Asteroids, the Moon and Mars: space missions to look forward to in 2022
January 6, 2022 6.45am EST
Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences, The Open University
Monica Grady is chancellor of Liverpool Hope University and a senior
research fellow at London's Natural History Museum. She receives funding
from Science and Technology Facilities Council and the UK Space Agency.
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Rocket boosters being constructed by Nasa with workmen at their base.
The rocket boosters for the Space Launch System that will launch Nasa’s
Artemis I mission to the Moon. NASA/Kim Shiflett
Astronomers ended 2021 on a high with the launch on December 25 of the
James Webb Space Telescope, a joint mission between the European Space
Agency, Nasa and the Canadian Space Agency. It was a relief to hear that
the precision drives that opened up the complex sunshield, which is
about the size of a tennis court, worked perfectly.
The telescope is now on the way to its destination, 1.5 million
kilometres away from Earth, where it will begin a series of tests once
it arrives in late January. If the mission goes to plan, we can expect
to start receiving images from the telescope in mid-2022.
But what else lies in store for space science this year? Here are a few
missions to watch out for.
Listen to Monica Grady on The Conversation Weekly’s recent 2022 science
Nasa’s Artemis programme to send human astronauts back to the Moon in
2024 should get underway in 2022. The last astronauts to step foot on
the Moon in 1972 made it there on a Saturn V rocket. Now Nasa has
created a new generation of rockets, the Space Launch System (SLS),
which will be tested for the first time in March with the launch of the
Artemis 1 mission. This will be a three-week-long, uncrewed test flight
of the Orion spacecraft, which will include a flyby 100km above the
surface of the Moon.
Eventually, the SLS will transport astronauts to the Lunar Gateway, the
next-generation international space station that will be positioned in
orbit around the Moon and act as a way station for missions to the surface.
The Moon will also be targeted by other space agencies in 2022. South
Korea is hoping to launch its first lunar mission, the Korea Pathfinder
Lunar Orbiter, from Cape Canaveral in August. Roscosmos, the Russian
space agency, plans to launch Luna 25 to the Moon’s south pole in July –
over 45 years since Luna 24 returned almost 200g of lunar soil in August
Mid 2022 will be a busy time for space exploration, as Nasa will also
launch its Psyche asteroid mission. Psyche, which is orbiting the Sun
between Mars and Jupiter, is an M-class asteroid, made of metal, so it’s
similar to the core of the Earth.
We’ve never been close to an M-class asteroid before, nor have we been
able to study the core of the Earth because it’s too deep down, so once
this mission arrives in 2026 it should give us a whole new understanding
of asteroid and planetary processes.
Not long after Psyche’s journey begins, the Dart mission, which launched
in November 2021, should arrive at its destination in late September.
Dart – which stands for the double asteroid redirection test – is
heading to asteroid Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos. The goal is to
test what technology it would take to save the Earth from an incoming
asteroid in future. Dart will deliberately crash into the smaller of the
two bodies, Dimorphos, to move its orbit a little bit closer to Didymos,
the larger one. This could give valuable insights into how to shift any
asteroid on a collision course with Earth in the future.
2021 was a busy year for Mars missions with the launch of Nasa’s
Perseverance rover and the Chinese Zhurong rover, both of which continue
to send back incredible images and data from the surface of the red planet.
In September 2022, the European Space Agency is due to launch the next
part of its ExoMars mission in collaboration with Roscosmos. The first
part of the mission, ExoMars 2016, sent a Trace Gas Orbiter to orbit
around Mars in late 2016.
ExoMars 2022 plans to send a Mars rover, the Rosalind Franklin, to the
Martian surface to look for signs of past life. If the launch goes to
plan, we’ll have to wait until 2023 for ExoMars to arrive and for the
rover to start roaming the surface.
All in all, 2022 is looking to be a very exciting and fruitful time for