It’s been an eventful year for space exploration, with successes including the completion of Nasa’s Artemis 1 mission (finally), the inauguration of the James Webb Space Telescope, and the completion of China’s Tiangong space station.
2023 is set to be another busy year. Here are five of the most exciting missions to watch out for.
Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer In April, the European Space Agency (Esa) is set to launch the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice), in what will be Europe’s first dedicated robotic mission to Jupiter. Juice is due to reach the planet in July 2031 after performing an incredible flight path through the Solar System. The mission will enter into orbit around Jupiter and perform numerous flybys of its large icy moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
After four years of moon flybys, Juice will then enter into orbit around Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System – becoming the first spacecraft ever to reach orbit around the moon of another planet. The icy moons of Jupiter are interesting as they are all believed to host oceans of liquid water beneath their frozen surfaces. Europa, in particular, is regarded as one of the most likely abodes in the Solar System for extra-terrestrial life.
Juice will be equipped with ten scientific instruments including ice-penetrating radar to study the internal oceans. This use of radar is a practical first step in mapping the sub-surface oceans, paving the way for more exotic future missions involving submersible vehicles – some of which have already been put forward. The launch window runs from April 5 to April 25.
others developing their own series of launchers around the world. Skyroot Aerospace, which successfully launched its Vikram-S rocket in November 2022, is soon to become the first private Indian company to launch a satellite.
The rocket itself reached 90km in altitude, a distance that would need to be improved upon to get a constellation of satellites into orbit. Skyroot’s first satellite launch is planned for 2023, with a goal of undercutting the cost of private space launch rivals by producing its 3D-printed rockets in a matter of days. If successful, this could also provide a route for cheaper launches of scientific missions, enabling a faster rate of research.
Clearly, interest in the space sector remains high. With many bold advances and launches due in 2023, we are entering a new phase akin to the “Golden era” of space launches in the 1960s and ’70s.