Here's What NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory Has Planned for 2022

Here's What NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory Has Planned for 2022

NASA’s Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory will continue to launch an array of missions next year as it works towards its goals of expanding humanity’s knowledge of both our solar system and the forces that formed and continue to shape our planet.

The NASA lab is run by Caltech and works on a number of projects each year that range from exploring the farthest reaches of our solar system to missions that seek to gain a better understanding of our planet’s ever-changing environment and atmosphere.

The Ingenuity helicopter and the Perseverance rover will continue to roam Mars until they die – which could be decades (the Curiosity rover launched in 2011 and is still active today).

Ingenuity is exploring the boundaries of flight on the red planet, and recently completed the first 30-minute remote flight on another planet. The Perseverance rover will continue to record data and collect samples of Mars rock. It’ll seal those samples away in about a dozen airtight tubes, which NASA hopes to soon bring back to Earth for study.

Bobby Braun, director for planetary science at the JPL, told dot.LA he expects to learn much more about Mars and whether or not it could ever be habitable in coming years. He also noted the JPL is working with European space agencies to develop flight systems that will allow the samples to come back to Earth for testing.

“It all relates to this quest to bring a very specific piece of Mars back to the Earth for study,” he said.

Now that Ingenuity is proven to be capable of longer flights, as long as it has a reliable solar power supply to recharge it can continue guiding rover missions.

“Ingenuity and Perseverance are buddies on Mars,” Braun said. “Ingenuity is flying ahead of perseverance and it’s scouting out the area that Perseverance is thinking of going to and giving us information about where we should go and what rocks we should sample before perseverance even gets to that location.”

Braun said the majority of NASA’s JPL missions in the upcoming year will be carried into space by SpaceX crafts, usually the Falcon Heavy rocket. The government hasn’t run a space shuttle mission since 2011, and has found it much cheaper to rely on private contractors like SpaceX for crafts.

Another mission, called Psyche, is helmed by Arizona State University and JPL and involves a plan to study a metal asteroid of the same name.

The metallic asteroid, which orbits the sun between Jupiter and Mars, and it could lead to valuable insights about our Earth’s core. It’s basically impossible to measure the core of our own planet, but JPL scientists think this rock could be part of a nickel-iron core of an early planet from around the time of the Big Bang. Exploring it and taking measurements could help us learn more about how our own planet was formed.

The Psyche craft is expected to lift off in a SpaceX rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center by August 2022 and reach the asteroid by 2026, Braun said.

Asteroids can tell us a lot about our planet’s formation. Another NASA JPL mission, the Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout, will test the use of a solar sail. The goal is to use a solar sail to send a small cube satellite on a solar wind to reach and observe an asteroid close to our planet.

Braun said that while NASA isn’t tracking any asteroids dangerously close to Earth now, he noted, “we do know that long ago in the geologic past the Earth was bombarded by asteroids,” so NASA wants to be learn more.

NEA Scout is designed by the JPL in partnership with the Huntsville, Alabama-based Marshall Spaceflight Center.

Braun said NASA’s JPL also wants to study dust by launching a mission called EMIT which will send an imaging spectroscope to the International Space Station to measure the minerals in the Earth’s driest and dustiest regions. Another NASA satellite already observed Saharan dust in Africa from space, and Braun said that dust—in particular, dust particles that arise from fires and are scattered in the air—is a key factor in understanding climate change. “Those airborne particles also contribute to the modeling of our climate and our understanding of the Earth as a system,” he said.

NASA is also invested in getting a clearer understanding of the state of the Blue Planet’s water. A Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission will launch a satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base next November in partnership with space agencies in France, Canada and Britain.

According to Braun, the ocean is one of the Earth’s most massive indicators of how carbon dioxide is being stored and released on Earth. “Better understanding the processes that govern our oceans is actually critical to having better models for climate change,” he said.

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