2022 will again have been a rich year for space exploration, with notable successes such as the completion of the Artemis 1 lunar mission, the inauguration of the James Webb Telescope and the assembly of the new Chinese space station. However, it is not over. 2023 is really shaping up to be another eventful year as well. Here are some of the most anticipated missions.
JUICE on the way to Jupiter
JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) is ESA’s next major space mission. Its launch is planned next april during a 10-day window. Its main objective, as its name suggests, will be to study the Jupiter system. The probe, which will arrive in 2030, will also focus on three of the most interesting Jovian moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Ganymede, in particular, will be the main target. According to observations made by Hubble, an ocean larger than all of Earth’s is indeed housed beneath its thick icy crust. To operate, the probe will have no room for error. JUICE will really only fly over this moon twicelying about 400 km above the two hemispheres.
It is worth remembering that the United States also plans to send a new probe to the region as part of its Europa Clipper mission. However, its launch is scheduled for 2024 aboard a SpaceX rocket.
The Starship Flight
No official date has been announced by SpaceX for Starship’s first orbital flight. However, we can reasonably assume that this will occur during the first quarter of 2023. Carrying out this mission required a lengthy environmental review by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States, which finally gave its consent under certain conditions. SpaceX still had to take several dozen measures to reduce its environmental impact in the region.
For this flight, Starship will be launched into space by its Super Heavy booster. A priori, she is not expected to return to Earth. In turn, the ship will attempt a landing in Hawaii. The mission should last approximately 90 minutes.
Eventually, Starship will be the largest spacecraft in the world. SpaceX will use it to put satellites into orbit as a gigantic PEZ, but also to land humans on the Moon and later on Mars.
A few months ago, billionaire Yusaku Maezawa was invited to reside on the Starship as part of a six-day private mission around the Moon called DearMoon. This will be the first true deep space tourism launch, marking a true turning point in this booming industry. The guest list has just been published. The launch is scheduled for 2023, but that timeline will mainly depend on the first orbital flight of the Starship mentioned above.
return of samples
On October 21, 2020, OSIRIS-REx successfully landed on the asteroid Bennu to collect samples. At the site, the probe collected more than sixty grams to bring them back to Earth. The latest news is that the spacecraft has yet to “drop off its package” in next September 24th about Utah.
The load will then be recovered and taken to a specific laboratory to avoid any risk of contamination. The samples will then be analyzed by state-of-the-art instruments.
Bennu, which is only half a kilometer in diameter, has many interesting features. NASA believes it broke away from a much larger object within the first ten million years of the solar system. Some of the minerals detected inside also suggest that this ancient parental body had liquid water. By analyzing these samples, researchers hope to learn more about the building blocks of the solar system, and potentially even those of life itself.
This return of asteroid samples has only been done once before. It was in 2020, with the Japanese Space Agency’s Hayabusa 2 mission. The probe has since left for new adventures.