The wealth of space missions launched in 2021 guarantees a year filled with new discoveries from the entire solar system – and beyond.
Several countries plan for 2022 to be the year they send robotic explorers to the moon – while they plan ahead for humans to return to the moon’s surface in the future.
Here’s what you can expect from our space exploration in 2022.
Mars was a hotspot in 2021 with three missions from separate countries arriving at the red planet early in the year, and interest in fourth planet from the sun is only heating up.
Another robot explorer will also land on the red planet. Europe’s first planetary rover is ready for launch.
The larger ExoMars program includes the Trace Gas Orbiter, which was launched to Mars in 2016 and has sent scientific data back. The Trace Gas Orbiter will also pass on information collected by the rover after it lands on Mars.
When the ExoMars rover launches in September from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, it will spend nine months cruising through space before reaching Mars on June 10, 2023. The rover will land at Oxia Planum, an area just north of the Mars equator. Oxia Planum is an area containing layers of muddy minerals formed under wet conditions 4 billion years ago.
The mission is designed to search for life on Mars and investigate its history with water. The rover has the ability to drill below the surface of Mars to a depth of 6.5 feet (2 meters), where scientists hope they can find signs of life.
Across the solar system
Prepare for more amazing images from NASA’s Juno mission, which has orbited Jupiter since 2016. During its extended mission, the spacecraft moves forward to observe some of Jupiter’s 79 moons. It will come close to one of its most captivating moons, Europe, in September.
Europe fascinates scientists because a global ocean is located under its ice shell and it can support life. Occasionally, tabs emerge from holes in the ice into space. Juno can observe these tabs in action.
The collision will be recorded by LICIACube, or Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids, an accompanying cube satellite provided by the Italian space agency. Three minutes after the crash, CubeSat will fly past Dimorphos to record photos and video.
The video of the impact will be streamed back to Earth, which should be “pretty exciting,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
Eyes on the moon
In 2022, everyone is looking to send robots to the moon.
The Indian space research organization will send its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on a lunar mission in 2022.
However, the orbiter of that mission has remained safe as it continues to orbit the moon and will be used as a communication relay for Chandrayaan-3. The mission will include a lunar lander and rover similar to the one from Chandrayaan-2.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is expected to launch SLIM, or Smart Lander for the Investigating Moon mission, in 2022.
Preparation for human spaceflight
In January, the stacked spacecraft and rocket will undergo the final test, called a wet rehearsal, which includes completing the full set of operations to refuel the fuel tanks and counting down the launch – pretty much everything needed for a launch without actually launching.
The launch of Artemis I, an unmanned mission serving as the first step in the ambitious program, is likely to increase in March or April.
During the flight, the Orion spacecraft will launch on top of the SLS rocket to reach the moon and travel thousands of miles beyond it – far more than any spacecraft designed to transport humans has ever traveled. This mission is expected to last for a few weeks and will end with Orion splashing down into the Pacific Ocean.