Last year, NASA achieved some major milestones with the long-awaited launch of theand the first images from . 2023 has at least a few launches to look forward to.
It makes sense to start with the biggest rocket on deck to launch this year, SpaceX’s massive Starship. Elon Musk’s magnum opus vehicle designed to take astronauts to the moon and Mars has seen several prototypes fly, but not beyond the stratosphere.
We are waiting a year and a half since the last high-altitude flight for the first orbital launch, whichit could happen in february or march. The mission profile begins with the Starship atop a Super Heavy booster launching from Starbase in Texas. Shortly after liftoff, the pair separates and the Super Heavy returns to land on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico, while the Starship continues in orbit for a short trip before splashing into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii.
We can expect a series of more test flights leading up to Starship’s participation in the Artemis program later in the decade as a transport for both people and cargo to cislunar orbit and the surface of the Moon. From there, Musk and millions of others hope it’s on Mars.
Not just the big rocket
Musk says Starship could eventually be used to launch larger batches of SpaceX Starlink broadband satellites at once. The company recently received approval to roll out thousands more of the second-generation version of the orbital routers. But until Starship is ready for prime time, we’ll continue to see regular Falcon 9 launches in 2023, as well as several Falcon Heavy launches for a range of national security missions, heavier commercial satellite launches, andwhich will visit the metal-rich asteroid of the same name.
A landmark Falcon 9 launch currently scheduled for March will send the Intuitive Machines IM-1 mission and the Nova-C robotic lander to the lunar surface.
The Falcon 9 also has more Dragon and Crew Dragon missions to transport cargo and astronauts to orbit and the International Space Station. We’ll see regular NASA missions to support the ISS, of course, but more commercial astronauts are also ready to ride Dragon.
This includes several civilian flights, such as the planned Polaris Dawn mission, in which billionaire pilot Jared Isaacman will make his second trip to orbit with Dragon.to send private citizens on a 10-day trip to the ISS via Crew Dragon as soon as the second quarter of this year.
Not just SpaceX
Elon Musk’s clothing is far from the only game. United Launch Alliance has its own Vulcan heavy-lift vehicle, which is aiming to make its debut this year. Its first launch will send the Peregrine commercial lunar module to the moon for Google’s former Lunar X Prize competitor, Astrobotic.
Boeing’s Starliner, which was chosen at the same time as NASA’s Crew Dragon to carry astronauts into orbit, is finally set to fly with humans for the first time in 2023.
In addition, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are looking to build on their early successes by sending humans on short trips into space. Rocket Lab, meanwhile, has become a dominant force in launching smaller satellites that don’t require a big booster like the Falcon 9. The company aims to make its first launch from a new U.S. launch site in Virginia in the coming weeks and is still trying to recruit in its method of recycling boosters from.
Startups like Firefly and Astra have had a mix of early successes and failures, and they will plan to build on that experience, while others like Relativity Space, ABL andthey are just starting to come out on the ground.
Not just the US
More and more exciting space missions are coming from beyond US borders. In 2023, the European Space Agency is set to launch its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, mission to observe the planet and its three subsurface ocean-hiding moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.
India’s space agency plans to launch its Chandrayaan-3 mission this year, which will attempt to put a lander and rover on the moon for the second time, after the previous attempt ended in a botched crash landing in 2019.
JAXA, Japan’s equivalent of NASA, is looking to launch its X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, also known as XRISM, which will provide a new eye in orbit set to observe X-rays from deep space.
Finally, China hopes to launch in December a new space telescope 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, and 180 of them reached orbit, according to lead orbiter Jonathan McDowell. That’s up from 146 in 2021, and there’s reason to believe we’ll top 200 for the first time this year.
There will be plenty of other milestones to watch along the way, including the selection of Artemis astronauts, the unveiling of the program’s new spacesuits, and the return offrom his confrontational encounter with an asteroid.