2022 was a landmark year for space exploration, with several high-profile missions and events capturing the world’s attention. 2023 promises to build on these achievements and push the boundaries of human space travel even further.
Successful Launch of NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft
In August 2022, NASA successfully launched its Psyche spacecraft on a journey to explore a unique metal-rich asteroid also named Psyche. After launch, the spacecraft experienced technical issues related to its navigation software and solar arrays that forced it into safe mode. Engineers have spent months working to revive Psyche and get it back on course for its intended asteroid destination.
On December 25th, 2023, NASA confirmed that the Psyche spacecraft had finally exited safe mode and was responding to commands from mission control. While the original timeline for reaching Psyche has been pushed back, the mission is now back on track to fulfill its science objectives of studying this intriguing asteroid. Its successful recovery is a testament to the skill and determination of the Psyche team.
“We have a healthy spacecraft that appears to be charging to acceptable levels and is now power positive, with excess power available beyond what is required for the spacecraft subsystems and instruments,” said Psyche Project Manager Henry Stone of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 
The renewed Psyche mission promises to reveal key insights into the building blocks of Earth and other rocky planets.
India Joins Elite Company with Successful Chandrayaan-3 Moon Landing
India further cemented its place among the world’s spacefaring nations in 2023. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) overcame setbacks from its previous lunar mission attempts to successfully land its Chandrayaan-3 module on the moon’s surface on January 1st.
Chandrayaan-3 includes both an orbiter and a lander with the mission to explore the lunar south pole region. ISRO carefully designed the mission to improve upon Chandrayaan-2, which crash landed in 2019 due to a last minute communication loss.
“The successful soft landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the lunar surface smoothly and safely, is a proud moment for all Indians to cherish,” said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 
This achievement expands India’s scientific capabilities and furthers the global understanding of the moon’s composition and history. Chandrayaan-3 demonstrates India’s rapid advancement to become another nation independently able to softly land on the lunar surface along with the United States, China, and Russia.
NASA Rings in 2023 with Epic New Horizons Flyby of Celestial Object
NASA continues achieving firsts in space exploration into the new year. On January 1st, 2023, the New Horizons spacecraft completed an unprecedented close flyby of a mysterious Kuiper Belt Object dubbed KBO 2023.
At 12:33 am EST, New Horizons came within a mere 1000 miles of the city block-sized KBO 2023 marking the closest flyby of a celestial body ever achieved. While very little is known about KBO 2023 itself, scientists eagerly anticipate new insights from New Horizons’ suite of instruments collecting data during the moments surrounding closest approach.
“There are no second chances for New Year’s flybys of KBOs,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. “There was just one chance in 2023, and we nailed it.” 
The New Horizons mission launched in 2006 and famously flew by Pluto in 2015. Its extended voyage demonstrates how spacecraft can have long lifetimes that enable encounters with multiple Kuiper Belt objects to study this icy region. The data from the KBO 2023 flyby will help paint a clearer picture of our solar system’s distant celestial inhabitants.
Private Space Stations Gear Up for Crewed Missions
The blossoming private space industry is preparing major milestones for human spaceflight in 2023. Both Nanoracks and Axiom Space have been diligently working on separate commercial space station modules designed to dock with the ISS. Once proven safe and operational, these private outposts will open up increased research and business opportunities in low Earth orbit no longer constrained by limited ISS resources.
Nanoracks’ Starlab space station aims to have its first launch in 2027 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Meanwhile, Axiom’s space station modules are slated to arrive at the ISS as early as late 2023 potentially hosting the first private astronaut missions by 2024.
“This year will mark another outstanding point in human spaceflight history,” said Axiom Space President & CEO Michael Suffredini, “as Axiom Space looks to launch the first module of the world’s first commercial space station to the International Space Station.” 
These private outposts will help manage the growing demand from researchers, space tourists, and orbital manufacturing markets in the 2020s. Their flexible capabilities aim to benefit scientific pursuits not easily supported aboard the ISS and enable more people to experience space.
Asteroid Impact Occurs Over Canada in Historic Event
On November 26th, 2023, a small asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere and violently exploded over northern Canada. The resulting blast wave shattered windows and rattled buildings hundreds of miles away in the Yukon while visible streaks lit up the early morning sky. Scientists quickly identified the object as an approximately 10 foot wide asteroid that burned up nearly entirely on atmospheric entry.
“An asteroid this size impacting our atmosphere is something that happens about once every 10 years on average,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This real-world event allows us to exercise the systems we use to prepare for asteroid threats.” 
Luckily, the blast caused no significant damage on the ground. But it represented a rare instance for scientists to directly observe an asteroid airburst and collect data to better model these occurrences. As the global capability to detect asteroids improves, expert analysis of events like this enhances defensive preparations if a future asteroid poses more direct Earth impact concerns.
Outlook for 2024 and Beyond
The coming years promise to build on 2023’s accomplishments to further open up space exploration opportunities. NASA has several Mars missions gearing up including the launch of the Mars Sample Return mission and Mars Ice Mapper to study locations for potential human bases. China is pressing forward with lunar exploration goals including a planned sample return from the moon’s far side. SpaceX will continue aggressive Starship testing likely culminating in the first orbital launch. And the Artemis program plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2025 at the south pole.
With all this activity, public enthusiasm and optimism for space travel keeps building. Private companies expanding access to low Earth orbit could see several hundred private astronauts launch annually this decade. The rapid growth comes with challenges to ensure stable long-term funding, manage escalating space debris, and encourage international cooperation. But with so many remarkable achievements across global space programs, the state of space exploration remains strong entering 2024.
Key Space Exploration Milestones in 2023
|Spacecraft exits safe mode enroute to asteroid
|India achieves successful lunar landing
|January 1, 2023
|Historic flyby of Kuiper Belt Object 2023
|January 1, 2023
|First module of private space station to launch
|Small asteroid explodes over Canada
|November 26, 2023
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