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OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's Up In Space - the biggest news coming down to Earth from space

Here's your guide to a very busy year in space for 2019

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, January 11, 2019, 9:19 AM - Looking forward to all the cool stuff going on in space in 2019? It's going to be an exceptionally busy year, so here's your month to month guide of what to watch out for!

Satellite launches, astronomical events, off-world exploration, and even the next steps by SpaceX and Boeing to launch people into orbit from the United States. The next year promises to be an amazing one for space.

Space and Astronomy Highlights

Jan 1 - New Horizons encounter with MU69
Jan 3 - China lands on the far side of the Moon
Jan 20-21 - Super Blood Wolf Moon Total Lunar Eclipse
• Jan or Feb? - InSight drills into Mars
• Feb ? - OSIRIS-REx begins mapping asteroid Bennu
• Feb ? - SpaceX DM-1 uncrewed Crew Dragon test launch
• Feb ? - First Falcon Heavy operational launch
• Feb 18 - SpaceX launches Canadian RADARSAT Constellation
• Feb 18? - Hayabusa 2 first sample collection from asteroid
• Feb 19-20 - Closest and Brightest Full Moon of 2019
• Mar ? - Boeing test launch of uncrewed CST-100 Starliner
• Apr 4 - Parker Solar Probe perihelion #2
• mid-Apr - India launches Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon
• May 18-19 - Honest-to-goodness 'Blue Moon'
• Jun - Canadian astronaut David Saint Jacques returns to Earth
• Jun - Crewed SpaceX Crew Dragon Test Flight!!
• Jul 2 - Total Solar Eclipse (south Pacific and South America)
• Jul 16-21 - 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 Lunar Mission
• Aug - Crewed Boeing Starliner launch
• Sep 1 - Parker Solar Probe perihelion #3
• Oct 2 - Operational SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to ISS
• Nov 11 - Transit of Mercury
• Nov 14-19 - 50th anniversary of Apollo 12 Lunar Mission
• Bonus (New Moon Landings?)


New Horizons flies past MU69

In the very first hours of 2019, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, roughly 1.6 billion kilometres past its 2015 encounter with Pluto, flew past what is now the farthest explored object in the solar system.

Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 was suspected of being a binary object of some kind, either 'contact' or 'near' - essentially, two different objects, of two different sizes, that orbit each other so closely as to either touch, or nearly touch.

KBO 2014 MU69, aka "Ultima Thule", as imaged in detail by New Horizon's LORRI camera, on Jan 1, 2019. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

When New Horizons flew past, and snapped pictures, this suspicion was confirmed, as it was shown to be two fairly pristine dirty snowballs, likely untouched since the dawn of our solar system.

Read more about this amazing encounter, and the subsequent updates, and keep an eye out for more coming from New Horizons!

China makes 1st landing on the far side of the moon

Soviet Russia was the first nation to capture images of the far side of the Moon, in 1959, and the first to have a robot orbit the Moon, in 1966. America was the first to have people see the far side for themselves, from Apollo 8 in 1968, and was the first to set boots on the near side of the Moon, with Apollo 11 in 1969. Now, China is the first nation, ever, to land a mission on the far side of the Moon.

Chang'e 4, a lander named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, touched down in Von Kármán Crater, in the southern hemisphere of the Moon's far side, in the morning hours of January 3, 2019.

Shortly thereafter, it disgorged the Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit 2) rover, which then began to explore the surface around the landing site.

The Yutu-2 rover begins exploring. Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Why the "Far Side of the Moon", not "The Dark Side of the Moon"? The Moon does have a dark side. It's just that - just like Earth - the dark side of the Moon is constantly on the move. Originally, the term "dark side of the Moon" was more about the lack of information about that side of the Moon. Once we saw the other side of the Moon for ourselves, it just became more appropriate to use a more literal use of the term, and since all sides of the Moon receive the same amount of sunlight over a month, "far side" just became more meaningful.

Anyway, read more on this very cool mission, and watch for more images to come!

Super Blood Wolf Moon Total Lunar Eclipse

This is really the event to watch for in the night sky for Winter 2019, since the Total Lunar Eclipse will be visible all across Canada, on the night of January 20-21.

You'll see this eclipse referred to as the 'Super Blood Wolf Moon' across media and social media, around the world, now. It's a hokey, and silly, but undoubtedly popular name (which you probably heard here first), with some dubious origins, but it's going to be a pretty cool event!

Read more, and hope for clear skies that night! The eclipse reaches its peak at just after midnight, Eastern Standard Time!

NASA InSight drills into Mars

NASA's latest Mars explorer - the InSight lander - touched down in Elysium Planitia on November 26, 2018.

The lander set its seismometer (the primary reason for the mission) on the surface in December, and sometime in late January or early February, it is expected to deploy its Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (aka HP3, aka the Heat Flow Probe).

An artist impression of the InSight lander, with the robot's various science instruments highlighted, including the Heat Flow Probe (bottom left). Credit: NASA

This instrument will slowly drill down into the surface in front of InSight, to a depth of about 4.5 metres or 15 feet. Once it reaches that depth, the data it sends back will give scientists a good idea of how warm it is in Mars' interior - a crucial bit of knowledge to determine the evolution of the planet (and it may even provide us with hints or clarifications about other questions we've been asking about Mars - wait for it!).


OSIRIS-REx maps asteroid Bennu

Now that NASA's OSIRIS REx spacecraft slipped into orbit around asteroid Bennu on December 31, 2018, it is set up to begin one of its primary missions.

This artist conception drawing shows OSIRIS-REx entering into orbit around Bennu. Credit: NASA

One of two spacecraft that are directly exploring an asteroid (read on), OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to begin mapping out Bennu's surface, in detail, starting in February.

Stand by for some amazing imagery to be returned from this mission!

First uncrewed SpaceX 'Crew Dragon' test launch

For years, astronauts from around the world have been relying on Russia's Soyuz launches to get to the International Space Station and back. This will soon change, however, as two American companies are currently working on systems that will, once again, have spacelings launching into orbit from the United States.

SpaceX will be the first in 2019 to take the next step in the process, as they plan on launching an un-crewed test of their new Crew Dragon spacecraft. Originally scheduled for January 17, the Demo-1 launch (aka DM-1) has now pushed to at least February.

A simulation of the Demo-1 launch of the Crew Dragon into space. Credit: SpaceX

We've seen abort tests and other events leading up to this, but this is to be the very first complete launch into orbit (potentially rendezvousing with the International Space Station). The only thing that will be lacking, at this point, is people on board. That extra bit will have to wait until later this year (hopefully in June).

The timing of this un-crewed test launch is up in the air, at the moment, due to the US Government shutdown. Keep checking back for updates on when this is going to take place!

First operational Falcon Heavy launch

Last year, we saw the very first launch of SpaceX's new tri-booster Falcon Heavy rocket, which put Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster into an orbit around the Sun that would take it out beyond Mars.

Re-watch the February 2018 Falcon Heavy test launch, below:

Sometime in February, the company is expected to have their very first operational launch of this rocket system, which will carry actual functional payloads into orbit.

One of the payloads that could be included - The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 cubesat. The space advocacy group, led by Bill Nye, put LightSail 1 into orbit in 2015 for a test cruise. The idea behind this is to put a solar sail into space, which can be used to propel and maneuver a spacecraft, simply using the light from the Sun. This is a revolutionary concept, made popular in science fiction, that may become science fact very soon!

SpaceX launches Canada's new RADARSAT mission

There are Canadians involved with some of the missions already mentioned (specifically New Horizons and InSight), but the first straight-up Canadian entry for 2019 is the RADARSAT Constellation Mission launch, currently scheduled for February 18.

An artist's conception of three satellites of Canada's RADARSAT Constellation. Credit: Canadian Space Agency

The RADARSAT Constellation Mission, aka RCM, is an Earth-observing mission, where three satellites flying in polar-orbiting tandem will use Synthetic Aperture Radar to map the surface of Earth at a resolution where each pixel of its resulting images will be 1 metre on a side. Not only will it provide us with ultra-detailed radar maps of Canada, but it will cover roughly 90 per cent of the Earth's surface.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch these three satellites atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket, as early as February 18, or as late as February 24 (but it may be delayed, due to the government shutdown).

Hayabusa 2 first asteroid sample collection

Japan's space probe Hayabusa 2 arrived at asteroid 162173 Ryugu in June of 2018, to begin mapping the surface, and setting down a trio of tiny hopping rovers to explore its features.

One function of the landers was to locate a suitable spot for the spacecraft to pick up a sample of the asteroid, for eventual return to Earth.

This artist conception drawing shows Japan's Hayabusa 2 hovering over the surface of asteroid Ryugu, as it retrieves a sample of the surface. Credit: JAXA

By now, according to the original plan for this mission, Hayabusa 2 was supposed to have already gathered its first sample. Upon seeing the data returned from the rovers, however, the mission team could not actually see a good place to sample the asteroid's surface material (known as regolyth). All they spotted were rocks and boulders.

Therefore the team decided to delay this operation until at least February, and the spacecraft is now scheduled to collect its first sample of the surface of Ryugu during the week of February 18.

Perigee Full Moon 2019

We typically see three 'supermoons' every year, but there's only one 'Perigee Full Moon' - the closest, biggest and brightest Full Moon of the entire year.

The February 19 Full Moon, and all the details about it. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

A fun note about the above image: in the schematic to the bottom left, if both the yellow and blue dots overlapped perfectly, we would have another Total Lunar Eclipse! The yellow dot represents the point of the lunar surface that is centred on the Sun, and the blue dot is the point on the surface that is centred on the Earth. Even the tiny offset between the two shows us just how narrow the margin is for having a lunar eclipse!


Boeing test launch of uncrewed CST-100 Starliner

SpaceX isn't the only company designing spaceships to carry crews to the International Space Station. Boeing is developing their CST-100 Starliner, as well.

An artist conception drawing of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft reaching orbit. Credit: Boeing

The first un-crewed test launch of this new spacecraft is expected to happen sometime in March.


Parker Solar Probe perihelion #2

On April 4, NASA's Parker Solar Probe is expected to achieve its second close pass around the Sun (ie: perihelion).

An artist conception of the Parker Solar Probe orbiting the Sun. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

On this pass, the probe will match its first perihelion distance - 24.8 million km from the 'surface' of the Sun.

India's Chandrayaan-2 lander/rover launches to the Moon

Soon enough, China won't be the only nation with a robot roving around on the lunar surface.

India is set to launch their Chandrayaan-2 mission, which will put a spacecraft orbiting the Moon, plus set a lander and a rover down near the lunar near-side south pole. This follows up on their 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission, which put an orbiter around the Moon, and sent the Moon Impact Probe to strike the surface near the south pole.

ISRO's Chandrayaan-2 mission, including its three components, and its intended landing zone, between craters Manzinus and Simpelius, near the Moon's south pole. Credit: ISRO/NASA GSVS/Scott Sutherland

Although this mission was originally set to launch sometime in January, according to Space Watch Global, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) decided to postpone until mid-April, as there were tests to be done on the spacecraft, which could not be completed for the earlier launch date.

These two new robots are only expected to run for about 15 days after landing, but this is a huge step for a nation that only recently got into the planetary exploration game. Watch for more on this, to come!


Honest-to-goodness 'Blue Moon'

So, last year, our big astronomy event was January's Super Blue Blood Moon Total Lunar Eclipse. As we explained during that event, the "blue" part of that title came from the fact that it was the second Full Moon in a calendar month.

Although that has become a popular definition, it's also an incorrect one. An actual 'Blue Moon' is the third Full Moon in a season with four Full Moons.

Normally, there are three Full Moons every season, but every three years (or two years, if there's a leap year in between), the first Full Moon of a season will occur right when the season starts, or within a few days after. Since a lunar month is shorter than most calendar months, the three Full Moons that follow will also occur in that same season. The last time we saw this was in the spring of 2016.

For Spring 2019, Full Moons fall on the dates of March 20, April 19, May 18, and June 17. March 20 is also the date of the Equinox, however the actual timing of when the Sun crosses the celestial equator (5:58 p.m. EDT) is before the Moon becomes completely full (9:43 p.m. EDT), so it counts!

So, the May 18 Full Moon is the third Full Moon in the season, and thus an actual Blue Moon!

Note that the Moon will not actually turn the colour blue on that night, unless there are very specific, rare meteorological conditions present.


Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques returns to Earth

If you didn't know already, there's a Canadian in space, right now! CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques flew up to the International Space Station in early December!

David Saint-Jacques, wearing his Canadian Space Agency polo during a press conference from space, as he answers media questions on December 10, 2018. Credit: NASA/CSA

David is working hard up on the space station, conducting science experiments, maintaining the station, and answering questions from young and old alike down here on Earth.

If all goes as planned, he and his fellow members of the Expedition 58 crew, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, will be returning home sometime in June!

SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight takes people into space!!

If SpaceX stays on schedule this year, we should see their first crewed Crew Dragon test flight - that is, complete with human crew members, that will travel into space - launch sometime in June!

A computer simulation of the Crew Dragon flying in orbit of the Earth. Credit: SpaceX

The scheduling of this may be pushed back, due to the government shutdown, or due to technical issues that may be discovered during the uncrewed test launch, earlier in the year. Stay tuned for more news on this.


Total Solar Eclipse

In August of 2017, those of us in North America were treated to an absolutely amazing Total Solar Eclipse. On July 2, 2019, the southern hemisphere will get the same treat!

The Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017, from Madras, Oregon. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The path of totality of this solar eclipse will be mostly over the south Pacific Ocean, but it will also cross central Chile and Argentina towards its end.

Expect some great online coverage of this event!

50th anniversary of Apollo 11 lunar mission

On July 16, 1969, Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins launched on the very first crewed mission to the Moon!

Roughly 4 days later, Armstrong and Aldrin accomplished what is considered to be among the biggest accomplishments in human history, as they became the first people ever to set foot on an astronomical body other than Earth.

Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin poses on the lunar surface, with Neil Armstrong and the lunar module reflected in his helmet visor. Credit: NASA

This year is the 50th anniversary of this amazing accomplishment, and stand by for some epic celebrations to mark the date!


Crewed Boeing Starliner launch

Reasonably hot on the heels of SpaceX, again, Boeing plans on another test flight of their CST-100 Starliner in August, this time, with human crew members aboard.

This simulation shows the CST-100 Starliner in orbit above Earth, on its way to the International Space Station. Credit: Boeing

Boeing is not scheduled to start operational flights of the Starliner in 2019, but here's hoping they make excellent progress throughout the year on their test flights!


Parker Solar Probe perihelion #3

The beginning of September will see the third swing around the Sun for NASA's Parker Solar Probe, and its last pass at this distance, before it plunges even deeper into the solar corona.

The Parker Solar Probe flies through the solar corona. Credit: NASA GSFC


Operational SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the ISS

2019 is a very exciting year in the timeline of human space exploration, as we once again - after a gap of over 8 years- see more than one route to the International Space Station.

A computer simulation of the Crew Dragon, on approach to the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceX

In October, at least if everything goes as planned, SpaceX opens the second path to that orbital science outpost.


Transit of Mercury

On November 11, 2019, Mercury - the innermost planet to our solar system - will transit across the face of the Sun!

This animation shows the May 9, 2016 transit of Mercury, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. During the Nov 11, 2019 transit, Mercury's path will take it on more of a northerly angle across the face of the Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO

Like July's total solar eclipse, this event is another one that we're going to see plenty of online coverage.

If you would like to observe the transit for yourself, according to Fred Espenak, from the RASC Observer's Handbook 2019, a telescope with 50x or 100x magnification should be good enough, if it is equipped with a proper solar filter.

Please, do not, ever, stare directly at the Sun without proper protection for your eyes. This is especially true if you are using a telescope or binoculars, as you do not want to focus unfiltered sunlight, through magnifying lenses, at your eyes. This applies even if using eclipse glasses, since the focused sunlight may burn right through the Mylar film. Use eclipse glasses when looking just with your eyes, or a solar filter that caps the end of the telescope (older 'welding glass' eyepieces, that screw into the ocular piece, are not recommended). To do otherwise risks permanent injury, or possibly even blindness.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory will certainly capture it, as will as - I'm sure - any major telescope on this side of the planet that has available time. So, keep a lookout for the amazing imagery to come from this event, and check for any astronomy clubs or observatories that may have viewing parties going on that day!

50th anniversary of Apollo 12 lunar mission

With seven different crewed lunar landing missions - Apollos 11 to 17 - from 1969 to 1973, we're going to have over four years of major space anniversaries to celebrate, and November 14 to 24 is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 12 mission.

Apollo 12 commander Charles Conrad Jr stands near the Surveyor 3 robotic lander, on November 20, 1969. Credit: NASA

Landing near the southern end of Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms), the crew set the lunar module down almost right beside a previous robotic lander - Surveyor 3.

We hear so much about Apollo 11 for its groundbreaking achievement, and Apollo 13 for its drama, but the next four years will be amazing for re-acquainting ourselves with what all of these missions accomplished!


Remember the Google Lunar XPrize, where several university and industry teams were racing to see who could launch a robotic mission to the Moon, including a lander and a rover, before March 31, 2018? Although none of the teams actually made the deadline for the contest, a few of these teams are apparently scheduled to complete their missions this year, regardless.

Moon Express' Lunar Scout and Lunar Outpost missions, TeamIndus' HHK1 lander and ECA rover, Synergy Moon's lander and rover (which may piggyback with TeamIndus' mission) and Israel's SpaceIL 'nanoship' may all (potentially) launch in 2019. The last finalist team, Japan's Hakuto, was apparently also going to ride with TeamIndus, however their launch contract was cancelled. It is possible they may still put their lander and rover on the Moon in 2020.

There is A LOT going on this year than what has been listed here. There is, seriously, just too much to put down in a simple list. Keep coming back here throughout the year for additions, corrections and scheduling changes, and keep checking out the Out of this World blog for more space content.


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