Last year was a big year for space, seeing drones on Mars, lunar eclipses and billionaires in space. This year, there will be a whole lot more and the moon will be centre stage.
In the early part of 2022, currently scheduled for March, Artemis I will launch to the moon. Artemis is the name of NASA's return to the moon missions. Just like we had Apollo missions in the 1960s, we will now have the Artemis missions.
In Greek mythology, Artemis is the sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon.
Artemis I will not carry any people. It will, however, be a full test of the new Orion capsule and the Space Launch System, the 2020s version of the Saturn V. It will also have lots of satellites and payloads that will be dropped off at the moon.
Built by both NASA and the Japanese space agency, JAXA, they will discover not only more about the moon, but pave the way for humans returning to the Moon including where is the ice and how much of it is there. Ice is not just useful for supporting humans, but it is also frozen water, H2O. The hydrogen and oxygen can be separated and turned into things like rocket fuel.
We will also see a separate launch to the moon in the early part of the year that lands on the moon by Intuitive Machine, which will carry the first supplies for human habitation in the future. They will also launch a separate mission to the moon at the end of 2022 that will go digging in the lunar regolith (soil), measuring the amount of ice and resources that can be used. Both of these will head for the lunar south pole.
It is not just the US with big lunar plans. New Zealand-based Rocket Labs is also planning to launch a satellite to the moon.
Russia is scheduled to launch its own mission to the south pole of the moon, Luna 25, in July. South Korea will also launch its first mission to the moon, via a SpaceX Falcon 9, in July.
JAXA will also launch its own mission to the moon, which will land on the surface, in the later part of 2022.
However, it is not just the moon which will see a lot of action. JUICE (the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) is scheduled to be launched at the end of August. JUICE will head to the large moons of Jupiter - Ganymede, Callisto and Europa - doing multiple flybys of each. Eventually it will enter into orbit around Ganymede. Ganymede is the largest and most massive moon of Jupiter, bigger than even Mercury.
ExoMars, a joint European Space Agency and Roscosmos (Russia) mission will launch to Mars at the end of September. ExoMars will have the Rosalind Franklin rover that will land on Mars in 2023. Originally planned to be launched in 2020, the mission was delayed due to COVID and missed the launch window when Earth and Mars are close, which happens every 25 to 26 months.
We will also see a launch to the asteroid Psyche. Named after the asteroid it will visit, PSYCHE will focus solely on this unique asteroid. One of the largest in the asteroid belt, the asteroid Psyche appears to be the exposed core of a protoplanet (a baby planet). It appears to be made mostly of iron, nickel and rarer metals like gold and platinum, an interest to future space exploration.
The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will reach its asteroid is 65903 Didymos in late September.
It is a binary asteroid, meaning there are two asteroids orbiting around each other. The larger asteroid, Didymos A, is about 780 metres wide while Didymos B is 160 metres wide.
Once there, the spacecraft will crash into the smaller Didymos B at a speed of nearly 24,000km/h, changing its orbit around the larger object. Telescopes on Earth will then measure how much of a change DART inflicted, while satellites on hitching a ride on DART will be dropped off nearby to watch the crash unfold.
Launched on Christmas, NASA's new James Webb Space Telescope is expected to start operations towards the middle part of the year. The images will be truly spectacular.
While 2021 was the year of billionaires in space, expect a lot more flights from both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in 2022.
There will also be some great sights in our skies. At the end of March, for about a week or so, before sunrise, we will have three planets bunched together - Mars, Saturn and Venus.
On June 24 we will see five planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn - as well as the moon, in a line across the sky. You'll have to be up before sunrise to see it, but it will be a sight to see!
We also get another total lunar eclipse - or blood moon - in November. On the evening of Tuesday, the 8th, from about 8pm or a half-hour after sunset, we will get the moon passing into the Earth's shadow, eventually turning red. It will be a long eclipse, lasting almost 90 minutes.
It is going to be a great year for space in 2022.
- Brad Tucker is an astrophysicist and cosmologist at Mount Stromlo Observatory, and the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at ANU.