Here are 15 exciting upcoming space missions that are worth looking out for in 2023
2022 was a massive year for space missions with the likes of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope going operational and the U.S. space agency's DART spacecraft also slamming into an asteroid and altering its trajectory for the first time in history.
SpaceX, meanwhile, is looking to follow up a record-breaking year with another one with the launch of its fully reusable Starship rocket, which it hopes will eventually carry humans to Mars.
Several nations are also looking to achieve new milestones in what is likely to be another exciting year for spaceflight. Here are just a few missions that are worth looking out for in 2023.
1. Starship orbital maiden flight
The date for the first orbital launch of Starship has been predicted and pushed back on more than one occasion by both SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and President Gwynne Shotwell.
SpaceX, understandably, won't want to rush the first launch of its incredibly complex, fully reusable machine — it will, after all, be the world's most powerful rocket once operational.
Still, we may not be too far from the orbital launch of Starship, as Musk said it was about two static fire tests from launch two static fire tests ago. We don't yet have a concrete date for the launch of Starship, but it was previously expected to launch at the tail-end of 2022, meaning it may be closer than we think.
2. SpaceX's Crew-6 mission
SpaceX is preparing for its sixth operational crew launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in February. The mission will launch from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center in mid-February.
The crew will include NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, as well as Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and Sultan Al Neyadi of the United Arab Emirates. They will stay aboard the ISS for 180 days.
3. Boeing's first crewed Starliner capsule flight
Boeing is looking to finally launch a crew to the ISS with its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Last May, the crew capsule flew to — and docked with — the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.
In April, it will lift two astronauts, commander Barry 'Butch' Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams aboard a Starliner sitting atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
4. ESA's Jupiter JUICE mission
The European Space Agency (ESA) is aiming to launch its JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission in April. The mission will launch on one of the last Ariane 5 rocket launches from Kourou in French Guiana.
The mission will orbit and explore Jupiter and its icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. To get there, it will first have to travel through deep space for seven years and perform gravity-assist maneuvers around Earth and Venus.
5. Russia's first 'Luna' moon mission since 1976
Russia's last moon mission, the sample return Luna 24 mission, launched in 1976. The country is now finally preparing to launch its next moon mission, Luna 25, in July this year.
If all goes to plan, the mission will launch aboard a Soyuz-2-1b Fregat rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome and will land at Boguslavsky crater near the moon's south pole. It will then study the lunar regolith and exosphere in the region.
The lunar south pole is a target for Russia, the U.S., and China, due to the fact that ice reserves at the location could provide water and oxygen for future lunar habitats.
6. SpaceX's record-breaking Polaris Dawn spacewalk mission
The private Polaris Dawn mission will break a number of records after it launches aboard a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center. It will include the first commercial spacewalk in history as well as the highest-altitude spacewalk ever.
Jared Isaacman, the billionaire behind SpaceX's first "all-civilian" space mission, Inspiration4, will be the commander for Polaris Dawn. Last year, Isaacman unveiled the Polaris Program, which may also include the first crewed Starship launch.
7. India's Chandrayaan 3 lunar lander launch
India's last attempt at a lunar landing, with Chandrayaan 2, unfortunately, ended in failure when control was lost as its lunar lander made a powered descent toward the moon's surface.
This year, the Chandrayaan 3 mission is expected to launch in June from Satish Dhawan Space Center on an LVM 3 rocket. If successful, India will join the three other nations to have successfully soft landed on the moon — the U.S., Russia, and China.
8. China's Xuntian space telescope launch
China is aiming to launch its Xuntian space telescope in late 2023. The telescope will be able to dock with China's almost completed Tiangong space station and will reportedly have a view 300 times wider than NASA's iconic Hubble Space Telescope.
The telescope launch could prove to be controversial as it will be lifted aboard a Long March 5B rocket. That is the same rocket type that recently caused the closure of part of Spain's airspace due to concerns over uncontrolled falling rocket debris.
9. Europe's first reusable rocket? Spain's Miura 1 launch
Spanish firm PLD Space successfully completed a full mission test in September that paved the way for the launch of its suborbital class Miura 1 rocket.
While that launch won't have the same prestige as an orbital launch, Miura 1 will be recovered from the ocean after launch from the Arenosillo launch facility in the south of Spain.
So, if all goes to plan, PLD Space will have Europe's first reusable rocket on its hands. The work it does on Miura 1 will also contribute to the eventual launch of the company's reusable Miura 5 rocket, which is expected to launch from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana by 2024.
10. NASA's Psyche asteroid mission launch
NASA's Psyche asteroid mission is set to launch in October atop a Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If the launch goes ahead as scheduled, the Psyche spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in August 2029.
It will observe and investigate the asteroid Psyche 16, which has been estimated by some scientists to contain $700 quintillion worth of rare metals. That amount has been disputed, however, and the only way to truly find out is to send a spacecraft.
11. SpaceX's dearMoon artist mission around the moon
In December, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced the eight artists who would join him on a private trip around the moon aboard SpaceX's Starship rocket.
The list includes famous space YouTuber Tim Dodd, also known as the Everyday Astronaut. The private mission is scheduled to launch in 2023, though that will depend largely on the outcome of the upcoming orbital maiden flight of Starship.
12. Rocket Lab's self-funded Venus mission
New Zealand and California-based Rocket Lab may well become the first company to launch a private space mission to another planet, beating SpaceX to the punch.
The company announced last year that it aims to send a small probe to Venus by 2023 to search for signs of microbial extraterrestrial life in the clouds of our nearest planetary neighbor. The company will launch a probe aboard one of its Electron rockets. Once it reaches Venus, it will fly at an altitude of 48 to 60 kilometers.
13. The orbital launch of Dream Chaser
Sierra Space may launch its Space Shuttle-like Dream Chaser spacecraft to orbit for the first time this year.
The spacecraft is expected to eventually launch humans to Blue Origin and Sierra Space's private space station, Orbital Reef.
It is also designed to take cargo and crew to the ISS and it features a massive inflatable space habitat the size of a three-story building.
14. Two new private rocket launches, the Vulcan Centaur and Ariane 6
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is expecting to launch its heavy-lift Vulcan Centaur rocket for the first time in the first quarter of the year.
That rocket will use a pair of Blue Origin BE-4 engines to power it to orbit. That first launch will carry a pair of Amazon's Starlink-rivaling Project Kuiper satellites to orbit.
The European firm Arianspace's Ariane 6 could also launch to orbit, though likely later in the year.
15. NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return
NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission is expected to return its asteroid sample to Earth in September this year.
Alongside the U.S. space agency's DART and Psyche missions, it will cap a trio of asteroid missions that will help the scientific community learn a great deal about the composition of space rocks.
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