Here’s what could happen to spaceflight in 2022.
Massive rockets will roar
In the coming year, two rockets that have never been in space – NASA’s space launch system and the SpaceX spacecraft – are expected to take off.
They are both very big and about as different as two rockets can be.
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is NASA’s interplanetary launcher. It is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Built by traditional aerospace contractors, each launch costs around $ 2 billion, and each rocket can only be used once. NASA says its Artemis program cannot bring astronauts back to the moon without the giant rocket. Its first test flight, with no one on board, will lift a capsule called the Orion around the moon and bring it back to Earth. The launch, known as Artemis 1, is slated for March or April.
The spacecraft, on the other hand, is built by SpaceX alone. The fully reusable rocket is central to the vision of company founder Elon Musk to send humans to Mars. A version of Starship is also planned to land NASA astronauts on the lunar surface. The upper half of the silver spacecraft made several high altitude test flights that resulted in spectacular explosions. He landed successfully in one test. During the year, a prototype unmanned spacecraft on board is to be combined with a large, reusable booster stage. When the rocket takes off from a SpaceX launch site in Texas, it will then fly into orbit before landing off the coast of a Hawaiian island.
The Moon can accommodate many visitors
If 2021 was the year of the missions to Mars, next year could be dominated by trips to the Moon. No less than nine missions from an assortment of countries and private companies could attempt to orbit or land on the moon.
Five are sponsored by NASA, and some are more likely to arrive on time than others. In addition to the Orion capsule circling the moon and returning to Earth, a CubeSat, a miniature satellite, called CAPSTONE, could be lifted by Rocket Lab from its New Zealand launch site in March. It would study a lunar orbit that could be used by a future NASA and European moon base. Three other missions directed to the lunar surface are the work of private companies sponsored under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. This effort aims to replicate NASA’s success in relying on companies like SpaceX to transport goods, and later astronauts, to the International Space Station. Houston-based Intuitive Machines may be the first company to take the trip.
The rest of the Moon’s robotic visitors in 2022 come from other countries. India could attempt to redo its unsuccessful 2019 lunar landing this summer. And Russia says it’s aiming to land on the moon for the first time since 1976. A South Korean lunar orbiter could take off on a SpaceX rocket as early as August. And a Japanese company, ispace, is working on a landing craft to transport a variety of cargo, including a rover from the United Arab Emirates, to the surface of the moon. Which of these missions is on schedule is in the very thin lunar air.
Completion of the Chinese space station
Lately, China has kept its word when it said its space program will meet a certain deadline. So if he says he will complete construction of the Tiangong space station in orbit in 2022, there’s a good chance he will.
In 2021, China added its Tianhe space module to low Earth orbit and sent two different crews of astronauts to live there. The second crew will return home sometime in 2022, and perhaps by the middle of the year, a lab module, Wentian, could launch into orbit and dock with the Tianhe module. Later in the year, a third room, the Mengtian Laboratory, could complete the Tiangong space station.
Wentian and Mengtian would both be launched atop China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5B. Last May, this rocket surprised many when it began an uncontrolled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, raising the unlikely but not impossible prospect of causing damage and injury when it landed. Even though the rocket landed without incident in the Indian Ocean, it is still unclear whether China will change the way it is run. This means that twice more in 2022, Terrans could play the game of “where is it going to go down?” “
Encounters with asteroids
NASA has studied many asteroids up close, but is now considering deliberately crashing into one. In September, the double asteroid redirection test is expected to crash into Dimorphos, a small boulder orbiting a larger asteroid, Didymos. Colliding with an asteroid is a potential tactic for planetary defense – if a giant space rock is heading towards Earth, some scientists say humanity’s best bet is to divert its path so that it misses our world. The DART mission would provide data on the effectiveness of this approach.
Other asteroids await you. Psyche, a large object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, appears to be composed primarily of iron and other metals. This suggests that early in the history of the solar system, Psyche was the nucleus of an object that failed to transform into a planet. A NASA science mission named after the object is slated to launch this summer atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Scheduled to arrive in 2026, the spacecraft would give scientists their first glimpse of this strange metallic world.