2023 is a year like no other in the global space industry. Much less for Spain, which in a few days, no later than the first or second week of February, will officially create its national space agency.
Its creation will be followed by the naming of the first “Míster Espacio” or “Madame Espacio”. By giving a face to who will lead the national space strategy, Spain will no longer be absent from international forums other than ESA, as has been the case until now. This person will be able to sit down with senior officials from various agencies to share plans and experiences about the present and future of the competitive global space landscape.
And what else will 2023 bring to Spain? Meanwhile, Hispasat, Spain’s main commercial satellite communications operator, is starting the year with the launch of the Amazonas Nexus. The takeoff window from Cape Canaveral (Florida) for the Falcon 9 rocket opens on February 5. If there are no delays, Hispasat expects to start providing services “sometime in August”.
Amazonas Nexus benefits from a “high level of contracted services” and inaugurates a “new era” for the company, says Miguel Ángel Panduro, CEO of Hispasat. It incorporates the so-called “transparent” digital processor (DTP), which allows you to redirect the traffic of your communication packets according to changes in market demand. As a result, the company’s commercial director, Ignacio Sanchis, won major contracts to provide broadband for the growing demand of cruise ships and airlines on their routes in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Canary Islands and Mediterranean.
but there is more. Satlantis, the company headed by Juan Tomas Hernani, plans to put two satellites into orbit: in June, it will be the Geisat, to detect methane. In December, Urdaneta 2, to duplicate the observations that its older brother began in May 2022. There is also news of the future Atlantic Constellation, which is being promoted in equal parts by the governments of Madrid and Lisbon. Spanish companies Alén Space, DHV Technology, Elecnor Deimos and Satlantis have joined forces to present a joint offer for the eight spacecraft that Spain is in charge of developing and manufacturing.
Miura 1 from PLD Space will finally take off
The national community is eagerly awaiting the first mission of the Miura 1 recoverable suborbital launcher by PLD Space, the company from Elche (Alicante) that since 2018, year after year, proclaims that the launch will take place the following year. During the presentation of the full-size model of the Miura 1 in Madrid in November 2021, its managers, Raúl Verdú and Raúl Torres, planned for it to take off “at the end of 2022”. With testing and testing almost complete, we expect this to finally happen in the first half of 2023.
In the field of global space transport, the year 2023 began with the failure of the launch, on January 10, of the American microlaunchers RS1 by ABL Space Systems and LauncherOne by Virgin Orbit. But in the first 20 days of the month, five more Chinese and five more American launchers successfully took off. The 186 orbital flights of 2022 are expected to be surpassed later this year. SpaceX founder Elon Musk wants to reach 100 launches – 61 in 2022 – including the first of his Starship vector to reach the Moon. China has planned more than 70, which, if realized, will exceed last year’s 64.
The ones getting the most attention are the trio of new heavy hitters set to launch this year.. They have several common characteristics, one of which is that none of them are recoverable. They are expendable and designed to retire four veteran rockets in Europe, the United States and Japan.
The first to debut is the Japanese H3, under development since 2013 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA).. It is called to replace the H-IIA and the B, whose first mission dates back to August 2001. The launch of the H3 is “scheduled for February 12 from Tanegashima base”, announced the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, during a meeting with the country’s top space officials on December 23.
The H3, which is 63 meters tall, weighs 574 tons and has two stages of propulsion, will orbit the Japanese stereoscopic observation satellite ALOS-3, which weighs 3 tons and has a resolution of 80 centimeters.. A few days later, on February 25, the United States marked the inaugural flight of the Vulcan Centaur, developed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a company created in December 2006 and owned 50/50 by the space branches of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. .
From the European Ariane 6 to the Boeing manned capsule
Measuring 61.6 meters high, weighing 547 tons and equipped with two stages of acceleration, it will be able to transport up to 27 tons in low orbit.. But because it’s a qualifying flight, it only carries two prototypes from Amazon’s megaconstellation Kuiper, which has pledged to put more than 3,200 satellites into space. Next to them is the Peregrine 1 lunar surface module from the American company Astrobotic.
The Vulcan Centaur will replace Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V and Boeing’s Delta IV, which have been in service since the early 2000s.. Both rockets had a monopoly on launching the large and cumbersome platforms of the Department of Defense, NASA and other federal organizations, including spy satellites, into orbit. But the arrival of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, their low cost and proven reliability, broke that monopoly.
And the European Ariane 6? With 60 meters in length, a maximum mass of 860 tons and capable of placing up to 26.6 tons in low orbit, its inaugural flight will be a reality “probably by the end of 2023”, confirmed the president in mid-January. space agency, Philippe Baptiste. But this prediction is conditional, underlined Mr. Baptiste, “on the condition that no technical problems are discovered during the combined tests”, which continue. It would be unreasonable to think that it could fall in the first quarter of 2024.
The European Space Agency (ESA) also has important commitments in 2023. In April, the initial phase of training the 17 astronaut candidates selected at the end of November will begin, including two Spaniards, Pablo Álvarez and Sara García. Also in April, the penultimate Ariane 5 will fly with the European probe JUICE. Its mission, which weighs 6 tons, is to discover the secrets of Jupiter and its three icy moons.
In the second half of the year, the European Euclid infrared space telescope will take off. Weighing just over 2 tons, it will take off aboard a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral in search of the dark universe. And in June, Arianespace will carry out the 117th and final launch of Ariane 5, thus closing the story of a rocket that had a difficult start in June 1996, but which already has 112 successes.
At least half a dozen manned missions are planned. Some will be crew relief missions to China’s Tiangong orbital complex and others to the International Space Station (ISS), where private flights will also arrive for very short stays. And finally, after several years of delay, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule will perform its first mission with astronauts. It’s the alter ego of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, so NASA will have two models of capsules to send and return humans to the ISS.