2018 could prove to be the beginning of new epochs in space, astronomy and astrophysics. Elon Musk and SpaceX may have ushered in the beginning of a golden age of commercial space travel, while a variety of missions around the solar system may improve our neighbors' understanding. In addition, the "Multi-Messenger Astronomy" using the gravitational waves can open a new window to the universe.
The vastness of space extends over distances that are often hard to imagine. Light takes eons to cross. In fact, each year's space news is the planning of missions that will last for several years.
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Recently, for example, the discussion focused on the road to Mars, where NASA hopes to send astronauts and Musk dreams of building a new civilization . Planning also continues for the next generation of telescopes which will help us to look back at the beginning of time and possibly detect signs of life elsewhere in the galaxy.
But 2018 also offered more action – more actually jump off, more finally go there and get there – as usual.
SpaceX Launches Heavy Lifting
The biggest space spectacle of 2018, if not an entire generation, started in February when SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket.
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Three strapped Falcon 9 rockets were the most powerful vehicle shot down from US soil since the Apollo era. On board, however, were no astronauts, just a dummy in a spacesuit behind the wheel of Musk's Red Tesla. Cameras, paired with the headstrong test payload, left epic eyes as she headed toward Mars.
A few minutes after the launch of Heavy, two of the three boosters landed at Cape Canaveral in Florida and made the achievements almost simultaneously with a technology that seemed imaginative and distant a few years ago.
At 21, SpaceX would set a new world record for commercial launches in a year, including a single Sunday . This achievement was supported by the introduction of the Falcon 9 " Block 5 " or the final version of their power animal rocket in May. The block 5 is designed so that it can be restored and reused up to 100 times during its lifetime. So far, a single block 5 has been used for three separate launches, including a record for an orbital class rocket.
Although SpaceX may be the undisputed leader, it certainly has no monopoly in the commercial space.
In the past year Jeff Bezos & # 39; Blue Origin continued his own smaller, reusable rocket and landed while he was planning on competing more directly with Musk. Startup Rocket Lab also launched its business by bringing smaller satellites into orbit with their own novel technologies using 3D printing and lightweight composites.
And finally, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic finally sent a human being to the edge of space (19459004) with his spacecraft in December, onboard of which the company plans to start selling space for adventurous space tourists.
Sending spacecraft into the entire solar system (and beyond)
This year was one of the busiest lately, as new spacecraft were either launched or arrived at their destination. In 2018, there were so many milestones in the mission that some found little attention in the media, such as the launch of the European and Japanese BepiColombo towards Mercury or China's Chang's -4 Lander and Rover on the other side of the moon.
NASA also had a big year. She sent her Parker probe so that she literally "touches" the outer reaches of the sun for the first time, hopefully understanding some of her long-lasting mysteries, such as why these outer layers are actually hotter than the surface of our star.
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The Space Agency landed on Mars for the first time since the arrival of the enchanting Curiosity rover. The Mars Insight Lander settled on a nondescript flat part of the Red Planet, where it will drill deep into the surface to study our neighbor's interior, including "Marsquakes" and other seismic activity.
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will help catalog worlds around other stars, has also been introduced as part of a new generation of telescopes, including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, heard. The timing turned out to be a coincidence when TESS put the Kepler Space Telescope (19459004) into hibernation a few months before the reigning champion in planet spotting (19459003). Unfortunately, in 2018 there was the announcement of another delay for the launch of JWST .
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While many new missions were launched, some asteroid-bound robots reached their destinations after months of travel. The Japanese Hayabusa-2 (19459003) arrived at space rock Ryugu (19459004), dropped Rover to the surface and sent back a few trippy shots. In the meantime, Osiris-Rex of NASA reached the potentially dangerous asteroid Bennu and began surveying his temporary residence. Both missions aim to collect a small sample from their hosts and bring it to Earth for further investigation.
An old-timer spaceship even penetrated the boundary of interstellar space: Voyager 2 is said to be out of range of the sun after decades of travel.
And more will come. 2018 will close with NASA's New Horizons arriving at Ultima Thule on December 31, a frosty object on the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto.
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Seeing the Space Clearer
The many missions of 2018 will return scientific data that will be analyzed for years to come. Meanwhile, other ongoing efforts this year have paid big dividends.
The discovery of new exoplanets, many of which could possibly support life, continued to have an impact, as did the evidence that a number of locations in our own solar system could be wetter and wilder than previously thought. Scientists found a hidden lake on Mars suspected that something might survive just below the surface of Europe and found Keys for life on Enceladus .
This was also the year we looked behind exoplanets and perhaps discovered the first Exomoon (19459004) circling an exoplanet. There have even been talk of so-called "moon moons" orbiting these exomunes. Astronomers could identify 12 previously unknown moons around Jupiter exclude the probability of alien megastructures by one star and release the most comprehensive map of the Milky Way yet.
For many astrophysicists, the biggest development of 2018 is the emergence of a new branch of their field: the study of the universe using gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are wave movements in space-time that were theoretical until a few years ago. Until recently, we have observed the universe largely in terms of electromagnetism, a spectrum of radiation ranging from gamma rays and X-rays to visible light, microwaves and radio waves. An increasing number of gravitational wave detections allows " Multi-messenger astronomy ", a way of hearing the universe for the first time after centuries of observation only with our sense of sight.
Space is still heavy
The news from outer space in 2018 was not all revolutionary. There were also many battles: a planetary dust storm that temporarily the Mars Rover overwhelmed hole that required the insertion of the International Space Station and a frightening demolition of the ISS.
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Google's Lunar X Award came to an end without a winner, even as Elon Musk sold all seats for a future SpaceX flight around the Moon and NASA stepped up its plans for entry into our natural satellites and remain there .
The year began with the mysterious loss of a spy satellite launched by SpaceX. The saddest loss, however, was the death of the famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking who helped spread a more complex and differentiated understanding of our universe while warning of the dangers of artificial intelligence and possible interactions with extraterrestrial civilizations.
In 2018, there were some great birthdays that highlighted how far we have gone in space. 19459003 NASA became 60 years and the International Space Station became 20 years . There was much chatter from the White House over the launch of a Space Force but its future remains unclear.
Other major anniversaries are coming up in 2019, which has lasted half a century since the landing of Apollo 11 in 1969 on the moon. Further milestones of the market launch, including new American SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft, are ready.
But if all the aerospace companies that started in 2018 are as successful as we hope, we'll be looking back on that year in 2028 and 2068, celebrating more historic anniversaries.
NASA turns 60: The space agency has brought humanity further than anyone else, and it has plans to go further.
Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.