Solar arrays on NASA's InSight lander

Artist's concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars

Deep Space Atomic Clock

Artist's concept of the twin GRACE-FO satellites

The year 2017 marked several milestones in science, technology and flight projects for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Voyager 1 returned data from interstellar space as it surpassed 40 years in flight. NASA's Cassini Spacecraft ended its 13-year tour of Saturn. JPL celebrated the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Earth-orbiting Topex/Poseidon satellite.

As JPL turns 82 in 2018, its missions and activities will continue to inspire. Here is a preview of events planned for JPL (some dates subject to change):


Explorer 1

60th Launch Anniversary: Jan. 31, 2018

Launched on: Jan. 31, 1958


  • First satellite launched by the United States, less than four months after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1
  • Designed, built and operated by JPL
  • Discovered belts of charged particle radiation held in place by Earth's magnetic field. The first discovery of the Space Age, the radiation belts were later named in honor of their discoverer, the principal investigator of Explorer 1's cosmic ray detector, James Van Allen.


  • Begin U.S. space exploration



First Launch Opportunity: May 5, 2018

Date of Landing: Nov. 26, 2018


  • Will study the deep interior of Mars using a lander to investigate seismic waves -- energy flowing outward from the core -- and the planet's side-to-side movement as it rotates
  • Will be equipped with science instruments to give Mars a "check-up" by taking its temperature, monitoring its pulse and checking its reflexes


  • Illuminate the earliest evolution of rocky planets, including Earth
  • Investigate the dynamics of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts

Mars 2020

Date of Launch: July/August 2020

Date of Landing: February 2021


  • The rover will use a drill to collect the most promising samples of rocks and soils and store them on Mars' surface -- the first step toward potentially returning these samples to Earth.
  • Science instruments, rover wheels and many other components are being developed. In 2018, the rover's "body" itself will begin to take shape.


  • Seek signs of past microbial life
  • Collect and cache samples
  • Study Mars' habitability
  • Prepare for future human-crew missions


Deep Space Atomic Clock

Date of Launch: Mid 2018


  • A technology demonstration of a small, extremely stable atomic clock
  • Up to 50 times more accurate than today's best navigation clocks


  • Improve navigation of spacecraft to distant destinations like Mars or Jupiter's moon Europa
  • Enable more precise data collection


Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO)

Date of Launch: Spring 2018


  • Will continue the work of the original GRACE mission, which completed its science mission in October after more than 15 years in orbit
  • Consists of twin spacecraft that map variations in Earth's gravity field
  • Will demonstrate a new laser-ranging technology to dramatically improve the precision of its measurement system, while continuing to track Earth's water movement and changes caused by the addition of water to the ocean


  • Provide a unique view of the Earth system, with far-reaching benefits to society

ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS)

Date of Launch: Summer 2018


  • A high-resolution thermal infrared radiometer, which works like a giant thermometer from space, will measure the temperature of plants and the amount of heat radiating from Earth's surface
  • Will monitor one of the most basic processes in living plants, the loss of water through the tiny pores in leaves, by measuring plant temperature


  • Measure the temperature of plants and use that information to better understand how much water plants need and how they respond to stress

Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer (COWVR)

Date of Launch: 2018


  • A next-generation passive microwave radiometer instrument, on a small satellite, to measure ocean winds
  • Developed by JPL for the U.S. Air Force


  • Demonstrate a new, lower cost technology for measuring ocean winds, ultimately leading to more sensors in space and improved accuracy of U.S. military weather forecasts

Educational Events

National Science Bowl Regional Competition

Date: Jan. 27, 2018

Location: JPL


  • Math and science competition among teams of high-school students
  • Fast-paced question-and-answer categories include astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry, math and current events in the scientific community, as well as computer, Earth and general sciences

National Ocean Sciences Bowl Competition

Date: Feb. 24, 2018

Location: JPL


  • Student teams compete by answering questions about biology, chemistry, geology and physics of the oceans, as well as navigation, geography and related history and literature.

FIRST Robotics - Los Angeles Regional

Dates: March 15-17, 2018

Location: Fairplex, Pomona, California


  • Students team up with engineers from businesses, universities and research institutions.
  • The program gives students a hands-on, inside look at the engineering profession as they design and build their own "champion robot."

Explore JPL

Dates: June 9-10, 2018

Location: JPL

Summary: During this free event, pre-ticketed members of the public can visit JPL for a firsthand look at such highlights as mission control, a life-size model of the Mars rover Curiosity; and robots on display; and hear from people working on such future Mars missions as Insight and Mars 2020. Tickets for this popular event are limited. Details about how and when to request tickets will be posted several weeks in advance at

News Media Contact

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Written by Elyssia Widjaja
JPL Newsroom