This year promises to be out of this world when it comes to space missions, launches and the next steps in cosmic exploration.
In 2023, NASA will kick off a trek to a metal world, a spacecraft will drop off unprecedented asteroid samples on Earth, a historic moon mission will get its crew, and several new commercial rockets could make their launch debut. There’s so much to look forward to, according to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “More stunning discoveries from Webb telescope, climate missions that will tell us more about how our Earth is changing, continued science on the International Space Station, ground-breaking aeronautics developments with the X-59 and X-57 experimental aircraft, the selection of the first astronauts to go to the Moon in more than 50 years, and more,” Nelson said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency will launch a mission to Jupiter and its moons, send a satellite to create a 3D map of the universe and begin training its newest astronaut class, which includes an astronaut with a physical disability.
Crew assignment for Artemis II
Last year, the inaugural mission of NASA’s Artemis Program launched with a successful test flight that sent an uncrewed spacecraft on a historic journey around the moon. And though the first crewed flight of the program, the Artemis II mission, isn’t expected to take off until the spring of 2024, the public could soon learn the names of the lucky astronauts that will be on board.
The space agency has already narrowed down its astronaut corps to a field of 18 hopefuls that are eligible for Artemis crew assignments. And last month, NASA officials said they would announce the Artemis II crew in early 2023 — so the news could come any day now.
The Artemis II mission is expected to send four people on a trip around the moon and back to Earth.
The next mission after that, Artemis III, will aim to land astronauts on the lunar surface for the first time since the 20th-century Apollo program.
Sending cargo to the moon
Though there may not be any crewed Artemis flights to look forward to this year, NASA does have plans to put robotic landers on the moon as part of its effort to further study the lunar terrain and radiation environment, and search for resources that could potentially be mined from the moon and used to power exploration deeper into space.
That program is called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, and it relies on partnerships with more than a dozen companies that are privately developing their lunar landers.
The first lander to fly under the program could be one built by Pennsylvania-based Astrobotic, which is slated to use its Peregrine lunar lander to get 11 science and exploration instruments to the lunar surface in the first few months of 2023. It’ll land at Lacus Mortis, a larger crater on the near side of the moon.
As many as three other CLPS program missions could also take off in 2023, according to NASA’s website. Jupiter and its icy moons
The highly anticipated Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, known as JUICE, is set to launch between April 5 and 25.
The European Space Agency mission, lifting off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, will spend three years exploring Jupiter and three of its icy moons — Ganymede, Callisto and Europa — in depth. All three moons are thought to have oceans beneath their ice-covered crusts, and scientists want to explore whether Ganymede’s ocean is potentially habitable.