From Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars to the launch of the James Webb Telescope, 2021 will have been an exceptional year for space lovers, but the adventure continues and the year 2022 promises to be a delight too. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the events that await us.
Two behemoths ready to take off
In the coming year, two of the largest rockets ever built will enter the space scene.
First of all, we have the Space Launch System (or SLS), NASA’s interplanetary launcher. After years of delays and billions of dollars in budget overruns, the largest rocket ever developed by the US agency is set to launch the much-anticipated Artemis 1 mission in which an unmanned Orion capsule will circle the moon before to come back to Earth. This flight is expected to take place in March or April.
We also have the Starship/Super Heavy, a reusable combo offered by SpaceX. Ultimately, the entire vehicle will be able to lift 100 metric tons of goods and people into deep space. In the meantime, the Starship has only completed a few test flights, only one of which has successfully completed, while its Super Heavy booster still hasn’t taken off. A first orbital test flight involving the two structures is to be attempted in a few months, probably in the spring.
Several lunar missions
No less than nine missions proposed by several countries and private companies could try toorbit or land on the moon in 2022. Of this sample, five missions are sponsored by NASA.
In addition to the Orion capsule circling the moon, a miniature satellite called CAPSTONE could be launched by the Rocket Lab company in March. The latter will aim to study a lunar orbit capable of accommodating a future inhabited base. NASA is also using the company Intuitive Machines, based in Houston, to land an ice extractor on the South Pole this year. Here again, it will be a question of preparing a future permanent human establishment on our satellite.
Other countries will also be looking to the moon. India could in particular attempt a landing again this summer after its failure in 2019. Russia also promises to land on lunar soil for the first time since 1976, while a South Korean orbiter could be launched by a rocket. SpaceX from August.
Space station and asteroids
In 2021, China had distinguished itself by placing a new space module named Tianhe in low earth orbit, visited since by two different crews. This year, the country plans to complete the assembly of its station with the shipment of two modules (from laboratories named Wentian and Mengtian). Both will be launched atop China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5B.
The agencies are also considering several ways to defend ourselves against possible threats from outer space. One of the advanced options proposes to modify the trajectory of asteroids likely to cross our planet. To test this idea, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) launched last November the mission DART (for Double Asteroid Redirection Test), whose objective will be to strike an asteroid to modify its orbit. The DART spacecraft will arrive on site in the fall of 2022 after more than seven million kilometers traveled.
The early days of the James Webb Telescope
Successfully launched on December 25, the James Webb Telescope is currently continuing its process of deployment in space leading it to the point of Lagrange L2, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Protected by a sun visor, it will begin to probe the Universe this summer. Among his first targets The planetary systems 51 Eridani and HR 8799 will appear, each of which contains worlds very different from those present in the Solar System.