Last year, NASA achieved some big milestones with the long-awaited launch Artemis I And the first pictures of James Webb Space Telescope. In 2023, there are at least a few more launches coming as eagerly anticipated.
It makes sense to start with the largest deck rocket to launch this year, the massive spacecraft from SpaceX. Elon Musk’s Magnum Opus is designed to carry astronauts to the Moon and Mars has seen some prototypes fly, but not beyond the stratosphere.
We’ve been waiting a year and a half since our last high-altitude flight for our first orbital launch, which Musk says now It could happen in February or March. The mission profile begins with the Starship atop a Super Heavy booster being launched from Starbase in Texas. Shortly after liftoff, the pair separate and the Super Heavy returns to land on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, while the Starship continues to circle for a short flight before landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.
We can expect a series of more test flights leading to the Starship’s participation in the Artemis program later this decade as a transport of both humans and cargo to lunar orbit and the lunar surface. From there, Musk and millions of others hope to make it to Mars.
Not just the big rocket
Musk says the Starship could eventually be used to launch larger groups of broadband SpaceX Starlink satellites at once. The company recently received approval to launch thousands more of the second generation version of Orbital Routers. But until Starship is ready for prime time, we’ll still see regular Falcon 9 launches in 2023, as well as a few Falcon Heavy launches for a number of national security missions, heavy commercial satellite launches, and NASA’s Psyche spacecraftwhich will visit the mineral-rich asteroid of the same name.
The high-profile Falcon 9 launch currently scheduled for March will send the Intuitive Machines IM-1 mission and the robotic Nova-C probe to the lunar surface.
The Falcon 9 also has more Dragon and Crew Dragon missions on tap to transport cargo and astronauts to orbit and the International Space Station. We’ll see regular NASA missions to keep the International Space Station going, of course, but more commercial astronauts are also willing to ride the dragon, too.
That includes a few flights for civilians, like the planned Polaris Dawn mission that will see billionaire aviator Jared Isaacman make his second trip to orbit in Dragon. Axiom Space is also planning another mission To take private citizens on a 10-day trip to the International Space Station via Crew Dragon in the second quarter of this year.
Not just SpaceX
Elon Musk’s clothes are far from the only game out there. United Launch Alliance has its own heavy lift vehicle, the Vulcan, which it aims to debut this year. Its first launch will send the Peregrine Lunar Commercial Vehicle to the moon for Astrobotic, a former contender for the Google Lunar X Prize.
Boeing’s Starliner, which was simultaneously named the Crew Dragon by NASA to carry astronauts into orbit, should finally fly humans for the first time in 2023.
Also, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are looking to build on their early successes sending humans on short trips into space. Meanwhile, Rocket Lab has become a dominant force launching smaller satellites that don’t require a large booster like the Falcon 9. The company aims to launch them for the first time from a new US launch pad in Virginia in the coming weeks, and it’s still trying to get in touch. In the method of reinforcing recycling by Hunt them with a helicopter.
Startups like Firefly and Astra have had a mix of early successes and setbacks and will plan to build on that experience, while others like Relativity Space, ABL and spinlunch Just started getting off the ground.
Not just the United States
Increasingly, more exciting space missions are emerging from outside the borders of the United States. In 2023, the European Space Agency is set to launch its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, or JUICE, to observe the planet and its three moons that harbor subterranean oceans: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
India’s space agency plans to launch its own Chandrayaan-3 mission this year, which will attempt to put a lander and rover on the surface of the moon for the second time after the previous attempt ended in a failed landing accident in 2019.
JAXA, the Japanese equivalent of NASA, is looking forward to launching the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, also known as XRISM, which will provide a new in-orbit eye tuned to observe X-rays from deep space.
Finally, China hopes to launch a new space telescope in December on par with the likes of Hubble, called the China Survey Telescope, also known as CSST or Xuntian.
Last year saw a record 186 launches into space, 180 of which reached orbit, according to lead orbit observer Jonathan McDowell. That was up from 146 in 2021, and there’s reason to believe we’ll crack 200 for the first time this year.
Along the way, there will be plenty of other milestones to see as well, including the selection of Artemis astronauts, the introduction of the program’s new spacesuits, and the return of Osiris Rex from its encounter with an asteroid.