Several major missions in spaceflight and exploration – and one return to Earth – take place in 2023.
This is your complete guide to the major space missions to watch out for this year.
Explore the solar system in 2023
Jupiter Ise Satellites Explorer
Of the three new explorers heading to the solar system in 2023, the showpiece is undoubtedly Jupiter.
Icy Moon Explorer (juice).
This will be the first time that the European Space Agency has sent a spacecraft beyond the asteroid belt, heading for Jupiter’s three largest Galilean moons: Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.
All three could harbor potential subsurface oceans, and there are plumes of water seen erupting high above Europa that JUICE will look for during two flybys of the Moon.
It will also make 12 passes of Callisto — home to the solar system’s most densely populated surface, indicating that the long-dead world is an ancient relic from the solar system’s creation.
However, JUICE’s primary target is the largest moon in the solar system, Ganymede.
JUICE will investigate all aspects of the moon’s geology, from its mysterious magnetic field to its thin atmosphere.
The JUICE mission’s launch window is April 5-25, reaching Jupiter in July 2031 and entering Ganymede’s orbit in 2034.
Osiris-Rex and Psyche
Later in the year looks like it will be fall for asteroids, as OSIRIS-REx returns with its payload of asteroid dust from asteroid Bennu on September 24.
This is followed by NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, launched in October from the 226 km wide asteroid of the same name.
It is believed that the mineral-rich space rock was once part of the metallic core of a planet destroyed in its infancy, giving a window into a part of the planets normally hidden.
Along the way are two 36kg Janus probes flying to two separate asteroids.
Peregrine and Luna 25 head to the moon
Finally, 2023 will continue the trend of renewed interest in the lunar surface as several landers funded by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program prepare for their first flights.
Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander aims to fly in the first quarter of 2023 and carries six small landers, all built by different countries.
Intuitive Instruments’ Nova-C will follow shortly after, heading toward the relatively unexplored lunar south pole.
Created as an offshoot of the Artemis program, CLPS funded private companies to build lunar landers to support future human landings, both of which will conduct many of NASA’s lunar surface exploration experiments.
It will also carry payloads from commercial customers, including the two-legged Asagumo “roving” vehicle from Anglo-Ukrainian company Spacebit.
It is also heading to the south pole of Roscosmos’ Luna 25, which aims to analyze the composition of lunar soil there.
Its launch is scheduled for July, 47 years after the Russian agency launched its last lunar lander.
missions that will observe the universe
Euclid’s European mission
Two major new space telescopes are heading into space in 2023, starting with the European Space Agency’s Euclid telescope, which will take a deep look at the dark side of the universe — dark matter and dark energy, that is.
While dark matter is the exotic matter that holds galaxies together, dark energy is the force that seems to pull them apart, accelerating the expansion of the universe.
However, although these dark cousins have been a part of our understanding of the universe for decades, we don’t really know what they are.
Euclid will help astronomers understand these mysterious forces by surveying the billions of galaxies, whose light has taken more than 10 billion years to reach us.
Covering a third of the sky outside the Milky Way, astronomers will be able to use Euclid’s data to create a map of galaxies through cosmic time, showing how the universe has expanded and grown.
With this tool in hand, it’s then possible to step back to gain insight into how dark matter and energy shape the universe around us.
Chinese Xuntian Mission
In the last quarter of 2023, the Chinese space agency will launch Xuntian (meaning “Scanning the Heavens”).
The telescope is similar to the old Hubble Space Telescope in many ways — its mirror is two meters wide, it images in the visible and near-ultraviolet, and it’s designed to be multipurpose — but its cameras have 300 times the resolution of its predecessor.
Xuntian will fly in the same orbit, though separate from the recently completed Tiangong space station, and will be able to dock for repairs and upgrades, meaning it can operate long after its first decade.
Human spaceflight is entering a new era. In November 2022, NASA successfully tested the new Orion crew module that will return humans to the moon — and eventually possibly beyond.
But this does not mean that low Earth orbit is being forgotten.
Roscosmos’ Soyuz, China’s Shenzhou, and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will continue to ferry astronauts to their space stations, but two more vehicles may be about to join their ranks.
In April, Boeing hopes to launch the first crewed test launch of its reusable Starliner spacecraft, to ensure the spacecraft is ready to begin ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station full-time.
The mission will have two experienced astronauts on board and will dock with the International Space Station for several days.
The flight is years behind schedule after its first uncrewed test flight in 2019 failed to reach the correct orbit.
After taking more than 60 corrective actions, Boeing successfully repeated the test in May 2022 (although two of the thrusters shut down early), clearing the way for a manned test.
Elsewhere, the Indian Space Research Organization is working on its own crew module, the Gaganyaan, and hopes to complete at least one uncrewed test in the second half of 2023.
If all goes as planned, the spacecraft will be allowed for a test flight with up to three crew members on board in 2024.
If you want to get into low-Earth orbit next year, you’ll certainly be spoiled for choice!
This guide originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine