2021 marked a new dawn for space exploration. Cue 2022.
The year 2021 was historic for space exploration.
In just 365 days, we witnessed the genesis of trailblazing achievements such as the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, SpaceX's Inspiration 4, which remarkably sent civilians into outer space, and the applause-filled sendoff of NASA's planetary defense prototype, DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), to name just a few.
We received incredible images from Mars rover Perseverance and its helicopter buddy, Ingenuity, and learned more than we once thought possible about exoplanets and faraway stars in the galaxy.
But 2022 is shaping up to be even better. For starters, the space race is back.
International agencies, including NASA, the European Space Agency, the Korean Aerospace Research Institute and the Indian Space Research Organization have plans to head straight into the void and uncover the universe's best kept secrets. In fact, leading the charge, NASA is readying itself for its upcoming Artemis I mission, which will send an unmanned spacecraft into lunar orbit in an attempt to map out a trajectory for later missions that will include a full crew.
Reusable spacecraft built by private companies SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin are headed to orbit, and we'll be waiting on the first notable pictures taken by Webb, a remarkable device that NASA says could potentially help us understand the origin of the Big Bang.
New rovers are ready to set wheels on the moon and Mars -- although, due to sanctions imposed on Russia as a result of the country's invasion of Ukraine, a highly anticipated joint project between Russia and the European Space Agency, ExoMars, is unlikely to set sail this year as originally planned. Only time will tell how the rest of Roscosmos' space endeavors pan out.
We'll be sure to update this article as we hear more information on that, as well as all other space travel-related updates. Here are the big events to keep an eye out for this year -- if you think we've missed something or if there's a mission you'd really like to see on this list, let us know!
SpaceX claimed the first space mission of 2022. The company sent 49 Starlink satellites into Earth's orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, bringing its grand satellite total to just under 2,000.
Starlink is SpaceX's endeavor to bring low-cost wireless internet connectivity to remote locations by placing thousands of satellites into orbit. The innovative idea, though, has received its fair share of criticism. Astronomers worry, for instance, that too many satellites in the sky will interfere with astronomical observations.
This marks a massive milestone for the field-altering James Webb Space Telescope. Just after 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET on Jan 24., Webb reached the second Lagrange point, a gravitational balance point well past the moon's orbit around Earth and on the side of our planet not facing the sun. Steadied by the combined gravity of the sun and Earth, it's setting up shop to unveil the universe's mysteries.
A huge upgrade from Hubble, the scope will peer past dust clouds hiding star births and catch glimpses of the cosmos just after the Big Bang. So far, it has endured a great deal of midair manipulations, including sunshield deployment, mirror deployment and minute mirror calibrations. You can read more about Webb here.
Happy landing on Mars day, Perseverance! One year ago today, NASA's youngest Mars rover landed on the red planet. It's been sending back awesome photos and exploring unique-looking rocks – and will continue to do so in 2022.
The Axiom-1 mission sent the first private crew to the International Space Station on April 8. The team consists of former NASA astronaut and Axiom Vice President Michael López-Alegría as commander; American entrepreneur and nonprofit activist investor Larry Connor as pilot; Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy; and Israeli impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe, according to Axiom's website.
Rumor has it, each of the four space tourists paid $55 million to get their spot aboard the craft. On April 25, the crew splashed safely down to Earth.
We're living in an awesome time for space exploration -- one in which not one but two private crews will have lived onboard the International Space Station.
On April 27, SpaceX's all-private Crew-4 mission left for a trip among the stars aboard the agency's Crew Dragon capsule. The four astronauts took residence on the ISS, and Jessica Watkins, a mission specialist, became the first Black woman to be a long-term crew member aboard the station.
Since last year, Chinese astronauts have been traveling to and from the country's new space station, Tiangong. By the end of this year, China hopes to complete the spacey abode, with six missions outlined during an April 17 press conference.
May kicked off the mission sequence, beginning with a resupply endeavor, which was then followed by the second step: the launch of a crewed flight. Astronauts aboard that flight will stay in space for six months, and at the end of it all, Tiangong should have two new module attachments, called Wentian and Mengtian, that are expected to act as laboratories for science experiments.
For a few years, Boeing has been trying to move forward with its new reusable Starliner spacecraft, designed to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
In December 2019, the company attempted to launch the Starliner to the ISS, but issues with the vehicle's software prevented it from completing the journey. Boeing has since been working toward a second attempt, and on May 19, that dream reached fruition. At 5:28 p.m. PT on May 20, NASA mission control announced that the Starliner spacecraft had docked with the ISS.
This puts the aerospace giant back in the race alongside SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Fellow eclipse fans, here's what it looked like when the moon moved into Earth's shadow in the middle of May. You can rewatch the whole thing overlaid with NASA commentary on the science behind what you're seeing on CNET Highlights, linked above.
NASA wants to return to the moon. And the very first step of that dream is complete, as the agency's Capstone mission launched on June 28. The liftoff sent a satellite about the size of a microwave oven toward lunar orbit, and when it gets there, NASA will watch and record the elliptical trajectory it takes around the moon. The hope is that navigation data from this satellite can inform later lunar missions, where spacecraft will follow a similar path and use novel technologies that'll also be tested by Capstone.
Capstone had been through a few delays, but the little satellite is officially moon-bound.
The US isn't the only country zeroing in on the moon. Russia's Roscosmos has plans to launch its Luna-25 lunar rover in July.
The rover will study the moon's South Pole to understand the composition of the region's surface and study plasma and dust in the lunar exosphere.
Another step in NASA's lunar dreams is Artemis I, an uncrewed flight that aims to test a crew module's entry, descent and splashdown in preparation for missions that'll have a full crew on board. Artemis I's Orion spacecraft will also involve a few technology demonstrations, including one involving Amazon Alexa.
Initially, the agency reported a possible late May to early June liftoff date and rolled the mission's Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft out to the pad on March 17 for prelaunch testing. But since then it's been quite a roller-coaster ride for Artemis I. During what's called the wet dress rehearsal stage, the Artemis team hit several unexpected obstacles, ranging from faulty valves to literal lightning strikes. Now launch is projected to happen in August. We'll update this article when we know more.
The modern space race has a new competitor: South Korea. The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter is set to launch sometime in August from Kennedy Space Center aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.
The country's first moon mission, this lunar orbiter will test various technologies, such as a demo "space internet." It'll also begin scoping out possible landing sites for future missions on the moon's surface.
NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, completed the first portion of its mission in 2020: imaging about 75% of the starry sky. Since then, it's been working on the secondary, or extended, mission to resume surveying the rest of the observable sky, which will be completed at some point in September.
In the many months following its first dazzling image, the planet-hunting space probe has uncovered several Earth-like planets tons of light-years away, comets flitting through the void and even a few dusty mysteries orbiting distant galaxies. Cheers to a job well done, TESS!
In November, NASA launched its prototype of a very sci-fi-sounding planetary defense system. The DART mission sent a probe to crash into an asteroid, Dimorphos, to change the flying rock's course around a larger asteroid, Didymos.
The agency undertook this endeavor as proof of principle that such measures might be able to protect us should an asteroid threaten our planet. This September, DART will make contact with the asteroid and record indispensable crash data every step of the way.
NASA's Juno mission has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, providing us with gorgeous photos of the gas giant you may not believe aren't CGI. In late September, it'll fly by one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, and hopefully send back equally mesmerizing images of the bright orb.
According to the agency, Europa may be the best spot in our solar system to check for alien life.
In October, a partial solar eclipse will decorate the sky. This phenomenon occurs when the sun, moon and Earth aren't perfectly aligned. The moon isn't completely blocking the sun's rays of light, so it looks like a shadow.
PSA: Don't look directly at the sun with the naked eye. Be careful to carry the right equipment if you want to check this out, or better yet, catch photos later and just mentally bask in the glory of it happening in real time.
Yet another total lunar eclipse will adorn the sky in November in case you couldn't catch the first one in May. It will be visible in Asia, Australia, North America, parts of Northern and Eastern Europe, and most of South America.
Reusable spacecraft are the new thing. Sometime this year, SpaceX's reusable Starship may finally lift off after a series of failed attempts, some of which ended in literal flames. Despite the success of the SN15 attempt in May, when the craft briefly hopped off the Earth, there's been increasing pressure to truly send the craft all the way into space.
Right now, SpaceX is waiting for the green light to launch from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has postponed the final decision date from Dec. 31 to Feb. 28, and more recently, to March 28. But the organization has said it hopes to conduct a dozen Starship launches by the end of 2022. We'll update this article when there's a finalized date.
Probably in late 2022, we'll see the launch of Blue Origin's partially reusable rocket New Glenn. It's Starship's main competitor, and the company says it'll join NASA's fleet of commercial space vehicles. We'll update this article when there's a finalized date.
In the second half of 2022, India's two Gaganyaan uncrewed test flights are scheduled to launch. The second will carry a robot called Vyommitra as a human stand-in, and if all goes well, 2023 will see a third, crewed Gaganyaan mission blast into space.
The Rosalind Franklin rover, a joint project of Russia and the European Space Agency, is embarking on a mission dubbed ExoMars to find something unexpected on Mars. The rover is named after the scientist critical to the discovery of DNA. DNA or not, it will add to our repertoire of spectacular photos and information of the red planet's surface.
Originally scheduled to launch in 2020, it was delayed due to hardware and software issues as well as COVID-19 setbacks. Then, it was scheduled to launch in September and arrive on the rocky orb in 2023, but due to Russia's war on Ukraine, the European Space Agency stated that a 2022 launch date seems "very unlikely." The next opportunity where Earth and Mars orbits align for launch won't come until 2024.
Calling all scorching rock and metal lovers, here's a list of 2022's meteor showers.
April 15 to 29: Lyrids. Peaks April 21-22.
April 15 to May 27: Eta Aquarids. Peaks May 4-5.
July 7 to Aug. 15: Alpha Capricornids. Peaks July 30-31.
July 18 to Aug. 21: Southern delta Aquariids. Peaks July 29-30.
July 14 to Sept. 1: Perseids. Peaks Aug. 11-12.
Sept. 26 to Nov. 22: Orionids. Peaks Oct. 20-21.
Sept. 28 to Dec. 2: Southern Taurids. Peaks Nov. 4-5.
Oct. 13 to Dec. 2: Northern Taurids. Peaks Nov. 11-12.
Sept. 3 to Dec. 2: Leonids. Peaks Nov. 17-18.
Nov. 19 to Dec. 24: Geminids. Peaks Dec 13-14.
Dec. 13 to 24: Ursids. Peaks Dec. 21-22.
Dec. 26 to Jan. 16, 2023: Quadrantids. Peaks Jan. 2-3.