Here’s what may happen in spaceflight in 2022.
Massive Rockets Will Roar
Sometime this coming year, two rockets that have never been to space — the NASA Space Launch System and the SpaceX Starship — are expected to lift off.
They’re both very big and about as different as two rockets can be.
The Space Launch System, or S.L.S., is NASA’s interplanetary launch vehicle. It is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Built by traditional aerospace contractors, each launch costs about $2 billion and each rocket can be used only once. NASA says its Artemis program can’t get astronauts back to the moon without the giant rocket. Its first test flight, with no people aboard, will lift a capsule called Orion around the moon and back to Earth. The launch, known as Artemis 1, is scheduled for March or April.
Starship, by contrast, is being built by SpaceX alone. The fully reusable rocket is central to the vision of Elon Musk, the company’s founder, for sending humans to Mars. A version of Starship is also planned for landing NASA’s astronauts on the lunar surface. The silvery spacecraft’s top half has completed multiple high-altitude test flights that ended in spectacular explosions. It completed a successful landing in one test. Sometime during the year, a Starship prototype with no crew aboard is set to pair with a large reusable booster stage. When the rocket lifts off from a SpaceX launch site in Texas, it will then head to orbit before splashing down off the coast of a Hawaiian island.
The Moon May Greet a Lot of Visitors
If 2021 was the year of missions to Mars, the next year could be dominated by trips to the moon. As many as nine missions from an assortment of countries and private companies could try to orbit or land on the moon.
Five are sponsored by NASA, and some have clearer prospects of occurring on time than others. In addition to the Orion capsule circling the moon and heading back 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 more missions headed toward the lunar surface are the work of private companies sponsored under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. That effort aims to repeat NASA’s success of relying on companies like SpaceX to carry cargo, and later astronauts, to the International Space Station. Intuitive Machines, a Houston company, may be the first company to attempt the trip.
The rest of the moon’s robotic visitors in 2022 come from other countries. India may try to redo its unsuccessful 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 moon orbiter could lift off on a SpaceX rocket as soon as August. And a Japanese company, ispace, is working on a landing craft for carrying a variety of cargo, including a rover from the United Arab Emirates, to the moon’s surface. Which of these missions sticks to its schedule is up in the very thin lunar air.
Completing China’s Space Station
Lately, China has kept its word when it says…