The year 2022 will go down in the history of space exploration. In 365 days, 186 rockets left our blue planet, 40 more than in 2021. But in the New Space era, this record should not last long.
2023 is already shaping up to be more prolific, surpassing the 200 release mark. All these missions have an extraordinary side, but it is impossible to list them all in a single article. Instead, here are five themes that will punctuate space news in 2023.
ISS: stars within stars
Perched 500 kilometers above our heads, the ISS orbits Earth at a rate of 16 rotations per day. Since its commissioning in 2000, it has seen several million sunrises. But its age makes it difficult to maintain. Operating costs are exploding, and Russia’s possible exit doesn’t make things any better.
NASA is therefore looking to ease its finances, it is considering privatizing part of the 388 m3 of the ISS. In case the decision has not yet been made, several “cultural missions” will take place in 2023. Tom Cruise must go to the network, notably, for needs of a film.
Other celebrities and world fortunes have also bought their tickets for a short stay on the ISS in 2023. The list has not yet been released, but NASA is working closely with Axiom Space.
The company was founded by Michael Suffredini in 2016. Before going private, he was the head of NASA programs on the ISS. He therefore knows the space station like no one else and was the first to see the tourist potential of this huge structure in space.
The starship will fly
When it comes to private companies, one name stands out above the others: SpaceX. Standard bearer of “New Space”, she hopes to shine in 2023 with the Starship, her ship.
He had already flown several times in 2021, but the United States Aviation Federation (FAA) has since suspended him. A year of negotiations and development later, Starship is expected to reach orbit early this year, 2023.
We have to do this fast and well for SpaceX. Starship remains NASA’s first choice for landing on the Moon, as long as it is reliable. The US space agency has already spent nearly $5 billion to fly Starship in 2025 and 2026 on the Artemis 3 and 4 missions.
Putting Starship into orbit is a crucial step in SpaceX’s development. The company has no margin for error and knows that its relations with NASA can deteriorate within minutes in case of technical problems during the flight.
the french touch
On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe and France in particular are following SpaceX’s work with great attention. A successful model for the rest of the “New Space”, it is an example for younger companies. This is the particular case of HyPrSpace, a company from Bordeaux that intends to carry out the first test campaign of its engine on a DGA basis this year.
Other startups didn’t wait long in 2023 to be talked about. This is particularly the case for the Bretons from Unseenlabs. The eighth satellite in its constellation entered orbit in early January.
In this same launch, Gama Space’s first solar sail also passed through the atmosphere. With this demonstration mission, Gama hopes to prove that there is an alternative to exploring the solar system.
To infinity and beyond
While waiting to find out whether one of Space Gamma’s sails will one day get as close as possible to Venus or Jupiter’s moons, one probe is already preparing for that long journey. Called Juice, it will take off in a few months towards the gas giant.
A nine-year journey, unprecedented for a European mission. ESA thus hopes to reach Callisto, Ganymede and Europa, three of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites. With their ocean of liquid water, they are ideal lands for life.
Psyché, another space probe is due to leave our planet in 2023. It will take off at the end of the year from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy before entering orbit within three years around the eponymous asteroid. This mission should make it possible to learn more about the early days of our solar system.
But this year should also close some chapters in the history of exploration. The Osiris-Rex probe should return to Earth, after having studied the asteroid Benu and collected a few grams of it. This is the first time that meteor samples will be brought back by humans. Here again, the purpose of this mission is to better understand the mechanisms in place during the creation of the solar system.
2024 is already here
Throughout this year, two major missions should serve as a guiding principle. One is American, the other European.
On the old continent, ArianeGroup will make news when launching Ariane 6 from the European launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. This first flight is scheduled for the last quarter of the year. Initially scheduled for 2020, the rocket’s liftoff is now three years behind schedule. The development cost reached 4 billion euros.
Across the Atlantic, the Artemis 2 mission is probably on everyone’s minds. NASA ended 2022 on a strong note by launching the first phase of its Moon return program. The agency will now have time to review the collected information before planning a second flight.
She is also expected to name the four astronauts who will be on board during Artemis 2. With this mission, she is conducting a major dress rehearsal before setting foot on the Moon in 2025 with Artemis 3.
Artemis 2 is expected to leave Earth in spring 2024.