NASA’s biggest space achievements in 2022

From the Artemis I lunar mission, to the groundbreaking images from the James Webb Telescope, to the resounding success of the DART mission, 2022 is now considered one of NASA’s most productive years. Here is a non-exhaustive list of all these achievements.

Preparing for human lunar exploration

One of the most significant missions is probably Artemis 1, which marks the start of an ambitious lunar program aimed at send people back to the moon. This year, NASA launched its SLS rocket for the first time, putting the Orion spacecraft on a longer orbit than any spacecraft built for astronauts before. Both cars performed better than expected.

NASA has also achieved other important milestones in the Artemis program, ensuring long-term exploration of the Moon and its surroundings. For example, the agency has identified thirteen potential landing regions near the moon’s south pole. It also selected Axiom Space to develop future astronaut spacesuits and awarded a contract modification to SpaceX to develop an upgraded version of its Starship human landing system for the Artemis 4 mission.

The Earth-Moon system as seen by Orion. Credit: NASA

Maintaining a human presence in low Earth orbit

During this year, NASA and SpaceX continued to successfully launch astronauts to and from the International Space Station. It was 22nd consecutive year of human presence on board the orbiting laboratory. In parallel, Boeing finally successfully launched its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft and completed its unmanned orbital flight test to the station. This capsule will also soon be capable of launching astronauts.

Station members hosted NASA’s first private astronaut mission, called Axiom 1, which will further the agency’s goal of commercializing low Earth orbit.

NASA astronauts also continued to install the new ISS solar panels. It is expected that the latter will see their electricity production capacity increase by up to 30%.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus ship also completed its first station renewal. Normally, this ability to ascend the orbit of the ISS was reserved only for Russians.

NASA space station
Astronaut Nicole Mann replaces survival gear in a space suit. Credit: NASA

The solar system and beyond

The launch of the James Webb Telescope completed. Since then, the observatory has been able to take pictures of galaxies that had never been observed before. He also studied the atmospheres of several exoplanets and offered new views of planets in our own solar system.

The DART mission was also successful, with the craft striking the target asteroid as planned as part of the the world’s first planetary defense test. The Hubble Space Telescope, for its part, has spotted the most distant individual star ever seen, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.

Meanwhile, we have passed the mark of 5,000 known exoplanets. Among them are small rocky planets like Earth, gas giants several times larger than Jupiter, or “hot Jupiters”, which develop very close to their stars.

Asteroid DART
This photograph is the last complete image taken by the DRACO imager of the moonlet asteroid Dimorphos during NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. It was taken about 12 kilometers from the asteroid and 2 seconds before impact. Credit: NASA

NASA and ESA have agreed to return the Martian samples collected by Perseverance as part of an unprecedented large-scale mission. Analysis of these samples over the next decade could reveal traces of former extraterrestrial life. During this time, Ingenuity has chained powered flights on the Red Planet. Recently, the helicopter set a new altitude record.

Finally, NASA continued to advance its space exploration capabilities by engaging entrepreneurs, researchers, and innovators across the United States. These efforts enabled the launch of CAPSTONE, a small satellite that conducts tests in a nearly rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. This highly elliptical orbit will be occupied by the future space station that will support the Artemis missions.

These new partnerships have also made it possible to test LOFTID, a prototype heat shield that could eventually be used to deliver heavy payloads to the planet Mars, such as habitat modules.

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