NASA lifted the giant Space Launch System from Earth for the first time in 2022, illuminating the night in Florida with an incredible stream of flame as it carried the Artemis I mission toward the moon. That shifted attention to SpaceX, which is building a next-generation rocket, the Starship, which is also central to NASA’s Artemis III crewed moon landing attempt.
SpaceX has cleared a major environmental review that would allow it to launch an uncrewed orbital test flight from southern Texas if it meets certain conditions. But the rocket wasn’t ready to fly in 2022. The company hasn’t announced a date for a test this year, but regular ground tests of the spacecraft’s equipment indicate it’s working toward that.
Several other rockets may fly for the first time in 2023. Chief among them, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur, will eventually replace the company’s Atlas V, a vehicle that has been central to American spaceflight for two decades. The Vulcan is based on the BE-4 engine built by Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos. The same engine will in turn be used in Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which may have a test flight as late as this year.
A number of private US companies are expected to test new missiles in 2023, including Relativity and ABL. They could be joined by foreign rocket makers, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries which may test a Japanese H3 rocket in February, and Arianespace, which is working on a test flight of a European Ariane 6 rocket.
new moon landing
We guarantee that there will be at least one lunar landing attempt in 2023. A Japanese company, Ispace, launched its M1 mission on a SpaceX rocket in December. It’s taking a slow, fuel-efficient route to the moon and is scheduled to arrive in April, when it will attempt to deploy a UAE-made rover, a robot built by the Japanese space agency, JAXA, as well as other payloads. .
There could be up to five more lunar landing attempts this year.
NASA has hired two private companies to transport payloads to the lunar surface. Both, Intuitive Machines of Houston and Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, faced delays in 2022, but they could make the trip in the coming months.
They could be joined by three lunar missions for government space programs. India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission was delayed last year, but it could be ready in 2023. A Japanese mission, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, aims to test moon landing technologies in the country. Finally, Russia’s Luna-25 mission from last September has been delayed, but Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, may try this year.
New space telescopes
The Webb telescope has dazzled space amateurs and scientists with its views of the universe, but we may get new benefits from a variety of orbiting observatories.
The most important mission may be Xuntian, a Chinese mission launching later in the year that will be like a more advanced version of the Hubble Space Telescope. The spacecraft will survey the universe in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths in Earth orbit near the country’s Tiangong Space Station.
A Japanese-led mission, XRISM, called Almiron, could launch earlier in the year, too. The mission will use X-ray spectroscopy to study clouds of plasma, which could help explain the formation of the universe. A European space telescope, Euclid, may be launched on a SpaceX rocket after the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused the spacecraft to lose its seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket. He will study the universe’s dark energy and dark matter.
New planetary missions
A new spacecraft will head toward Jupiter this year, with the goal of becoming the first to orbit another planet’s moon. The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, or JUICE, will launch from an Ariane 5 rocket as early as April 5 to blast off into the Jovian system, arriving in 2031. Once it reaches the gas giant, it will move on to make 35 flybys. Of the three of the world’s giant moons: Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede, all are believed to have subterranean oceans. In 2034, JUICE will begin orbiting Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system.
Rocket Lab is getting closer to the sun, a small launch company founded in New Zealand. It aims to use its cyber rocket to send a mission to Venus. The company’s Photon satellite will attempt to deploy a small probe, built by MIT researchers, that will briefly study the planet’s toxic atmosphere. The mission was planned for May, but is expected to encounter delays while the company prioritizes missions for its other clients.
Total eclipse and incomplete eclipse
There will be two solar eclipses in 2023.
The total eclipse on April 20 will be more of an event in the Southern Hemisphere, and the moon will block the sun only in remote parts of Australia and Indonesia. (Maybe it’s not a bad time to be on a boat in parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, too.)
But Americans may very well be in for a show on October 14, when an annular eclipse visits North America. Eclipses of this type are sometimes called a “ring of fire” eclipse because the Moon is too far from Earth to completely block the Sun but creates a ring-like effect when it reaches totality. The path of the eclipse passes through parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas before plunging into Central and South America. When the weather cooperates, it should be a great solar display and a nice prelude to the April 8, 2024 total eclipse that will cross the United States from the southwest to the northeast.