2022 was a monumental year for space exploration, with exciting developments like the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 test flight and continued progress on private spaceflight from companies like SpaceX. 2023 promises to build on these achievements and take things even further.
NASA Makes History with Megarocket Launches
SLS Debuts, Kickstarting Artemis Missions to the Moon
On November 16th, NASA’s SLS rocket successfully carried the uncrewed Orion spacecraft into a distant lunar orbit, paving the way for upcoming Artemis missions that will land astronauts on the Moon. This launch of Artemis 1 represented the first flight of the combined SLS/Orion system and kicks off an ambitious program to establish a permanent human presence on the lunar surface.
While not everything went perfectly, with some technical issues arising during the flight, NASA hailed Artemis 1 as a major success. In 2024, Artemis 2 will perform a similar test flight with astronauts on board, followed by Artemis 3 which will finally return humans to the lunar surface no earlier than 2025.
SpaceX Starship Reaches New Heights
SpaceX made history on February 11th when its next-generation Starship rocket successfully completed the program’s first orbital test flight. After multiple test failures, Starship Serial Number 24 (SN24) launched from Texas and completed a full trip around Earth before plunging into the Pacific Ocean as planned.
|Space Launch System (SLS)
|Heavy lift rocket developed for Artemis moon missions
|Fully reusable rocket and spacecraft system aimed at Mars
This test flight was a key milestone for SpaceX’s goal of developing a fully reusable rocket and spacecraft system capable of carrying humans to Mars. While still early in testing, the success of Starship SN24 shows the vehicle’s incredible promise. Several more test flights are planned in 2023 that will continue pushing the rocket to new heights.
Asteroid Exploration Accelerates
Alongside technical achievements with next-gen rockets, 2023 also promises to unlock key discoveries about asteroids – both from up-close observations and from afar.
NASA Probe Reaches Asteroid Psyche
On January 9th, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft successfully entered orbit around its target – a unique metal-rich asteroid also called Psyche. This marks humanity’s first close-up look at what scientists think could be the exposed core of a building block from the earliest days of our Solar System.
Over 21 months Psyche will study the odd asteroid using a multitude of instruments to gather data on its composition, geology, and origins. The $717 million mission seeks to understand if Psyche is indeed the leftover core of a destroyed planetesimal, which would help reveal secrets about Earth’s own core.
Japan Returns Asteroid Samples to Earth
If all goes well, 2023 may also yield the first ever samples returned from the surface of an asteroid. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully collected material from asteroid Ryugu in 2019 and is now inbound to deliver those precious particles back to researchers on Earth.
Hayabusa2 is scheduled to drop its return capsule containing the samples in the Australian outback on December 11th. Once recovered, scientists can conduct extensive lab analysis on the Ryugu specimens to gain insights about the chemistry and possibly even organic compounds present early in the Solar System’s history.
With the major successes of early 2023, the rest of the year and beyond looks bright for space exploration. The world can anticipate more Starship test flights reaching orbital velocities and attempting landings back on Earth. Once proven operational, Starship has the potential to drastically reduce launch costs and enable all sorts of new science and exploration missions.
NASA also has many missions in the pipeline behind Artemis. The lunar program will start building the Gateway orbiter and send multiple science payloads to study the Moon. And further afield, spacecraft development continues for exploring Jupiter’s moon Europa and retrieving the first ever samples from Mars.
Each year brings remarkable new space discoveries and 2023 is shaping up to be one for the record books. From Moon landings to asteroid encounters up close, humanity’s reach into the cosmos accelerates by leaps and bounds.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.