6 Interesting Space Missions to Follow in 2022
Last Updated: February 1, 2022
The end of 2021 witnessed the launch of the biggest and the most complex space observatory — the James Webb Space Telescope.
100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope and the size of a giant tennis court, JWST is a complex origami deployed in space to answer some of humankind’s most fundamental questions by looking back in time.
From its place in space where the Sun, Earth and the Moon are behind it all the time, JWST will analyze the light from the very first stars and galaxies. As we roll into 2022, here are the exciting missions to keep an eye out for.
1. The Artemis Program
- Destination: The Moon
- Organization: NASA
- Launch dates: Artemis I, March 2022 (uncrewed), Artemis II, May 2024 (first crewed flight)
- Spacecraft: Orion
- Launch Vehicle: The Space Launch System for Orion, and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for the Gateway (mini space station in orbit)
- How to follow this mission: @NASAArtemis
The last time humans went to the Moon was in 1972. 50 years later, NASA’s Artemis program is an effort to send humans to the Moon once again, and this time for sustainable habitability.
The mission will send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon in 2024. The crew will work toward establishing a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface and put processes in place for extracting lunar resources such as volatiles and minerals.
Finally, by landing in and exploring the lunar south pole, the knowledge from the Artemis program is expected to aid astronauts in leaping to Mars. Why stop at the Moon, right? You can learn more about the Artemis mission here.
2. Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment-1 (PRIME-1)
- Destination: The Moon
- Organization: NASA
- Launch date: December 2022
- Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
- How to follow this mission: NASA’s website
Before the Artemis astronauts land on the Moon, NASA is sending a lunar lander to learn as much as possible about the lunar surface, especially the presence of water.
The PRIME-1 mission, scheduled to launch in December 2022 will be the first “in-situ resource utilization demonstration”, which means NASA plans to place sustainable infrastructure to make the best use of local resources to aid in deep space missions.
From spacecrafts orbiting the Moon, we know that the polar regions have abundant water, but NASA hasn’t detected its presence directly. The PRIME-1’s lunar lander contains instruments that are able to dig up to three feet deep into the lunar surface and extract regolith (lunar soil), which the spectrometer on board will analyze for water and other important chemical compounds.
Interesting additions to the mission include a “hopper” that will demonstrate carrying about 1 kg payload for 2.5 km, and a Nokia LTE 4G communications test experiment. Perhaps calling from the Moon via telecommunication might get much simpler!
3. ExoMars mission
The primary purpose for many space missions and the ultimate reason for all of them is to better understand our place in the universe and to try and detect signs of present or past life in every place explored.
Similar is the goal with ExoMars (also known as Rosalind Franklin), a joint mission led by the ESA and Roscosmos to detect signs of past life on Mars, as well as the planet’s history. To do so, the mission contains a rover that will dig, for the first time, 2 meters below the Martian surface and analyze its components.
The mission was initially scheduled to launch in 2022 but faced 2 years of delay due to technical issues in parachutes and solar panels.
4. Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE)
- Destinations: Jupiter, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa
- Organization: NASA and ESA
- Launch date: 2022
- How to follow this mission: ESA’s website
Interesting name for an interesting mission. NASA and ESA’s JUICE mission will spend three years collecting data about the interiors of Jupiter and three of its moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa.
The purpose of the data collection is to understand how habitable worlds form around gas giants and circle back to the importance of water — to detect the presence of water beneath Europa’s surface.
Europa has been a moon of immense interest in the scientific community because of the predicted abundant presence of water beneath its icy surface.
An artist’s concept of the JUICE mission. Source: ESA
5. The Psyche Mission
The cores of terrestrial planets like Earth are made of nickel and iron, building blocks in the formation of planets but ones that have been impossible to study (because of their position in planets). The Psyche mission might change that.
Psyche is an asteroid rich in metals orbiting the Sun from its position between Mars and Jupiter. From the exposed nickel-iron core, Psyche is thought to be the remains of an early planet.
This would be the first mission exploring a metallic world (as opposed to rocky or icy worlds), from which scientists hope to explore the history of collisions and accretions that lead to planet formation.
6. Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission
- Destination: Didymos
- Organization: NASA
- Launch date: 2021, arrival at asteroid September 2022
- How to follow this mission: NASA Website
What happens when an asteroid is moving in the direction of Earth in the line of impact? Let’s hope that scenario doesn’t happen but for an action plan in case it does, scientists launched the DART mission in 2021.
With the primary goal to find out if a spacecraft crashing into an asteroid could change the asteroid’s motion, NASA’s DART mission is headed toward — and right into — asteroid Didymos.
The asteroid is not a threat to Earth in any way, but it provides scientists with the perfect testing ground to test the kinetic impactor theory for the first time.
With a lot of firsts and other important missions, 2022 certainly consists of enough reasons to keep looking up. Which mission are you most looking forward to and why? Let us know in the comment section 🙂
Written by Sharmila Kuthunur
Sharmila Kuthunur is a freelance science writer based in India. She is a computer engineer by profession, and found her love for astronomy in one of Carl Sagan’s books – The Pale Blue Dot, and has been hooked ever since. She has a fondness for old school astronomy and spends almost all of her free time either gazing up at the sky or reading about it. She can be reached via email or Twitter.
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