Space: the 10 events that will put stars in your eyes in 2023

Take-offs galore and new horizons: this is what the space sector has to offer for the coming year. Can he do better than in 2022? While dazzling new images from the James Webb Space Telescope are still awaited, China too could launch a Hubble-like space observatory as early as the end of this year, Xuntian. Other actors, public or private, should also be noticed. Overview of the main events to mark in your sky diary.

“In the coming months”: the maiden flight of the Starship

Starship, SpaceX’s “star” rocket, could soon make its very first orbital flight. If no date has been announced for the moment, the take-off should, in any case, not take place before January 20, believes Mario Billiani. “Elon Musk and SpaceX say the flight will likely take place within the next few months. But they’ve been saying it for more than a year now”, comments this amateur scientist, who brings together in a calendar the launch dates from all over the world. Proof nevertheless that D-Day is approaching, tests take place regularly on the Texas base, like this one, whose images were captured by a drone, in December.

Originally scheduled for 2021, the mission will attempt to circumnavigate the globe before landing near Hawaii. Powered by the Falcon Heavy, this “Big Falcon Rocket” would be the most powerful rocket to reach space. This launch is a prerequisite for the flight of the Starship which must transport around the Moon the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and eight artists. If we know the composition of its crew since last month, the date of this #dearMoon mission, initially announced for 2023, is uncertain. It is also a variant of the Starship, the HLS, which is to land NASA astronauts in 2025. In addition to the Starship, other heavy launchers could make their first space flight this year, such as the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur and Blue Origin’s New Glenn.

January: a comet may be visible to the naked eye

She wouldn’t have visited Earthlings since Neanderthal! Called C/2022 E3, a comet discovered last March could soon be bright enough to be visible to the naked eye, its closest passage to our planet being scheduled between February 1 and 2. Since icy bodies of this type are unpredictable, however, it may require binoculars or a telescope to discern it. According to NASA, it is this month that it should be visible in the northern hemisphere, in the early morning. The new Moon on January 21 could be a good opportunity to observe it, because the light from the satellite will not then flood the night sky. In terms of astronomical events, the most “enthusiastic” will pay attention to the partial lunar eclipse of October 28, 2023, the only one visible this year in metropolitan France.

Not Before March: The First Private Spacewalk

After Inspiration4, the first 100% civilian mission, last year, billionaire Jared Isaacman will return to space aboard a Crew Dragon ship with a new crew. Scheduled for March, at the earliest, Polaris Dawn aims to transport them to the highest Earth orbit ever reached by a spacecraft. With the last manned trip to the moon taking place in 1972, it would also be the most distant astronaut flight in fifty years. The highlight of the show: the first private spacewalk, this type of maneuver having been the prerogative of professional astronauts until now.

April: the Juice mission, direction Jupiter and its moons

The European Space Agency (ESA) will launch between April 5 and 30 a mission to Jupiter and three of its largest satellites, Ganymede, Europe and Callisto. More than 400 years after their discovery by Galileo, the probe, named Juice for “Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer”, must examine these Jovian moons which are thought to be home to huge quantities of water under their surfaces, greater than those of the terrestrial oceans. Worlds conducive to the appearance of life? Notable fact: the takeoff will be the last of Ariane 5, a European heavy launcher replaced by Ariane 6. Expected arrival near the gas giant in 2031.

April: the Starliner, a new vehicle to the ISS

If SpaceX is the first private actor to have sent astronauts on board the ISS, it should soon no longer be the only one. After a successful but uncrewed flight last year, Boeing will carry humans aboard its Starliner vehicle in April. It will still be a test flight: the two experienced astronauts who will pilot it will stay only one week in the ISS. If all goes well, the reusable vessel will now allow NASA to have two ways to reach the station, with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, and not depend on the Russian Soyuz.

An Emirati robot on the Moon

Launched in December by SpaceX, the M1 lander from the Japanese company Ispace will try in the spring to be the first private vehicle to successfully land on the moon. If so, it will notably deploy a rover from the United Arab Emirates named Rashid and a Japanese robot on the surface of the Moon. Other machines designed by private companies should land this year on the Moon, which could also be the destination of the first Russian lander since Soviet times (Luna 25) and the Indian probe Chandrayaan-3.

Between July and September: sending the Euclid space telescope

Rich year for the ESA which, after the departure of the Juice mission, will send its Euclid space telescope into orbit, intended to unlock the secrets of dark matter, a hypothetical matter which would represent more than a quarter of the mass of the Universe. Euclid will create a three-dimensional map of the Universe by observing billions of galaxies up to 10 billion light-years away. It was originally to be sent on a Russian Soyuz rocket, but the Russian invasion of Ukraine thwarted those plans. It is ultimately a SpaceX Falcon 9 that will take care of it.

September 24: Bennu Samples Return

Leaving in 2016, the American probe Osiris-Rex will return in the fall loaded with precious samples of the asteroid Bennu, a large pebble 500 meters in diameter whose composition will provide information on the first ages of the solar system. The spacecraft will eject a capsule which will be parachuted over a military base in Utah, USA. Its loading should be studied for several decades by scientists.

October 10: take-off from Psyche for… Psyche

One asteroid can hide another. In October, it is towards an object made of metal and located in the main asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) that NASA will send a probe, called Psyche, as its destination, which is thought to be the nucleus. of an ancient embryo planet. First planned for 2022, the launch was postponed due to a software delay. The mission will enter orbit around the asteroid in 2029, three years later than originally planned.

End of the year: an Ariane 6 in the air?

The year 2022 had ended badly for Arianespace, with the failure of the first commercial flight of the Vega-C rocket. Its big sister Ariane 6, eagerly awaited since 2020, could end the current year in a good way. The first launcher of the name was completely assembled last October in Kourou. Manufactured in two versions, Ariane 6 will be able to position heavy or light satellites in different orbits, for scientific (weather, Earth observation) or commercial purposes.

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