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NASA

— Space Feature

Where space exploration is taking us in 2016

This year is shaping up as a bumper year in space with new missions ready to launch, deep space missions wrapping up, and commercial space going heavy. It's a year when spacecraft ditch on comets, rendezvous with asteroids, lift off for Mars, and arrive at Jupiter. It's also a year when rockets get bigger, space planes roll out, and winds get tracked. To get the lowdown on the highlights, here's a looks at where space exploration is taking us in 2016.

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— Space

US restarts production of plutonium-238 to power space missions

In an effort to avert an outer space energy crisis, the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has restarted production of plutonium-238 (PU-238) after almost 30 years. The civilian stockpile of the plutonium isotope used to power the radiothermal generators (RTG) that make electricity for US deep space probes has dwindled to only 35 kg (77 lb), so the first 50 g (1.7 oz) of plutonium oxide produced by the laboratory marks a major turnaround in American space capabilities.

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— Space

Faulty instrument delays Mars lander launch

NASA's next big Mars mission will have to wait a couple of years due to a faulty piece of equipment that won't stay fixed. The space agency announced today that the launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander mission scheduled for next March has been scrubbed due to a persistent vacuum leak in the lander's primary science instrument. A new launch date has yet to be determined.

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— Environment

Arctic winter observations show higher-than-expected methane emissions

A new study led by researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and San Diego State University (SDSU) has examined the amount of methane gas escaping from the Arctic – a key component of global warming. The results go against conventional theory, finding that a much larger amount of the gas escapes during the Arctic winter than previously thought.

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