What an exciting year 2022 has been when it comes to space news – since the unveiling of the the first pictures taken by the James Webb Space Telescope to NASA the crash of the DART spacecraft into an asteroid — may seem like 2023 will be quiet by comparison.
But this is not so. From expeditions across the entire solar system to new breakthroughs in commercial space travel, here are the biggest space missions to watch in 2023.
1. Samples from asteroid Bennu return to Earth
Back in 2016, NASA released its OSIRIS-REx mission. The craft arrived at asteroid Bennu in October 2020 to collect rock samples. OSIRIS-REx is expected to return to Earth with the samples on September 24, 2023, although that date may change as the year progresses.
Bennu is a small asteroid compared to others in the Solar System, being as wide as the Empire State Building is tall (about 1,450 feet [500 meters]). It should be noted that there is a 1 in 1,750 chance of hitting Earth during one of its close approaches to Earth in the late 22nd century, according to NASA.
However, these are not the reasons why scientists study Bennu. Rather, Bennu was chosen because of his age. The asteroid has been around for more than 4.5 billion years, and its current composition was probably established within 10 million years of our solar system’s formation. This makes it a great candidate for studying what the early solar system might have been like.
2. Boeing and SpaceX continue to launch humans into space
As 2023 approaches, Boeing and SpaceX will continue to compete to launch humans into space as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). In February, SpaceX will try its sixth launch for the CCP, sending four astronauts to the International Space Station.
Boeing, meanwhile, is a bit behind SpaceX in terms of launches, but will attempt the first crewed launch of its Starliner spacecraft, including two NASA astronauts, as part of NASA’s CCP in April. This launch will mark the final test Boeing must pass before it can use the Starliner to regularly send astronauts to the ISS.
3. Several countries are aiming for the moon
Russia hasn’t sent a probe to the surface of the Moon since Luna 24 in 1976, but that hasn’t stopped it from coming back. From the end of 2022, Russia is already planning launching its Luna 25 lander in 2023. The craft will try to land near the Boguslavsky Crater in the south polar region of the Moon to study the components of lunar polar exosphere.
Closer to the equator, India aims to launch its third lunar mission in mid-to-late 2023. The Chandrayan 3 the launch was originally planned for August 2022, but was delayed to complete more important tests. If successful, Chandrayaan 3 will land in the mountains near the moon’s south pole.
Finally, two lunar landers will lift off from the US in 2023. A Houston-based company Intuitive machines‘ Nova-C the craft will lift off in March 2023. If successful, it will become the first US spacecraft to land on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. Meanwhile, Astrobotic technology‘c Peregrine lunar probe it is tentatively scheduled to land on the surface of the Moon in the first quarter of 2023. The main objectives of the Peregrine mission will be to study the Moon’s exosphere, magnetic fields and other features.
4. The European mission JUICE
In April 2023, the European Space Agency will send its Explorer of the icy moons of Jupiter, or JUICE, to Jupiter. Upon entering orbit around Jupiter in 2031, JUICE will make detailed observations of the gas giant’s three large oceanic moons: Ganymede, Europe and Callisto. These observations will allow astronomers to study the three moons, as well as Jupiter’s environment, in unprecedented detail.
JUICE will fly by Ganymede and Callisto at least 12 times, and Europa at least twice. In the final phase of the planned two-year mission, JUICE will orbit Ganymede for about nine months, studying the moon even more closely. This will mark the first time a spacecraft has orbited a moon in the Solar System other than our own.
5. SpaceX plans to launch its Starship Craft into orbit
Over the past few years, SpaceX has made a name for itself in the space industry. Now the company will try to make even more history.
Sometime in early 2023, or in late February or March, SpaceX will attempt to use its Super Heavy first-stage booster to launch its second-stage spacecraft. starship, in orbit. The two are collectively called “Starship,” and the company plans to use them in the future as a fully reusable transportation system for both cargo and people, according to SpaceX.
The company has several applications planned for Starship, including delivering satellites into Earth orbit and landing cargo and crew on the Moon and Mars. Launching the Starship into Earth orbit is just the first test to see if it can handle these future tasks.
So, whether intentional or accidental, when you look up at the stars in 2023, you may be witnessing a breakthrough in space exploration.