for exoplanets and travel to Mars, the moon and more.
Here's a look at some of the most exciting spaceflight stories slated for 2018. [Read about 2017's biggest spaceflight stories]
SpaceX Falcon HeavySlide 2 of 32
SpaceX Falcon HeavySpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is expected to launch in January from Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida — the same NASA launch pad that sent the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon.
The January launch will mark the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy. The first stage of the privately developed SpaceX rocket is composed of three of the company's Falcon 9 engine cores. If all goes according to plan, the rocket will launch its payload into orbit around Mars, according to the company's founder and CEO, Elon Musk.
Measuring some 230 feet (70 meters) tall when complete, the heavy-lift launch vehicle is designed to carry payloads of up to 119,000 lbs. (57 metric tons) into space and could be used for future crewed missions to the moon or Mars. Earlier this month, Elon Musk announced on Twitter that Falcon Heavy's first payload will be a midnight-cherry-colored Tesla Roadster.
The Falcon Heavy is also designed to be reusable, with its three core boosters built to fly back to Earth and land like SpaceX's current Falcon 9 rockets. Take a look at some of the first photos released of Falcon Heavy here.Slide 3 of 32
Tiangong-1 Re-EntrySlide 4 of 32
Tiangong-1 Re-EntryChina's Tiangong-1 space lab has been orbiting Earth since September 2011, but it is slated for an uncontrolled re-entry through Earth's atmosphere in late January or later, officials have said. Most of the vehicle is expected to burn up during the re-entry.
The uncrewed space lab, which weighed 18,740 lbs. (8,500 kilograms) at launch, was used for a total of six successive rendezvous and dockings with three different spacecraft, including the Shenzhou-8 (uncrewed), Shenzhou-9 (piloted) and Shenzhou-10 (piloted). [Gallery: Tiangong-1, China's First Space Laboratory]
The Tiangong-1 spacecraft was part of China's human space exploration activities, but it stopped working properly on March 16, 2016. Although Tiangong-1 has maintained its structural integrity, officials do not expect to regain control of the space lab before re-entry.
Tiangong-1 is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere somewhere between 43 degrees north and 43 degrees south latitude. Researchers monitoring the spacecraft have found that it is slowly dropping in altitude; however, the exact time and location at which Tiangong-1 will plunge toward Earth cannot yet be predicted. Debris from the re-entry is not expected to cause any harm or damage. China will track the spacecraft more closely as it gets closer to re-entry.Slide 5 of 32
TESS, the planet hunterSlide 6 of 32
TESS, the planet hunterhe Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is scheduled to launch to Earth orbit in March 2018 in search of planets around other stars, ranging from Earth-size worlds to gas giants.
Over the course of its two-year mission, the satellite will monitor the brightness of more than 200,000 stars and identify temporary drops in brightness caused by planets that cross in front of their host stars, as seen from Earth. (This approach is known as the transit method.)
Most of the thousands of exoplanets discovered to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope lie thousands of light-years away from Earth, but TESS is designed to observe stars located only a few hundred light-years from Earth.Slide 7 of 32
The Chandrayaan-2 moon missionSlide 8 of 32