Conquest of space: what missions will come in 2023?

In 2023, Man will return to the Moon. Several unmanned expeditions are planned over the next 12 months as part of a renewed US effort to return humans to the lunar surface within the next decade. Private space companies and national agencies are ready to make the approximately 386,243 kilometer journey to our celestial neighbor. In particular, they will test the landing capabilities of their machines and look for traces of fresh water. In recent years, “interest has shifted more towards Mars,” says Jill Stuart, a space policy expert at the London School of Economics in the UK. “Now we turn our attention to the Moon.”

And there are other things waiting for us in 2023. Next year, we should also see significant advances in manned private spaceflight, including the first commercial expedition to the Moon. We should also see fascinating missions to other destinations in the solar system or the return of these and new rockets ready to take off.

Here is a small overview of the program in the field of space exploration in 2023:

The battle to be the first private mission to land on the Moon

A moon landing is scheduled for early 2023. Launched in December aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the privately owned Hakuto-R spacecraft, developed by the Japanese company ispace, is on a four-month journey to reach the Moon. In particular, it will deploy rovers built by the space agencies of Japan and the UAE. If successful, Hakuto-R could become the first private mission to land on the Moon next March.

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We use the conditional because two private American spacecraft – one from the Astrobotic company and the other from the Intuitive Machines company, called Peregrine and Nova-C respectively – are also ready to reach the Moon at almost the same time. These two missions, supported by NASA and equipped with various instruments to study the lunar environment, are part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payloads Services program, which aims to stimulate commercial interest in the Moon ahead of human missions planned for the end of the decade. under the Artemis programme.

For the first part of this program, Artemis I, an unmanned Orion spacecraft was launched to the Moon aboard NASA’s massive new Space Launch System rocket in November 2022. While the next Artemis mission – a crewed flight around of the Moon – not expected sooner In 2024, the next 12 months will provide an important baseline when studying the surface of the Moon and even looking for water ice. The latter could pose a potential challenge for future human missions. “The Moon is getting a lot more attention than it has been for many years,” said Jon Cowart, a former NASA manned flight manager who now works for the Aerospace Corporation in the United States.

Intuitive Machines plans a second lunar landing in 2023. Indian and Japanese space agencies are also planning lunar landings, respectively with Chandrayaan-3 and SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon). India expects an August 2023 launch. This will be the country’s second attempt. In fact, the first machine landed on the Moon in 2019. For now, no date has been set for SLIM. The latter will test the precision landing on the Moon. Russia is also planning to land on the moon in 2023 with its Luna-25 module, but the status of the mission is unclear.

By 2023, SpaceX could revolutionize the way we explore space

Since May 2020, SpaceX has been using its Crew Dragon spacecraft to transport astronauts into space, some to the International Space Station (ISS) under contract with NASA and others on private missions. But SpaceX’s Polaris Dawn mission, currently scheduled for March 2023, will be another big milestone.

Four commercial astronauts, including billionaire Jared Isaacman, who is paying for the flight and also funded SpaceX’s first fully private manned flight in 2021, will aim for a maximum orbit of 1,200 kilometers, greater than any spacecraft since the Apollo missions. And for this first commercial spaceflight, the crew will don spacesuits and venture outside the spacecraft.

“Polaris Dawn is really exciting,” says Laura Forczyk of space consultancy Astralytical. “As I understand it, the entire vehicle will be evacuated. Everyone will at least stick their heads out.”

The mission could help NASA decide whether a future Crew Dragon mission could be used to service the Hubble Space Telescope, a capability the agency has been exploring with SpaceX. “We will have an idea of ​​the viability of this mission”, says Laura Forczyk.

Two other private missions using Crew Dragon – Axiom-2 and Axiom-3 – are planned for the ISS in 2023, along with two NASA flights. After several delays, a competitor vehicle from the American company Boeing should also be launched with crew for the first time in April 2023

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In the meantime, we’re waiting to see if Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ company, will be allowed to launch with humans again. The company was grounded after a failed unmanned launch in September 2022. Another pioneer of private spaceflight, Virgin Galactic, has been relatively quiet since the July 2021 flight into space by its founder, Sir Richard Branson.

All of these developments in commercial manned flight could be overshadowed by the first attempt at orbital flight by SpaceX’s huge reusable Starship rocket, which performed tests earlier this month and is scheduled for launch in 2023, if that’s the case. it is not at the end of 2022 .

If successful, the rocket, which would overtake NASA’s Space Launch System as the biggest rocket to reach orbit, could revolutionize the way we explore space. “The ability to carry more mass opens up new possibilities,” enthuses Uma Bruegman, a specialist in space strategies at the Aerspace Corporation. That could one day include human-on-board missions to Mars or beyond. But there is still a long way to go. “It’s definitely an important year [pour Starship]“, says Jon Cowart.

Amazon wants to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink constellation

The moons of the largest planet in the solar system are also on the program for 2023. Next April, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch an exciting new mission called JUICE, for “Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer”. Scheduled to reach Jupiter’s orbit in 2031, the spacecraft will perform detailed firsts of the Jovian moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Each would harbor oceans likely to contain life beneath their icy surfaces.

“This is the first mission that focuses fundamentally on icy moons,” said Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser for science and exploration at ESA. “We now know that these icy moons have very deep oceans of water and that they could have the necessary conditions for life to develop.”

JUICE will map these oceans using radar instruments, but Mark McCaughrean says the mission will also be able to look for possible biosignatures on Europa’s ice surface. The latter could rain down from plumes ejected into space from its subterranean ocean.

Later in 2023, ESA is about to witness the launch of another major mission: its Euclid telescope, which was upgraded from a Russian rocket to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The telescope will probe the “dark universe” by looking at billions of galaxies across a third of the sky to better understand dark matter and dark energy in the cosmos.

Originally slated for this year, NASA is expected to launch its own significant science mission in October 2023 when Psyche lifts off. The spacecraft will head to 16 Psyche, an unusual metal-rich asteroid that has never been seen up close.

A host of other interesting developments are expected in 2023. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is expected to return to Earth in September with pieces of an asteroid called Bennu. This could shed new light on the structure and formation of the solar system. Amazon plans to send the first Project Kuiper satellites in early 2023. It’s an in-orbit communications network of 3,000 satellites that the company hopes will rival SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Several new rockets will also be launched, including the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket (which will carry Astrobotic’s lunar module and some of Amazon’s satellites). There may also be Blue Origin’s big New Glenn rocket. Both ships are heavy-lift rockets that can carry many satellites into space.

“There’s a huge wave of activity,” says Jon Cowart. “I’m really excited about this year’s upcoming projects.”

Article by Jonathan O’Callaghan, translated from English by Kozi Pastakia.

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