Conquest of space: what are the missions coming in 2023?

In 2023, man will return to the moon. More 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 capacity of their machines and look for traces of drinking water. In recent years, “interest has been more focused on 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 in store for us in 2023. Next year should also see significant advances in private manned spaceflight, including the first-ever 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 fly.

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

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

A landing on the Moon is planned for early 2023. The private Hakuto-R spacecraft, developed by Japanese company ispace, was launched in December aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, on a four-month journey to reach the Moon. In particular, it will deploy rovers built by the space agencies of Japan and the United Arab Emirates. 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 set to reach the Moon at about the same time. These two missions, supported by NASA and equipped with various instruments intended 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 before the human missions planned for the end of the decade within the framework of the Artemis programme.

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

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

By 2023, SpaceX could revolutionize the way we explore space

Since May 2020, SpaceX has used its Crew Dragon ship to carry 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 major milestone.

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

“Polaris Dawn is really exciting,” says Laura Forczyk of space consultancy Astralytical. “My understanding is that 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 want to have an idea about the feasibility 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 competing vehicle from the American company Boeing is also expected to launch with a crew for the first time in April 2023

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Meanwhile, we wait 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 private spaceflight pioneer, Virgin Galactic, has been relatively quiet since its founder Sir Richard Branson’s flight into space in July 2021.

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

If successful, the rocket, which would surpass NASA’s Space Launch System as the largest rocket to reach orbit, could revolutionize the way we explore space. “The ability to carry greater mass opens up new possibilities,” enthuses Uma Bruegman, a space strategy expert at Aerspace Corporation. This could include, one day, manned missions to Mars or beyond. But there is still a long way to go. “It is clearly an important year [pour Starship]”, says Jon Cowart. “They have a lot to do.” One of the short-term goals will be to prepare for the Moon. NASA has selected the upper stage of Starship as the first lunar lander for the Artemis program.

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 arrive in orbit around Jupiter in 2031, the spacecraft will perform detailed debuts of the Jovian moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Each would protect oceans likely to contain life beneath their icy surfaces.

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

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

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

Originally planned for this year, NASA is set to launch its own major science mission in October 2023 when Psyche flies. The spacecraft will head for 16 Psyche, an unusually metal-rich asteroid that has never been seen up close.

A number 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. These 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 orbiting communications network of 3,000 satellites that the company hopes will rival SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. Several new rockets are also set to launch, including United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket (which will carry Astrobotics’ lunar lander and some of Amazon’s satellites). There may also be the large New Glenn rocket from Blue Origin. Both vessels are heavy rockets that can carry many satellites into space.

“There is a huge flurry of activity,” says Jon Cowart. “I am very excited about the upcoming projects this year.”

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

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