Space race – what will capture our imaginations in 2023?

Cosmos Space correspondent Jamie Seidel reveals what the international space community has in store for us in 2023.

Corporate competition has taken a new twist in 2023: All eyes are on which company will be the first to reach the Moon’s surface.

Several will attempt to make the 384,400km climb to test new technologies and search for water ice among the shadows of the south pole.

The first lunar lander is already on its way.

The privately funded Hakuto-R carries rovers built by Japan and the United Arab Emirates. It’s expected to touch down in March.

Close behind are two more landers, Peregrine and Nova-C. These are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payloads Services project which wants Artemis to piggyback such commercial activities.

Previously in Cosmos: Artemis

National space agencies haven’t capitulated to big business yet, though.

NASA’s own Lunar Trailblazer orbiter will take up the search for water from the middle of the year.

India’s having another go at getting to the Moon. Its first attempt crashed during a landing in 2019. Chandrayaan-3 has learnt from the experience and is set to try again in June.

Japan’s space agency also has several projects. The SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) doesn’t have a launch date yet. But its mission is to test new lander technology.

Once there, it will deploy the radical new SORA-Q rover. It’s a fist-sized transforming robot developed by toymakers to roll (or wobble) across the lumpy lunar regolith and send snapshots back home.

Soaring profits

SpaceX is continuing to cement its place in the orbital business. It now has some experience in ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). But, this year, it has loftier goals.

All eyes are on its massive, totally reusable Starship rocket.

It underwent launchpad tests in late 2022. A launch date hasn’t been declared, but speculation places the attempt sooner rather than later.

If successful, it will put NASA’s enormous Space Launch System (used for the first time to send an uncrewed module around the Moon in November) in its shadow as the largest rocket to ever reach orbit.

Jamie Seidel in Cosmos: Australian space industry developments 2023

The Polaris Dawn mission,  scheduled for March, wants to reach an orbit of 700km before allowing its four paying passengers to take a spacewalk. It will then fly higher, to 1200km, to measure parts of the Van Allen radiation belt.

But Boeing wants to muscle in on the action.

Its competing crewed capsule, the much-delayed Starliner, has a new inaugural launch date of April.

And Axiom is back in the act with a scheduled delivery of four astronauts to the ISS in April.

Behind these headline acts, though, will be a continuation of the near-exponential growth in the number of satellites being boosted into orbit.

Amazon plans to launch the first of 3000 internet satellites this year. It wants to break the monopoly of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation in servicing remote and mobile customers. But it will also likely inflame debate about how much stuff the world wants illuminating its night skies – and how orbital collisions can be avoided.

Blue Origins hopes it will get its mojo back after a September 2022 launch failure. It wants to prove its reusable New Glenn rocket is up to the job.

United Launch Alliance also has a heavy lifter set to take off for the first time. The Vulcan-Centaur is contracted to carry the Peregrine lunar lander and Amazon’s first satellites.

And hopes are that Sierra Space’s reusable Dream Chaser shuttle-like spaceplane will get its first flight sometime this year.

To boldly go …

With all eyes on the Moon this year, deep space will still receive some attention.

Even among the corporates.

New Zealand’s Rocket Lab plans to launch the first private space mission to another planet. It wants its Electron rocket to put a small probe in orbit around Venus to scour its clouds for signs of microbial life.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has a launch scheduled for April that will boost JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) on its way to the Jovian orbit.

Callisto, Europa and Ganymede are all coated with ice. And we now know they have deep oceans underneath. JUICE will use radar to probe these depths while seeking to identify biosignatures among ice-volcano ejecta.

The ESA’s Euclid dark matter telescope  has a new ride. It was supposed to be carried into orbit by a Russian rocket. But, following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, that job has now been handballed to SpaceX. One of its Falcon 9s is slated to do the job later this year.

In September, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will fly past Earth on its way to the asteroid Apophis. But it will drop off a capsule carrying samples of asteroid Bennu collected in 2020.

Asteroids remain a hot topic for NASA. Its Psyche mission will be launched in August to check if asteroid Psyche-16 really does hold about $1000 quintillion worth of rare-earth minerals.

China’s also about to escalate its space exploration act.

The Xuntian space telescope is due to be launched in late 2023. It will be docked with the Tiangong space station before lifting its lens cap to start snapping high-resolution photos of the stars.

But the Australian Space Agency has its feet firmly planted on the Earth.

“In 2023, we need to demonstrate space technology’s critical role in enhancing national wellbeing to address challenges such as climate change, natural disasters and achieving net zero targets,” says Vignelles. “Space is also a key driver for diverse technologies which have applications in a variety of sectors – from advanced manufacturing and health, to transport and defence – and creates markets for critical technologies such as quantum and AI.”

Also this week with Jamie Seidel Keeping the highways in space safe and clear – Cosmos Weekly

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