¶2022 in space science.
- JWST, humanity’s most complicated (and expensive) space observatory, breezed through its 344 single-points-of-failure and started delivering transformational science, including images of the oldest galaxies ever seen, exoplanet spectrums (which included detection of water and CO2), and breathtaking images of celestial objects near and far (many of which show up in the lists of best space photos of 2022 from The Planetary Society, CNN, and Gizmodo).
- DART successfully demonstrated applied planetology and changed the orbit of Dimorphos in the world’s first planetary defense mission—the impact changed Dimorphos’ orbital period by an unexpectedly-large 33 minutes due to a momentum transfer from ejecta ‘roughly 3.6 times greater than if the asteroid had absorbed the spacecraft and produced no ejecta at all’, suggesting that rubble pile asteroids may be easier to deflect than we thought.
- On Mars, Perseverance continued to rove, producing oxygen, and sampling rocks; Curiosity crossed 29 km driven and Ingenuity hit 38 flights; InSight, with its power fading, detected a magnitude 5 Marsquake (along with a thousand others during its 4-year mission); and, China’s Zhurong rover continued its mission, taking a long break through our summer/fall for the Martian winter.
- Other science highlights: the number of confirmed exoplanets passed 5,000; the Planetary Science Decadal Survey endorsed a mission to Uranus; we got our first image of the black hole at the center of our galaxy; the Voyager missions hit 45 years in space; SOFIA, before ending its mission, further reduced the prospects for phosphine on Venus; and, the Arecibo Observatory officially shut down after its 2020 collapse.
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| ¶2022 in space technology.|
- After decades, delays, and tens of billions in development, Artemis I demonstrated the SLS’s capabilities, launching spectacularly to send Orion on a successful 25-day mission in distant retrograde lunar orbit. (mission highlights).
- Also to the Moon: CAPSTONE (now in lunar orbit); Orion’s stowaway CubeSats (results mixed); South Korea’s first lunar mission Danuri (aka KPLO, also in lunar orbit); ispace’s HAKUTO-R (on its way right now with UAE’s Rashid rover aboard). There are currently 8 functional spacecraft orbiting the Moon.
- 2022 saw ever more commercial EO satellites enter orbit and the market, especially those offering SAR and hyperspectral imagery. These played a notable role in the defense of Ukraine and have spawned a new era of “open-source intelligence”.
- Also related to the invasion: ExoMars was postponed and Russia tussled with Germany over their shared x-ray observatory platform.
- While Astra went back to the drawing board with Rocket 4, and Rocket Lab continued its Electron first stage catch attempts, we saw the first orbital launches of Firefly’s Alpha, ESA’s Vega-C, South Korea’s Nuri, China’s Jielong 3, Lijian-1, and Long March-6A, ExPace’s Kuaizhou 11, and of course SLS. Here are some global launch stats.
- India’s SSLV and ESA’s Vega-C struggled, as did i-Space’s Hyperbola-1 and LandSpace’s Zhuque-2.
- The satellite-based Globalstar & iPhone SOS system is starting to save lives, with competitors Lynk, AST SpaceMobile, Huawei, and V2 Starlink + T-Mobile on the way.
- Amazon bought the largest block of commercial launches in history (83 flights) for Project Kuiper.
- China completed the Tiangong space station and launched the second-most mass to orbit, with 62 successful launches (although less mass than SpaceX alone).
- Aboard the ISS: Starliner finally made it to the station; Dmitry Rogozin left Roscosmos instead of Roscosmos leaving the ISS (despite much saber-rattling); a leak in a coolant radiator on the currently-docked Soyuz capsule continues to potentially strand some crew at the station; NASA awarded new EVA space suit contracts; the station was boosted for the first time by a Cygnus spacecraft; and, it maneuvered to avoid space debris three times.
- SpaceX performed 61 orbital launches (the last, on Dec. 30th, delivered a commercial Israeli imaging satellite to orbit), accounting for a third of global launches (178 successes). Highlights included Transporter-3, -4, and -5 taking 204 satellites to orbit; Jared Isaacman and SpaceX announcing the Polaris Program; Axiom launching the first all-private crew to the ISS; and, the first Falcon Heavy launch in three years.
- Starlink grew quickly, sending 1,722 new satellites to orbit (the constellation now has 3,338 active satellites), hitting a million subscribers (and potentially ~$1 billion in annual revenue), and adding new business, RV, airline, and cruise ship offerings. Starlink V2 sats will be launching soon, now that the FCC has approved 7,500 of them, and will boost the constellation’s much-in-demand bandwidth. Meanwhile, OneWeb sent 110 sats to MEO, Project Kuiper is under active development with plans to launch their first two prototype sats on the first Vulcan flight, and E-Space and others are racing to develop their own megaconstellations.
¶On deck for 2023.
- Starliner is scheduled to conduct its first crewed flight test in April. Meanwhile, SpaceX will continue its Spring/Fall ISS mission schedule with Crew-6 & 7. Polaris Dawn will mark the first private EVA, currently scheduled NET March. Axiom-2 & 3 are planned to send commercial crews to the ISS in Q2 and Q4 (we’d be unsurprised to see the latter slipping to Q1 2024).
- The first movie filmed on the ISS, “The Challenge” will be released in Russia in April (new trailer).
- So many missions are headed to the Moon: ispace’s HAKUTO-R (already en route), Intuitive Machines’s IM-1 CLPS lander (and maybe even their IM-2 lander, although it seems likely to slip to 2024), Astrobotic’s Peregrine CLPS lander (whenever Vulcan is ready), Russia’s Luna 25 (July), JAXA’s SLIM lander (more below), and ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 (a repeat of the failed Chandrayaan-2 moon lander, shooting for June).
- ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will launch in April on the very last Ariane 5.
- Psyche, delayed a year due to incomplete flight software, will now launch toward its eponymous metal asteroid in October on a Falcon Heavy (although tag-a-long Janus will need to find another ride).
- Samples of Bennu will arrive in late September, completing OSIRIS-REx’s primary seven-year mission. (Its new extended mission to visit 99942 Apophis in 2029 during the object’s close approach to Earth will go by the name OSIRIS-APEX.)
- ESA’s Euclid space telescope, observing in visible to near-IR, will launch on a Falcon 9 (replacing its original Soyuz launch vehicle) in Q3.
- China continues an ambitious space development program, likely wrapping up the year by launching Xuntian, their 2-meter space station co-orbiting telescope on an LM-5B. CMSA may also make an official announcement of additional modules planned for Tiangong.
- After multiple delays, JAXA’s X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, built to observe galactic plasma winds, will launch along with their first lunar surface mission, the SLIM lunar lander.
- The three-billion-pixel Vera C. Rubin Observatory (fka LSST) in Chile is scheduled to start observations in July (camera unboxing video).
- 2023 will also be a busy year of (potential) first launches: SpaceX’s Starship, ULA’s Vulcan Centaur, Arianespace’s Ariane 6, JAXA’s H3, Relativity’s Terran 1, ABL’s RS1, Rocket Factory Augsburg’s One, Orbex’s Prime, Isar’s Spectrum, Gilmour Space’s Eris, Skyrora’s Skyrora XL, and Skyroot’s Vikram 1.
- Unlikely, but just maybe: New Glenn’s first flight, an on-orbit Starship fuel transfer test, Astra’s Rocket 4, Interstellar Technologies’ LNG-fueled Zero launcher, i-space’s Hyperbola-2, and Tom Cruise filming his ISS movie (planned to include a first commercial ISS EVA).
- All the challenges encountered in space in 2022 will continue and expand, including increasing quantities of space debris (see the recent Soyuz radiator leak, likely resulting from a space debris strike and another recent ISS debris dodge operation), the effects of satellite light pollution on astronomy, the militarization of space, and many other issues as humanity continues to grow beyond Earth.
| The absolutely massive Large Synoptic Survey Telescope at the Vera C. Rubin observatory. |
| ¶News in brief. Vega-C's second flight, launched on Dec. 20, failed to reach orbit due to a second-stage malfunction, resulting in the loss of two Pléiades Neo EO sats ● Transporter-6 launched successfully yesterday with 114 payloads on board ● ESA awarded a €117.5M contract to OHB Italia for their ambitious Comet Interceptor mission ● China’s 64th (62nd successful) and final launch of 2022 sent a Long March-3B into orbit carrying a classified satellite ● Russia proposed continued involvement in the ISS until 2028 ● Perseverance dropped its first sample on the Martian surface, awaiting future retrieval (below).|
| Meanwhile, back on Earth…|