Monday, May 23

Science. From the Moon to Mars, the seven must-see space missions in 2022

A second trip aboard the international space station for Thomas Pesquet, the landing of the NASA rover Perseverance and its Chinese counterpart on Mars, the first flight of a mechanical device on another planet thanks to the small Ingenuity helicopter, the launch of the James Webb telescope … In space, 2021 has turned out to be a good year.

But let space exploration enthusiasts rest assured: 2022 promises to be just as packed. Meeting of the Psyche probe with an asteroid, launch of the Artemis mission to the Moon, trip to a satellite of Jupiter, the first European rover on Mars … We take stock of the major events to keep an eye on in the space this year.

Launch of the Artemis mission to the Moon

More than 50 years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, NASA intends to send astronauts back to this coveted satellite thanks to the Artemis program. Of course, the return of Man to the Moon will not take place before 2025. But 2022 will nevertheless be an important year for the American space agency since in February the first mission of the Artémis program, called Artémis 1, will be launched. .

The latter will aim to make the Space Launch System, NASA’s new rocket, and the Orion capsule fly empty. Together, they will circle the Moon without landing on it before returning to Earth, in the Pacific. An inauguration in the form of a test but also symbolic to announce the return of the Americans to the Moon, while China is also planning manned lunar missions towards the end of the decade.

The first flight of SpaceX’s Starship rocket

Selected to serve as a lunar lander for future missions in the Artemis program, the Starship heavy launcher, SpaceX’s mother ship, is due to make its first orbital flight at the start of 2022 from the Boca Chica site in Texas. As a reminder, after several test launches that ended with impressive explosions last year, SpaceX finally managed to re-land its rocket safely. The latter is capable of carrying a load of around one hundred tons.

The flight (s) scheduled for 2022 will be a real test for this launcher of the future developed by the firm of Elon Musk, on which NASA is betting to return to the Moon.

Launch of the first European rover to Mars

After the arrival in 2021 of the NASA rover Perseverance and its Chinese counterpart Zhurong on Mars, it is Europe’s turn to send its own machine to the red planet in 2022. Led by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos – the Russian space agency – the ExoMars mission will be launched next September.

The goal: to send a rover named Rosalind Flanklin discovering the Earth’s closest neighbor. It will be the first machine of this type to set foot on Martian soil. Its landing is scheduled for spring 2023 in the Oxia Planum basin. Rosalind will be responsible for finding traces of life on the Red Planet and studying its atmosphere. ESA said the Russian-European rover will be the very first to “combine the ability to move on the surface and study Mars at depth”. Rosalind will indeed be able to dig up to two meters deep in the ground.

An exploration of the moons of Jupiter

June will see the launch of the Juice mission, intended to explore three frozen moons of Jupiter: Europe, Callisto and Ganymede. Coordinated by the European Space Agency with the support of NASA, Juice aims to verify whether or not under their frozen surface, these three moons are home to oceans, and therefore water, an essential element of life. To find out, it will be necessary to be patient since the probe will not reach Jupiter until 2029. The launch will be carried out from the French base of Kourou, in Guyana.

Launch of the psyche probe towards a metallic asteroid

In 2022, space exploration will meet several asteroids.

NASA will first launch its Psyche probe, the role of which will be to meet the asteroid of the same name located 450 million kilometers from Earth. Why this one precisely? Because this 213-kilometer celestial object – one of the ten largest in the Main Belt – is a metallic pebble made up of neither ice nor rock. Psyche is indeed a metallic asteroid composed largely of gold and other precious metals, such as platinum. Its value is estimated at 700 quintillion dollars … or 93 trillion dollars per inhabitant of the Earth.

The probe should reach the asteroid in 2026. It will be responsible for studying in more detail this celestial object that NASA also suspects to be debris from the core of an ancient planet.

James Webb: the first images expected for the middle of the year

It took off on December 25th. The James Webb telescope should send us its first data in mid-2022. Before that, he must first reach at the end of January the point of Lagrange L2, located 1.5 million kilometers from us. We will then have to wait several months for this telescope of the future to calibrate itself, before it can send us its first discoveries.

James Webb will provide a better understanding of the formation of stars and galaxies, and observe the exoplanets of which astronomers are discovering more and more specimens, to perhaps identify other Earths one day.

The James Webb will follow in the footsteps of the Hubble telescope, which revolutionized the observation of the Universe: it was thanks to him that scientists discovered the existence of a galactic black hole at the center of all galaxies, or water vapor around exoplanets.

The DART mission will attempt to deflect an asteroid

It’s a true sci-fi movie that will take place in space in the fall. After launching its DART probe last November, NASA will launch it against the asteroid Dimorphos. The experiment will allow the evaluation of the kinetic impactor technique, a method that aims to deflect the trajectory of an asteroid that could potentially threaten Earth. NASA hopes that the shock between DART and this rock in space is powerful enough to slow the object by 1%, and thus change its path.

Ariane 6 launch in a few months

SpaceX will not be alone in launching a new generation heavy launcher in 2022. In the second quarter, the European Space Agency will launch the maiden flight of the Ariane 6 rocket, designed to gradually replace its predecessor, Ariane 5. The launch will be from the base in Kourou, Guyana.

Two versions of this launcher have developed: A62 and A64. The latter will be able to carry heavier loads than the former.

Note that this year, ESA is also planning the take-off of Vega-C, a new version of the Italian Vega light launcher.

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