As we start this new year, I can’t help but contemplate the golden age we are currently experiencing in space science and exploration. If all goes well, this year will be the most transformative of all.
For a start, we have just had the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (OMG!) which is now in the process of being deployed. Once it becomes operational, JWST will revolutionize our understanding of the cosmos for decades to come.
In June or July, Artemis 1, the unmanned test flight for NASA’s lunar Artemis program is expected to launch using the Space Launch System (SLS). This is the first concrete step for American boots to step back on the Moon. We are finally going to the Moon once more! (India, Russia and Japan are also planning missions to our satellite, although robotic).
In addition to NASA’s SLS, three new heavy lift launchers: ESA’s Ariane 6, Blue Origin’s New Glen and SpaceX’s Starship, will also perform their maiden launch in 2022. These four launchers (!) will radically transform our ability to go into space. We are entering a new era in space exploration.
On Mars, we have a quadcopter, three rovers and eight orbiters currently operational
– yes, read that sentence again because it is truly amazing.
Meanwhile, Bepi-Colombo will perform its second gravity assist at Mercury in June while, Psyche, the planned orbiter mission planned to explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche will launch in August. In September, ESA’s ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin is expected to launch to the red planet while, in the same month, Juno will do a close fly-by of Europa, the tantalizing moon of Jupiter.
DART will crash into the minor planet Dimorphos in October, thus marking humanity’s first ever planetary protection mission while Lucy, the spacecraft that will visit eight different asteroids, will do its first gravity assist at Earth during the same month.
These are just some of the highlights to be expected during the year. I missed out on China’s continued expansion of their space station, Japan’s H3 launcher, and much more.
Here’s a toast to the next twelve months. We are living in remarkable times!