So let’s tally up how we’re doing.

In the past 365 days, we’ve discovered evidence of liquid water on mars, photographed pluto, launched and landed a reusable rocket booster, and found another Earth-like planet. Interest in space hasn’t been this high since Alan Shepard was dicking around on Cape Canaveral in his Corvette.

2016 is going to be another massive space year, assuming things don’t blow up or some drunken JPL techie doesn’t program the landing telemetry in metres instead of feet. Here are four things to watch out for…

Jupiter rising

I am claiming that headline right now. It’s mine.

Pluto is cool, but in 2016, we’re thinking big. The Juno probe that launched in 2011 is about to complete its 2.8 billion kilometre journey to the biggest bully in the solar system. Once there, we’re going to get close-ups of the polar regions, as well as the Red Spot – a storm bigger than planet Earth itself.

This is major stuff. Jupiter is one of the most enigmatic, terrifying planets in our solar system, one which we know very little about (beyond the fact that its gravity will crush you to a paste in half a second).

China goes hard

There’s a risk that, in 2016, we might actually get bored of the Chinese space program. They’re planning over twenty launches this year, dealing with satellite launches and military operations, and they’re looking to make space travel as routine as they can without actually building a massive elevator into Earth orbit. Their first mission, sending up a comms satellite, is this week.

The big one – which they’re being typically cagey about, because god forbid countries share knowledge or anything – is sending three astronauts into orbit, launching them from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.

What are the Vegas odds that Donald Trump accuses them of dropping communist leaflets from above before the year is out?

Heavy duty

Elon Musk does not fuck around.

In 2015, he gave us the first ever reusable rocket, landing the Falcon 9 back on the ground after it had shot its Orbcomm satellite cargo into orbit (although to be fair, he says it’s not actually going to be used again, a textbook case of “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we necessarily should.”)

Now he and SpaceX are attempting to launch the Falcon Heavy. Aside from sounding like a videogame boss, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in existence. According to SpaceX, it’ll be like launching a 737 into orbit. And why the hell not? I’ve always said that the best moments in space exploration involve explosions under really big metal tubes…

Ex gon’ give it to ya

Our obsession with Mars is at an all-time high, and not just because we’ve discovered water there and Matt Damon and Ridley Scott have convinced us that we can survive on potatoes on its surface. ExoMars, the latest NASA mission, is due to launch in March. It’ll be part of a scheme to figure out just what’s in the Martian atmosphere.

Plus it has a rover! Kind of. This rover is actually a prototype for a second mission due to launch in 2018. Point is: we’re putting a lot of stuff onto the surface of our red neighbour, and it won’t be long before some of that stuff is human feet. Hopefully we can treat it better than we’ve treated our current crib…

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Riley Hale may be the newest member of Outer Earth’s law enforcement team, but she feels less in control than ever. A twisted doctor bent on revenge is blackmail ing her with a deadly threat. If Riley’s to survive, she must follow his orders, and break a dangerous prisoner out of jail.

But this isn’t just any prisoner – it’s the psychotic former council member who nearly brought the space station to its knees. To save her own skin, Riley must go against all her beliefs, and break every law that she’s just sworn to protect. 

Riley’s mission will get even tougher when all sectors are thrown into lock-down. A lethal virus has begun to spread through Outer Earth, and it seems little can stop it. If Riley doesn’t live long enough to help to find a cure, then the last members of the human race will perish along with her.

Crunch Cover - audiobook by Rob Boffard

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