Big rockets, giant asteroids and other space highlights for 2022

Here’s what could happen in spaceflight in 2022.

At some point next year, two rockets that have never been to space — NASA’s Space Launch System and the SpaceX spacecraft — are expected to take off.

Both are huge and as different as the two rockets can be.

The Space Launch System, or SLS, is NASA’s interplanetary launch vehicle. It was years behind schedule and billions of dollars behind budget. Built by traditional aerospace contractors, each launch costs about $2 billion and each rocket can only be used once. NASA says its Artemis program cannot return astronauts to the moon without the giant rocket. Its first test flight, unmanned on board, will lift a capsule called Orion around the moon and back to Earth. The launch, called Artemis 1, is scheduled for March or April.

In contrast, Starship is being built by SpaceX alone. Fully reusable rockets are central to the vision of Elon Musk, the company’s founder, of sending 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 completed several high-altitude test flights and ended in spectacular explosions. It completed a successful landing in one test run. Sometime during the year, a Starship prototype with no crew on board is set up to pair with a large reusable booster stage. When the rocket takes off from the SpaceX launch pad in Texas, it will then return to orbit before plunging off the coast of a Hawaiian island.

If 2021 is the year of missions to Mars, the next year could be dominated by trips to the moon. Up to nine missions from multiple countries and private companies could attempt to orbit or land on the moon.

Five events are sponsored by NASA, and some have a clearer prospect of being on time than others. In addition to the Orion capsule orbiting the moon and returning to Earth, a CubeSat miniature satellite, named CAPSTONE could be lifted off the launch pad in New Zealand by Rocket Lab in March. It will study solar orbits. The moon could be used by NASA and moon bases in Europe in the future. The other three missions to the lunar surface are the work of private companies funded in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. That effort is aimed at repeating NASA’s success of relying on companies like SpaceX to deliver cargo, and later astronauts, to the International Space Station. Intuitive Machines, a company in Houston, may be the first to make the trip.

The rest of the robotic visitors to the moon in 2022 come from other countries. India may attempt to re-do the failed 2019 lunar landing in the summer. And Russia says it aims to land on the moon for the first time since 1976. A South Korean lunar orbiter could take off on a SpaceX rocket as soon as August. And a Japanese company, ispace, is working on a lander to carry a variety of cargo, including a rover from the United Arab Emirates, to the lunar surface. Which of these missions fits into its schedule is performed in the very thin lunar atmosphere.

Recently, China kept its word when it said that its space program will reach a certain milestone. So if they say they will finish building the Tiangong space station in orbit by 2022, chances are it will.

In 2021, China added its Galactic space module to low earth orbit and sent two different groups of astronauts to live there. The second crew will return home in 2022, and perhaps by mid-year a laboratory module, Wentian, could launch into orbit and dock with the Tianhe module. The end of the year, a third part, Mengtian laboratory, can complete the Tiangong space station.

Both Wentian and Mengtian will launch China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5B. Last May, that rocket startled many when it began to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere out of control, raising the unlikely but not impossible scenario of causing damage. damage and injury upon landing. Although the missile landed without incident in the Indian Ocean, it remains unclear whether China will change the way it manages it. That means two more times in 2022, the Earthlings can play the “where will it fall?”

NASA has studied a lot of asteroids up close, but now they plan to purposely crash into one. In September, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test is expected to crash into Dimorphos, a small rock orbiting a larger asteroid, Didymos. Colliding with an asteroid is a potential tactic to protect the planet – 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 will provide data on the effectiveness of this approach.

Other asteroids beckon. Psyche, a large object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, appears to be made mostly of iron and other metals. That suggests that in the early history of the solar system, Psyche was the core of an object that could not form a planet. A NASA science mission named after the object is scheduled to launch this summer atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Scheduled to arrive in 2026, the spacecraft will provide scientists with the first close-up look at this strange metallic world. Big rockets, giant asteroids and other space highlights for 2022

Fry Electronics Team

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