In 2022, space missions will go very far

After a prosperous year 2021, marked by a jumble of Martian missions and countless discoveries around asteroids, 2022 appears to be heading that way. What are the highlights to look forward to? Respond with this small selection.

Starship – SpaceX

earth orbit, january

2021 was a year of spectacular results for the SpaceX spacecraft. The heavy rocket flew several times tens of kilometers in altitude from the base in Boca Chica, Texas, and one of the prototypes, the SN15, managed to land safely in May.

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In 2022, the giant rocket will not take off alone, but It will be installed in a 69 meter thruster with 29 engines, the Super Heavy. The whole (also called Starship) will form a gigantic hundred-meter rocket. Called the Raptor, the next-generation reusable engines that run on methane and liquid oxygen (not kerosene) should provide the thrust needed to lift more than 100 tons of payload.

The starship must chain tests “by dozens” according to Elon Musk to achieve its goal, gain a hundred kilometer orbit, separate its two stages, which will descend to Earth, ready to fly again. The heavy launcher is expected to put satellites into orbit starting in 2023, before departing for more ambitious missions, such as the Artemis program, NASA’s mission to the Moon. The American agency has signed a contract with SpaceX, which will have to design and deliver a lander in lunar orbit using its giant rocket.

Artemis I – NASA

moon, february

Humanity is ready to return to the Moon. This is the message behind this Artemis I mission programmed by NASA after ten years of preparation and many doubts. This first edition consists of a round trip in lunar orbit, a 25-day voyage with no human on board.

However, the stakes for NASA are huge, as this is a double debut. This will be Orion’s first flight in this configuration. The capsule, which already made a test flight in 2014, will be put to the test on this life-size trip before receiving the astronauts.

Artemis I will also mark the unveiling of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy launcher so long promised by the US space agency, a 100-meter-long rocket with a complicated history, says Marc Toussaint, professor at the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne: “It was almost supplanted by SpaceX Starship. However, it is the foundation of NASA’s lunar program and even beyond. If all goes well, it will fly again to send astronauts to the Moon by 2025 and prepare for an upcoming manned trip to Mars.”

The SLS will not be empty: a dozen nano-satellites will accompany Orion to probe the Moon. NASA will also take the opportunity to test trajectory and communications in preparation for human spaceflight. In short, more than half a century after Apollo, this is where it all starts again.

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ExoMars 2022 – ESA

Mars (the planet), september

After Curiosity, Perseverance and Zhuong, a new robot will soon examine the surface of Mars. The Rosalind Franklin rover will depart for the red planet this fall to land on the surface in June 2023 as part of the ExoMars mission.

The wait is difficult, as the Exomars program has been unlucky since its inception, between failure of the Schiaparelli spacecraft that crashed in 2016, and the rover’s many delays, initially planned for 2018, then for 2020. Is it right this time? According to the European Space Agency (ESA), yes. Everything is ready and Rosalind Franklin will finally be able to fulfill her mission.

A simple mission to summarize: to know whether or not Mars was inhabited by living beings. The rover will therefore land in Oxia Planum, a 4-billion-year-old basin that would have seen a lake pass, then volcanic lava that could have preserved possible bio-signatures.

For this, he will have in his toolbox a drill capable of digging up to 2 meters to collect samples that will go to his mini-lab. There, a chromatograph, an infrared spectrometer and a laser scour everything in hopes of finding traces of water or organic matter. This ability to go deep sets it apart from Perseverance, which can only pick up cores a few centimeters long.


Psyche – NASA

Asteroid (16) Psyche, August

(16) Psyche is not an asteroid like the others: it is largely composed of metal. The eponymous probe should examine it more closely to understand how this 300-kilometer boulder, one of the most massive in the asteroid belt, was formed. The star raises many questions because the distance that separates it from us – 450 million kilometers between Mars and Jupiter – is such that it is barely visible with the best telescopes.

Early observations suggested that the nearly spherical rock was entirely metallic, suggesting it may be the core of a planet stripped of its mantle and outer layers. Ultimately, it would only be half metal, which still makes it particularly dense and interesting.

Psyché, the probe, is pretty classic with a multispectral imager and a spectrometer, but it also carries a magnetometer. The instrument will have to tell if the asteroid is emitting a magnetic field, which would settle the question of whether it is an ancient planetary core.

The ship will also carry a laser transceiver. This communication technology, more efficient than radio waves, will be put to the test. This will be the first time that this type of telecommunications will be practiced beyond lunar orbit.

And also…

Other events expected in 2022 include the arrival of two space telescopes that will accompany the long-awaited James Webb. The European Space Agency is to send Euclid, intended to scan more than a billion galaxies, including some of the most distant. Japan will X-ray galaxy clusters with XRISM, which will observe the largest structures in the Universe.

Not forgetting also in 2022, the culmination of DART mission. Launched on November 24, the probe is expected to reach its target, the asteroid Dimorphos, in late September or early October. If all goes as planned, the impactor will hit the surface until it disturbs the trajectory of this large pebble. The consequences of this impact will be watched more closely in a few years, as the Hera spacecraft is set to depart to see the extent of the damage in 2024.

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