The most exciting things happening in space in 2022

Mankind’s reach into space has never been greater, and 2022 promises to be one of the most exciting to date. Here are the space stories we will see in the coming months.

The first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System

One of the most anticipated events of the year is happening next spring, or so we hope. NASA will attempt the initial launch of its 101.19 m high (101 m) SLS rocket, effectively starting the Artemis era. It will be an impressive sight as the rocket will exert 8.8 million pounds of pressure on takeoff – 15 percent more than NASA’s Saturn V rocket. For this, the Artemis 1 mission, an unmanned Orion spacecraft will travel 280,000 miles (450,000 km) to the lunar orbit and immediately return to Earth.

Conceptual image showing an SLS launch.  (Image: NASA) Conceptual image showing an SLS launch. (Image: NASA)

Start windows for Artemis one occur in mid-March and mid-April. A successful launch of SLS will set the stage for Artemis 2 (planned for 2023), where a manned Orion capsule will travel around the Moon and back (basically a repeat of Artemis 1, but with astronauts), and Artemis 3 (planned for earliest in 2025), where NASA astronauts will land on the Moon for the first time since 1972.

The initial orbital flight of SpaceX’s Starship

SpaceX will also try to launch an oversized rocket, likely in either January or February. The reusable Starship mega rocket will consist of the Super Heavy Booster 4 and Starship prototype SN20, which at a combined 394 feet (120 meters) height will be the tallest rocket ever built. The rocket will be launched from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, and will enter orbit around the Earth, but complete less than full rotation of the planet. The booster will spray down into the Gulf of Mexico, while the second stage will spray down into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

The stacking of a Starship top scene on a Super Heavy.  (Photo: SpaceX) The stacking of a Starship top scene on a Super Heavy. (Photo: SpaceX)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said there is “a lot of risk associated with this initial launch” and he clearly anticipates a failure. That said, he believes a Starship rocket will reach orbit by 2022, and that up to 12 Starship launches could take place during the year. Progress will be important as SpaceX develops the rocket to serve as a landing craft for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon.

Other rockets expected to make their maiden flights in 2022 include Arianespace’s Ariane 6, Blue Origins New Glenn, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur and Mitsubishi’s H3.

The second unmanned test of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner

The artist's concept of a Boeing CST-100 Starliner in orbit around the earth.  (Image: NASA / Boeing) The artist’s concept of a Boeing CST-100 Starliner in orbit around the earth. (Image: NASA / Boeing)

Speaking of pressure, all eyes will be on Boeing to see if the beleagured company will finally make progress with its CST-100 Starliner. Boeing is developing the capsule as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, but it is now years behind schedule. A major setback occurred in October 2021, when the Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) had to be scrubbed after 13 of the 24 oxidation valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system could not open. The initial test of Starliner in 2019 was a total mess, which made this latest incident even more embarrassing. Boeing is now seeking to launch the Starliner in May 2022, “awaiting spacecraft readiness and space station availability,” according to NASA.

A helicopter will try to catch a falling rocket booster

Photo of the rocket retrieval test performed in April 2020. (Photo: Rocket Lab) Photo of the rocket retrieval test performed in April 2020. (Photo: Rocket Lab)

In 2022, the space manufacturer Rocket Lab will try to capture a falling electron rocket amplifier in the air and then return it to the mainland for recycling (Rocket Lab conducted a successful test of this idea in April 2020). A parachute system will brake the booster during its descent, while a special line of action on the helicopter will enable it to catch and secure the booster. An additional fuel tank will be added to the helicopter, allowing for a longer journey. Rocket Lab expects to carry out this daring catch during the first half of 2022.

To the moon !!

No human will reach the Moon in 2022, but the same cannot be said of landers and robots, with the United States, Russia, India and Japan all preparing for lunar missions in the coming year.

Conceptual image of Peregrine lands.  (Image: NASA) Conceptual image of Peregrine lands. (Image: NASA)

Pittsburgh-based Astrobiotic plans to send its Peregrine Lunar Lander to the Moon at some point in 2022. The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which the space agency enters into contracts with commercial partners. The lander, equipped with 14 payloads of various types, will launch on top of a United Launch Alliance Centaur rocket.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines, another CLPS partner, is currently planning to send its Nova-C lander to the Moon, which it expects to do during the first half of the year with the promise coming from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket . Nova-C will supply goods worth 220 pounds (100 kg) to the surface of the moon.

In July 2019, India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission failed to deliver the Vikram lander safely to the moon’s surface. The Indian Space Research Organization will try again during the third quarter of 2022 in what will hopefully be a successful successor – the Chandrayaan-3 mission. Should India succeed, it will only be the fourth country to successfully land a probe on the Moon (the others are the United States, Russia and China).

In July 2022, Russia will send its Luna 25-lander, also known as the Luna-Glob-Lander, to the Moon’s southern polar region. The purpose of the mission is to analyze “the composition of the polar regolith and to study the plasma and dust components of the moon’s polar exosphere,” according to NASA.

Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) will be Japan’s first mission to the Moon. The purpose of SLIM is to test precision lunar landing capabilities, such as avoiding craters and selecting optimal locations for landing. The probe, developed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is expected to be launched sometime in 2022 and land near Marius Hills Hole – a lunar lava tube entrance.

Another rover for the red planet

The European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, along with Russia’s Kazachok lander, is scheduled to launch on 29 September. Once on Mars, Rosalind Franklin will collect surface samples and crush them into a fine powder. Its built-in laboratory will then perform detailed chemical, spectral and physical analyzes. The rover’s navigation features should allow it to travel about 328 feet (100 meters) each March day, or sun.

Conceptual image of the Rosalind Franklin rover.  (Image: ESA) Conceptual image of the Rosalind Franklin rover. (Image: ESA)

In the meantime, we can expect new insights from NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers (and perhaps more flights with the Ingenuity helicopter) and also China’s Zhurong rover. NASA’s InSight mission will continue to operate in 2022, but this is likely to be its final year as the stationary lander struggles to collect solar energy.

Space probes probe the space

In August, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will attempt to deliver NASA’s Psyche probe into space. Its destination is 16 Psyche – a metallic asteroid that contains abundant amounts of nickel-iron. The asteroid “offers a unique window into the violent history of collisions and growth that created terrestrial planets,” according to NASA. The mission could shed new light on the composition and age of Psyche’s surface, and the conditions under which it was formed. Data from the probe will also be used to create a detailed map of the asteroid’s surface. The Psyche spacecraft is expected to reach the asteroid in January 2026.

Conceptual image of NASA's Psyche spacecraft.  (Illustration: NASA) Conceptual image of NASA’s Psyche spacecraft. (Illustration: NASA)

The same launch of the Falcon Heavy will deliver two small batches to NASA, but they are on their way elsewhere. Known as the Janus Project, the dual spacecraft will explore two binary asteroids, (175706) 1996 FG3 and (35107) 1991 VH. Daniel Scheeres, lead researcher on the project and an astronomer at the University of Colorado, says that binary asteroids “are a class of objects for which we do not have high-resolution scientific data,” since all existing observations come from Earth telescopes, “which do not provide you as many details as being close. ” In addition to promoting our understanding of the early solar system, Janus was also able to inform planetary defenses. It will take four years for the probes to reach their destinations.

Conceptual images of the Janus Double Drum.  (Image: Lockheed Martin) Conceptual images of the Janus Double Drum. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Probes already launched into space will continue to perform their work. NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make a close flight past Jupiter’s moon Europe on September 29, after which its orbital period around the gas giant will be reduced from 43 to 38 days. The Parker Solar Probe, also administered by NASA, will perform four bypasses of the Sun in 2022 as it gets closer and closer to our host star.

In addition, the $ 10 billion ($ 14 billion) Webb Space Telescope, launched on Christmas Day 2021, will travel to its special place in space – Lagrange Point 2 (an area in space where the gravity of the Sun and Earth balances the orbital motion of an object) . Once at L2, and after Webb’s instruments have been successfully implemented, we’ll finally see Webb’s first view of the cosmos.

Astronomical events

No total solar eclipse will occur in 2022, but there will be two partial solar eclipses. The first will take place on April 30, where the partial eclipse will be visible from the southern parts of South America, and the second will take place on October 25 and be visible to skywatchers in Europe and parts of northern Africa (weather permitting , of course).

A partial lunar eclipse on 15./16. May will be visible in parts of North America and all of South America, while a partial lunar eclipse on 7./8. November will primarily appear across the Pacific, with the western parts of North America and eastern Asia also getting a glimpse.

So get excited and grab some kool-aid – it looks like we have another great year ahead.

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