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Looking at the Year Ahead

Remarkable, don’t you think, that we have made it through another year in the amazing story of humanity, so terrific, so tremendous, but alas, so troublesome too. From the deep wounds inflicted by the war in Ukraine to the soaring highs of the SLS launch, 2022 has been a rollercoaster ride for everyone involved in space exploration. Let us hope that 2023 will bring us all the highs and none of the lows. Here is my list of missions and events that I will look forward to as the year unfolds.

I will start with what I consider the most important launch of the year: ESA’s JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission, which I have written about extensively in both books. The launch window is planned for the 14 -18 April, for an arrival in the Jovian system in July 2031, where JUICE will investigate up close the ocean worlds of Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. It will end its mission by orbiting Ganymede (!) before making a soft impact on our solar system's biggest moon in 2035. To say that I am excited about this mission to the ocean worlds of Jupiter is an understatement. Go, JUICE Go!

Another launch I look forward to is NASA’s delayed Psyche mission planned to visit a metallic asteroid. The current estimated launch is set for the 10th of October, although, given the difficulties this mission has encountered in its implementation, I wouldn’t be surprised if the launch is pushed further.

Since we’re at Jupiter, Juno is planning to make a close flyby (1500 km) of Io on the 30th of December. It will once again take breathtaking shots of a Jovian moon using a camera initially designed to operate on Mars (MARDI).

In March, New Horizons will wake up from its hibernation mode and perform various observations of the Kuiper Belt with its new mission extension (KEM2). Planned to operate well into the 2040s, New Horizons is expected to bring us more surprises during its lifetime (and perhaps, another KBO flyby).

Regarding launch vehicles, 2023 is looking to be as transformative as 2022 and its successful SLS launch. We have SpaceX’s Spaceship planned for Q1, although no date was assigned at the time of writing, while ESA will showcase its new workhorse, Ariane 6, in Q4 (date to be determined as well). Let us not forget lots of smaller but no less important launchers performing their maiden flights this year such as China’s reusable rocket Darwin-1 or ULA’s new upper stage, Vulcan Centaur to name a few.

Finally, ESA’s Euclid mission to study dark energy is planned for a launch in Q3 (on a Falcon 9 instead of Soyuz as initially planned), while China’s Einstein probe will launch in the second half of the year to study high-energy events in the depths of the cosmos.

Of course, other great news will abound during the year: JWST’s continued atmospheric spectroscopy of exoplanets (the Trappist system is what I’m most excited about) and Perseverance's continued sampling mission on the red planet both spring to mind (although Jezero crater doesn’t seem to be as wet as we had hoped).

I will review these events and more as the months go by. In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones all the best for the new year and raise a toast to the continued peaceful exploration of our Solar System and beyond. Cheers. As always, onwards and upwards. (image credit: ESA)


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