NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is going through an important test of its mission to explore distant worlds.
Its mission director, John Grunsfeld, said that the telescope has made significant progress in detecting asteroids in the past month.
The space agency has identified a number of promising candidates for future missions, including one to survey the surface of a distant gas giant and another to study the icy moon Europa.
In a briefing for reporters at the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, Mr Grunsfield said the telescope had found a number new candidates for studying the icy planet, which lies within Jupiter’s orbit.
“We have identified a few candidates that are going to be important to understand the composition of this world,” he said.
The announcement comes as NASA is working on a mission to study a nearby asteroid, named 2013 DA14, that is about one-third the size of Earth.
It is the first such mission in history to come from outside Earth’s orbit, NASA said in a statement.
In December, the telescope detected an asteroid that orbits about 13 times closer to Earth than its parent planet, and is believed to have formed from the aftermath of a collision with a large planet.NASA plans to launch a new probe to survey a potential new planet in the asteroid belt, the first step toward finding another one.
The agency will send an unmanned spacecraft to orbit an asteroid in 2021, the same year as the first mission, and will launch a spacecraft to the asteroid in 2023.
The mission will be launched using a rocket, a heavy-lift rocket called the Orion, and the spacecraft will have a crew of up to seven astronauts, Mr Gresham said.