By Michael Roston
Spaceflight offered unceasing spectacles in 2021. Two new rovers landed on Mars, one of them shadowed by an experimental helicopter. Two billionaires launched themselves to the edge of space, and a third billionaire flew himself higher up into orbit. Then William Shatner flew to space, and a fourth billionaire enjoyed a stay aboard the International Space Station.
At the same time, China started building a fully operational space station but relied on a large rocket that reached orbit and then could not be controlled when part of it re-entered the atmosphere.
Much more happened throughout the year, and 2022 is looking just as busy. Here’s what may happen in 2022:
Massive Rockets Will Roar
Two very big rockets that have never been to space — the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), interplanetary launch vehicle, and the SpaceX Starship — are expected to lift off. SLS is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Each launch costs about $2 billion and each rocket can be used only once. The launch, known as Artemis 1, is scheduled for March or April.
Starship, by contrast, is a fully reusable rocket and is being built by SpaceX alone. It is central to the vision of Elon Musk, the company’s founder, for sending humans to Mars.
Sometime during the year, a Starship prototype with no crew aboard is set to pair with a large reusable booster stage. When the rocket lifts off from a SpaceX launch site in Texas, it will then head to orbit before splashing down off the coast of a Hawaiian island.
The Moon May Greet a Lot of Visitors
If 2021 was the year of missions to Mars, 2022 could be dominated by trips to the moon. As many as nine missions from an assortment of countries and private companies could try to orbit or land on the moon. Five are sponsored by NASA. Three missions are the work of private companies sponsored under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The rest of the moon’s robotic visitors in 2022 come from other countries. India may try to redo its unsuccessful 2019 lunar landing in the summer.
Completing China’s Space Station
China will finish building the Tiangong space station in orbit in 2022. In 2021, China added its Tianhe space module to low-earth orbit and sent two different crews of astronauts to live there. The second crew will come home sometime in 2022.
Encounters with Asteroids
NASA has studied numerous asteroids up close, but now it plans to deliberately crash into one. In September, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test is expected to slam into Dimorphos, a small rock that orbits a bigger asteroid, Didymos.
(Courtesy: The New York Times)