() — This year promises to be extraordinary when it comes to space missions, launches, and next steps in cosmic exploration.
In 2023, NASA will embark on a journey to a world of metal, a spacecraft will drop unprecedented samples of asteroids on Earth, a historic mission to the Moon will welcome its crew, and several new commercial rockets could make their debut launch.
there’s a lot to look forward toaccording to NASA administrator Bill Nelson.
“More amazing discoveries from the webb telescope, climate missions that will tell us more about how our Earth is changing, continued science on the International Space Station (ISS), pioneering aeronautical developments with experimental aircraft X-59 Y X-57the selection of the first astronauts to go to the Moon in over 50 years, and much more,” Nelson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency will launch a mission to Jupiter and its moons, send out a satellite to create a three-dimensional map of the universe, and start training its new generation of astronauts, which includes an astronaut with a physical disability.
Here are some of the major space events this year.
Crew assignment for Artemis II
Last year, the inaugural mission of NASA’s Artemis Program launched with a successful test flight that sent an uncrewed spacecraft on a historic journey around the Moon. And while the program’s first manned flight, the Artemis II mission, is not expected to lift off until spring 2024, the names of the lucky astronauts who will go aboard may soon be known to the public.
The space agency has already reduced its astronaut corps to 18 applicants who meet the requirements to be part of the Artemis crew. And last month, NASA officials said they would announce the Artemis II crew in early 2023, so the news could come any day now.
The Artemis II mission is expected to send four people on a journey around the Moon and back to Earth.
The next mission, Artemis III, will aim to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since the 20th century Apollo program.
Shipping cargo to the Moon
Although there may not be any manned Artemis flights this year, NASA has plans to place landing robots on the Moon as part of its effort to further study the lunar terrain and radiation environment, and search for resources that could be mined from the Moon. and used to drive exploration deeper into space.
This program is called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) and is based on partnerships with more than a dozen private companies that are developing their own lunar landers.
The first lander to fly under the program could be one built by Pennsylvania-based Astrobotic, which plans to use its Peregrine lunar lander to carry 11 scientific and exploration instruments to the lunar surface in the first months of 2023. It will land in Lacus Mortis, a large crater located on the hidden side of the Moon.
Another three missions of the CLPS program could also take off in 2023, according to the NASA website.
Jupiter and its icy moons
The long-awaited Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, known as JUICEwill take off between April 5 and 25.
The European Space Agency mission, which will take off from the European spaceport in French Guiana, will spend three years exploring Jupiter in depth and three of its icy moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
All three moons are believed to have oceans under their ice-covered crusts, and scientists want to explore whether Ganymede’s ocean is potentially habitable.
Once it reaches Jupiter in July 2031, the spacecraft and its suite of 10 instruments will make 35 flybys of the gas giant and its moons. Some of the mission goals are to investigate whether life ever existed in the Jupiter system, how the gas giant shaped its moons, and how Jupiter itself formed.
Boeing’s first crewed flight test to the ISS
Boeing has been working on the development of a spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts to and from the ISS for a decade, and it is expected that 2023 be the year when this new space taxi is finally up and running.
After years of delays and development problems, the ship, called Starliner, completed last May a uncrewed test mission to the ISS which was considered a success. And those responsible for NASA have set in April 2023 the first manned launch.
The Starliner is expected to complete NASA’s plans to hand over the task of transporting astronauts to the ISS to the private sector. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule already handles that task, and the company aims to launch its seventh routine astronaut mission next month. When the Starliner becomes operational, SpaceX and Boeing are expected to split the missions, hoping to keep as many personnel as possible on the ISS before NASA retires the aging space station in the next decade.
First launches of new commercial vehicles
Continuing one of the most notable trends in spaceflight of the 2020s, some new commercial rocket companies are expected to debut brand-new launch vehicles that are wholly owned and operated by the private sector.
SpaceX is expected to attempt the first orbital launch of its massive Starship. The company wants to use the rover one day to put the first humans on Mars, and NASA also hopes to rely on the rover for its Artemis program.
Two other powerful commercial rockets are also in the works: the Vulcan Centaur, developed by the United Launch Alliance, and the New Glenn, the product of billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin. The Vulcan rocket is currently expected to take off early 2023, while the New Glenn could make its flight debut some time later. (Keep in mind, however, that new rockets are often late.)
New, smaller rockets, specifically designed to carry lightweight satellites into Earth orbit, could also enter the picture. Two American companies, Relativity and ABL Space Systems, could start the year with their first launches from Florida and Alaska, respectively.
Earth-bound asteroid samples
A collection of rocks and dirt from the near-Earth asteroid Bennu will finally reach their destination this year, when NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft drops them on Earth.
The spacecraft, NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission, made history when successfully collected a sample from Bennu in October 2020.
OSIRIS-REx will pass by Earth on September 24 and will drop the sample, which contains 2.1 ounces of material from Bennu’s surface, at the Utah Test and Training Range. If the ship continues to enjoy good health, it will embark on a new mission to study other asteroids.
The samples will reveal information about the formation and history of our solar system, as well as asteroids that could be on a collision course with Earth.
a metal world
After unexpected delays, NASA’s first spacecraft designed to study a metallic asteroid will launch in October.
The Psyche mission will embark on a four-year journey to an uncharted potato-shaped world located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The mission will study a metal-rich asteroid, also called Psyche, which telescopes on the ground and in space see only dimly.
The unusual object could be a leftover metallic core from a planet or a chunk of primordial material that was never melted down, according to the POT. Psyche could help astronomers gain insight into the formation of our solar system. If Psyche really is a nucleus, studying it would be like peering into the very heart of a planet like Earth.
The mission was unable to launch in 2022 due to delays in software and equipment testing. The mission team increased its staff to finish testing before launch.
More scientific missions
Other missions are expected to launch in 2023. The mission TEMPO (NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution) will measure pollution every hour over North America.
The Agency will partner with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the European Space Agency in the XRISM missionor X-ray Spectroscopy and Imaging Mission, to investigate cosmic X-ray objects.
The European Space Agency and NASA will also join in the Euclid mission to explore dark energy, a mysterious and invisible form of energy that drives the accelerating expansion of the universe.
The ASTHROS mission (Astrophysics Stratospheric Telescope for High Spectral Resolution Observations at Submillimeter-wavelengths) will launch a balloon larger than a football field from Antarctica to study the causes of the end of star formation in some galaxies.
And the little NASA satellite called Lunar Trailblazer will use innovative instruments to collect data on the amount of water on the Moon.