The year 2022 will go down in the history of space exploration. In 365 days, 186 rockets have left our blue planet, 40 more than in 2021. But in the era of New Space, this record should not hold for very long.
2023 is already shaping up to be more prolific, surpassing the 200 launch mark. All these missions have an extraordinary side, but it is impossible to list them in a single article. Instead, here are five themes that will punctuate space news in 2023.
ISS: stars within the stars
Perched 500 kilometers above our heads, the ISS orbits the Earth at the rate of 16 rotations per day. Since its commissioning in 2000, it has seen several million sunrises. But its age makes it difficult to maintain. Operating costs are exploding and the possible departure of Russia does not improve things.
NASA is therefore seeking to lighten its finances, it is considering privatizing part of the 388 m3 of the ISS. If the decision has not yet been made, several “cultural missions” will take place in 2023. Tom Cruise should notably go to the station for the needs of a film.
Other celebrities and world fortunes have also taken their tickets for a short stay on the ISS in 2023. The list has not yet been made public, but NASA is working closely with Axiom Space.
The company was founded by Michael Suffredini in 2016. Before going private, he was the head of NASA programs in the ISS. He therefore knows the space station like no one else and was the first to see the tourism potential of this huge structure in space.
Starship will take flight
When it comes to private companies, one name stands out more than the others: SpaceX. Standard bearer of “New Space”, she hopes to shine in 2023 with Starship, her spaceship.
It had already flown several times in 2021, but the Federation of United States Aviation (FAA) has since grounded it. A year of negotiations and development later, Starship should reach orbit early this year 2023.
We have to do it quickly and well for SpaceX. Starship remains NASA’s first choice for landing on the Moon, provided it is reliable. The US space agency has already spent nearly $5 billion to have Starship travel in 2025 and 2026 on the Artemis 3 and 4 missions.
Putting Starship into orbit is a crucial step in the development of SpaceX. The company has no room for error and knows that its relations with NASA can deteriorate in a few minutes in the event of technical problems during the flight.
The French Touch
On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe and in particular France are watching the work of SpaceX with great attention. A model of success for the rest of “New Space”, it is an example for younger companies. This is particularly the case of HyPrSpace, a Bordeaux company which plans to carry out the first test campaign of its engine on a DGA base this year.
Other start-ups did not wait long in 2023 to be talked about. This is particularly the case of the Bretons from Unseenlabs. The eighth satellite in their constellation entered orbit in early January.
During this same launch, Gama Space’s first solar sail also passed through the atmosphere. With this demonstration mission, Gama hopes to prove that an alternative exists to explore the solar system.
To infinity and beyond
While waiting to find out if one of Gama Space’s sails will one day go as close as possible to Venus or the Moons of Jupiter, a probe is already preparing for this long journey. Called Juice, it will take off in a few months to head for the gas giant.
A nine-year journey, unprecedented for a European mission. ESA thus hopes to reach Calisto, Ganymede and Europa, three of Jupiter’s Galilean satellites. With their ocean of liquid water, they are ideal host lands for life.
Psyché, another space probe should leave our planet in 2023. It will take off at the very end of the year from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy before going into orbit within three years around the eponymous asteroid. This mission should make it possible to learn more about the first moments of our solar system.
But this year should also close certain chapters in the history of exploration. The Osiris-Rex probe should return to Earth, after having studied the asteroid Benu and collected a few grams of it. This is the first time that samples of meteors will be brought back by humans. Here again, the objective of this mission is to better understand the mechanisms in place during the creation of the solar system.
2024 is already here
Throughout this year, two major missions should serve as our common thread. One is American, the other European.
On the old continent, ArianeGroup will make the news by launching Ariane 6 from the European launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana. This first flight is scheduled for the last quarter of the year. Initially scheduled for 2020, the rocket’s takeoff is now three years behind schedule. The development cost has reached 4 billion euros.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the Artemis 2 mission is likely to be on everyone’s mind. NASA ended 2022 very strong by launching the first phase of its return to the Moon program. The agency will now take the time to analyze the information gathered before planning a second flight.
She should also give the names of the four astronauts who will be on board during Artemis 2. With this mission, she is undertaking a major dress rehearsal before setting foot on the Moon in 2025 with Artemis 3.
Artemis 2 is expected to leave Earth in the spring of 2024.