NASA and the private space industry could reach new heights in 2022



SpaceX’s Starship orbital spacecraft is stacked on top of its Super Heavy Booster in August at the company’s South Texas facility as engineers prepare for more test fires. Photo courtesy of SpaceX | License photo

December 23 (UPI) – Space exploration could break records in 2022 with the launch of the most powerful rocket ever to fly over the moon, a space telescope that will scan the dawn of the universe, and groundbreaking science on the planet. March.

The new year could also see SpaceX’s Starship distant space rocket flying above the atmosphere, the expansion of space tourism, and the launches of new rockets from companies such as United Launch Alliance and Firefly Aerospace.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to once again dominate the global launch industry with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy after launching a record 31 orbital missions in 2021. Most of those launches will carry the company’s own satellites. Company’s Starlink broadband internet communication.

The coming year will also see SpaceX’s continued NASA astronaut launches to the International Space Station and many new achievements, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an interview.

Nelson said he was also certain Congress would provide sufficient funding for a return to the moon in the next few years.

“I am confident because the American people do not want to disembark [again] second to China, ”Nelson said. “And neither does Joe Biden, and he reflects the will of the American people. “

Moon rocket

NASA plans to launch the gigantic SLS moon rocket in March or April for the Artemis I mission. It will pack a thrust of 8.8 million pounds, 15% more than the Apollo-era Saturn V.

With this power, the rocket would send an unmanned Orion capsule 280,000 miles from Earth, much further than Apollo 13’s previous record of 249,000 miles in 1972.

NASA plans to collect data first from the rocket and then for weeks from the capsule as it orbits the moon, flies over 40,000 miles and returns to a water landing in the Pacific Ocean.

The space agency had planned to launch the SLS rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in February. But NASA has postponed that target date to mid-December due to an issue with an engine flight controller, which needs to be replaced.

NASA plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2024, but the agency has recognized that this goal may be elusive due to a lack of funding from Congress.

Searching for signs of life on Mars

NASA rovers, Perseverance and Curiosity, as well as the Ingenuity helicopter, will continue to roam Mars, looking for signs of ancient life.

Perseverance will continue to drill rock samples into the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater, which NASA said was an ancient lake that could have supported primitive life. Tiny Ingenuity will continue to search for the rover after 18 successful flights.

No one knows how long the 4-pound helicopter will last on Mars. Ingenuity was designed for a 30-day test only to demonstrate flight in rarefied Martian air. But he’s now flown 18 times in eight months. And NASA management fully supports funding the helicopter while it can fly, Administrator Nelson said.

As robotic explorers advance, NASA and the European Space Agency plan to send another mission to Mars in 2028 to collect drilled rock samples and bring them to Earth.

SpaceX and spaceship

NASA intends to send people to Mars and the Moon, and the agency has chosen SpaceX’s spacecraft to provide the first human lunar lander for such a mission when it does occur.

The spacecraft and its thruster would dominate the SLS and Saturn V as the largest rocket of all time – over 390 feet tall. The ship is designed to transport people and goods to the Moon and Mars, and is seen as key to Musk’s plan to launch thousands of Starlink communications satellites.

But Starship didn’t fly into space, and SpaceX didn’t set a date for another test flight. If and when the company would send Starship into space, it would fly around the globe, re-enter the atmosphere and splash off the coast of Hawaii, according to plans filed with federal regulatory agencies.

But all of those plans were shrouded in uncertainty after Musk warned company employees in an email the day after Thanksgiving that problems in the production of Starship Raptor engines were threatening SpaceX’s progress and viability.

“This is to say that we face a real risk of bankruptcy if we cannot achieve a Starship theft rate of at least once every two weeks next year,” Musk said in the e- mail, which was first obtained from the Space website. Explored.

Nelson expressed confidence in the development of SpaceX Starship, but said he was pushing for additional congressional funds to fund a competitor, such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Amazon’s founder’s company offered a separate human lander in a three-way competition with Alabama-based SpaceX and Dynetics, but NASA said lack of funding forced it to choose only SpaceX.

“I work… daily to try to get some extra funding to make the process competitive again,” Nelson said. “I think you’re going to see some exciting things coming out of SpaceX regarding the spacecraft’s first flight test in orbit – early next year.”

Many space industry observers have confidence in SpaceX, but are unsure whether the spacecraft’s design can be successful, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

“If they can fly the top stage into orbit and bring it down successfully, they will change the space industry forever,” McDowell said. “The tests they have done so far are incredible, but I don’t know when or if they will ever achieve orbital flight.”

James Webb Space Telescope

Another large space project that took longer than expected to build is expected to reveal new secrets of the universe in 2022.

The most powerful observatory ever built, the James Webb Space Telescope, is complete for observing other planets and the origins of the universe for a year after its scheduled launch from the European Space Agency’s spaceport in North America. South on Christmas morning.

The telescope will travel 1 million kilometers from Earth and orbit the sun.

The astronomical community will be anxiously awaiting the telescope’s deployment, which could take up to a month, McDowell said.

“I watched my friends on Twitter freak out about this launch.… Everyone’s nervous as hell,” he said.

The Webb Telescope will examine billions of light years in the history of the universe, according to NASA. Its powerful infrared instruments are designed to see more clearly and a few hundred million light years beyond the Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientists have planned around 400 studies that could reveal secrets about the oldest galaxies, habitable planets and even the dawn of the universe, according to NASA and astronomers involved in the project.

In anticipation of a problem, engineers designed the Webb Telescope with 50 deployment mechanisms and 178 triggers or locks. They even practiced shaking and spinning the observatory to jostle anything that doesn’t unfold, like its tennis court-sized sunshade.

“It’s a crazy, overly complicated machine,” McDowell said. “There are so many things that can go wrong, and it would be amazing if we didn’t have at least one or two breathtaking moments.”

The sunshade will prevent solar energy from interfering with the cold infrared instruments on the other side, which will be cooled to about -394 degrees F. By comparison, the coldest temperature on Earth was in Antarctica at -128. , 6 F.

ULA Vulcan rocket is coming

Another large rocket that was already scheduled to be launched – the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan – is set to make its maiden voyage in late 2022, company CEO Tory Bruno said in an interview.

“The rocket for the first launch is in the final stages of production and testing at our factory in Decatur, and operations were completed at [Cape Canaveral Space Force Station] Launch Complex 41 to test the reception, assembly and transport of a Vulcan to the launch pad, ”said Bruno.

ULA has been the primary launch provider for U.S. national security missions with the Atlas V rocket, which the company intends to withdraw. The new rocket is based on BE-4 engines made by Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin, but they have yet to be delivered to ULA, Bruno said.

He said the engines performed better than expected during testing.

“The first flight engines are in production. We look forward to receiving them in early 2022 to support the inaugural launch later in the year,” Bruno said.

ULA also intends to launch Boeing’s Starliner capsule on an Atlas V rocket for the spacecraft’s second delayed unmanned test flight to the International Space Station, he said.

If this flight is successful, Starliner could carry astronauts by the end of the year on regular missions launched by the ULA.

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavor during a flyby of the orbiting lab that took place after it undocked from the space-oriented port of the Harmony Module on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA


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