The top 15 events that happened in space in 2016

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The top 15 events that happened in space in 2016

2016 was a big year for research and discovery in space. The year started off with Caltech astronomers picking up the presence of a ninth planet while researchers at LIGO were detecting gravitational waves for the first time. NASA’s Juno spacecraft finally arrived in orbit around Jupiter, and astronomers found the closest exoplanet to Earth. Blue Origin showed off their suborbital rocket reusability skills and Elon Musk revealed a plan to colonize Mars. Not to mention the huge developments for SpaceX, which successfully landed a Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the ocean for the first time, but then suffered a devastating explosion later in the year. These are the top events for space in 2016.

1/15

Astronomers find evidence for Planet 9

Two astronomers at Caltech found evidence that indicates the presence of a ninth planet in our solar system. The planet has yet to be directly imaged, but its gravitational influence on other known objects has allowed astronomers to detect its presence and certain planetary characteristics.

2/15

Gravitational Waves detected for the first time

On February 11th, scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves, which Albert Einstein had predicted the existence of over 100 years ago, for the first time ever. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by large cataclysmic events and LIGO, the largest investment that the National Science Foundation had ever made, was built to find them. On June 16th, LIGO detected gravitational waves for a second time. The ability to detect these special waves has opened up an entirely new way to study the universe.

3/15

Scott Kelly breaks American spaceflight record with the Year In Space

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly completed his “Year in Space” aboard the International Space Station, breaking the record for the most cumulative time in space for an American with a total of 520 days. The world record for this feat is held by a Russian cosmonaut with 879 days. Scott Kelly, the twin of fellow astronaut Mark Kelly, retired from NASA on April 1st.

4/15

SpaceX lands a rocket on a drone ship for the first time

On April 8th, SpaceX successfully brought back and landed a Falcon 9 first stage on a floating drone ship in the ocean – for the first time ever. After that successful recovery, SpaceX went on to land four more rockets this year, three one a drone ship and one on land. To date, the company has recovered six Falcon 9 first stages in all.

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5/15

SpaceX is awarded its first national security contract

In April, the U.S. Air Force awarded SpaceX an $82.7 million contract to launch their GPS-3 satellite into orbit. This was the first national security contract for SpaceX, a type of contract that the United Launch Alliance had previously held a monopoly over for more than a decade. Before this year, SpaceX was not certified to bid for such contracts. In 2014, Musk’s company sued the Air Force for the ability to gain certification for national security launches. The Air Force finally provided such certification for SpaceX’s newly-upgraded “full thrust” Falcon 9 in January, 2016.

6/15

Juno arrives at Jupiter

After traveling for five years, NASA’s spacecraft Juno arrived in orbit around Jupiter. Juno, which was specially designed to withstand the extreme radiation environment of Jupiter, worried scientists on October 18th when it unexpectedly put itself in safe mode. But a few days later, mission controllers were able to retrieve Juno and place it back into normal operating conditions. Juno will conduct flybys of the planet to study its auroras until it’s scheduled to deorbit in 2018.

7/15

China completes the world’s largest radio telescope

In July, China installed the last of 4,450 triangular panels to complete the world’s largest single aperture radio telescope. The telescope will be used to study pulsars and search for alien life in the universe.

8/15

Moon Express becomes first private company to receive permission to go to the Moon

On August 4th, Moon Express announced that they had received official permission from the FAA to launch and land on the moon, becoming the first private company to do so. The company is competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, a world-wide competition to be the first private company in history to land on the moon. Moon Express has contracted Rocket Lab for their historic launch, set to take place before the X-Prize deadline of December 2017.

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9/15

Astronomers have found the closest exoplanet to Earth

For the first time ever, astronomers discovered a planet orbiting our sun’s nearest neighbor. The newly identified exoplanet was named Proxima b and is located 4.25 light-years away orbiting around Proxima Centauri. Early analysis suggests that Proxima b is a rocky planet like the Earth and is located in its star’s habitable zone which means it could support liquid water on its surface.

10/15

SpaceX rocket explodes at Cape Canaveral

During a routine pre-launch static fire test on September 1st, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded, destroying it’s payload: a Facebook Internet.org satellite. In the months after the explosion, the accident was investigated by members from Space, the FAA, NASA, the US Air Force and industry experts. An exact cause for the explosion has yet to be announced, but SpaceX has said that they are focusing on a breach in their cryogenic helium system on the second stage of the rocket.

11/15

Elon Musk reveals Interplanetary Transport System to get to Mars

At the International Astronautical Congress, Musk revealed his plans to colonize Mars. These plans involved a new heavy lift reusable rocket, a spaceship known as the Heart of Gold, and a new rocket engine known as the Raptor. To colonize Mars, Musk explained that the first missions would involve an uncrewed Red Dragon capsule. Then, the Heart of Gold would fly to Mars filled with equipment. Once supplies were successfully delivered, crewed missions would follow.

12/15

Blue Origin launches and lands the same rocket 5 times

On October 5th, Blue Origin successfully landed their New Shepard suborbital rocket for a fifth time. The company conducted tests all year to prepare for their first crewed flights, which they expect to begin as early as 2018. Jeff Bezos stated that this New Shepard rocket would be retired and placed in a museum.

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13/15

European Space Agency arrives at Mars

On October 20th, ESA delivered its ExoMars mission, which included an orbiter and a lander, to Mars. While the orbiter satellite was successfully inserted into orbit around Mars, the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander experienced a failure upon descent and crashed down on the surface. High resolution images of the crash site were later taken by NASA’s HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

14/15

Russian cargo ship headed to International Space Station crashes and burns over Siberia

An unpiloted Progress cargo ship carrying over 5,000 pounds of rocket fuel, water, food, and a new spacesuit burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere over Siberia after launching from Kazakhstan. Early analysis suggests that there was an issue with the third stage of the rocket it launched with, the Russian Soyuz launch vehicle.

15/15

John Glenn dies at 95

John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth and the oldest person to travel to space, died at the age of 95 on December 8th. He served as a Marine Corps pilot in World War II and the Korean War. He was selected, along with six other test pilots, to join the U.S. Space Program. Together, they were known as the Mercury Seven. Glenn was the last surviving member of that group. NASA’s Glenn Research Center is named in his honor.