The wealth of space missions launched in 2021 guarantee a year filled with new findings from across the solar system — and beyond.
Several countries are planning for 2022 to be the year they send robotic explorers to the moon — while planning ahead for the return of humans to the lunar surface in the future.
Here’s what to expect from our exploration of space in 2022.
Mars was a hotspot in 2021, with three missions from separate countries arriving on the red planet early in the year, and the interest in the fourth planet from the sun is only heating up.
Another robotic explorer will also touch down on the red planet. Europe’s first planetary rover is ready to launch.
The larger ExoMars program includes the Trace Gas Orbiter, which was launched to Mars in 2016 and has been sending back scientific data. The Trace Gas Orbiter will also relay information gathered by the rover after it lands on Mars.
Once the ExoMars rover launches in September from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, it will spend nine months cruising through space before reaching Mars on June 10, 2023. The rover will land at Oxia Planum, an area just north of the Martian equator. Oxia Planum is an area containing layers of clay-rich minerals formed in wet conditions 4 billion years ago.
The mission is intended to search for life on Mars and investigate its history of water. The rover has the capability to drill beneath the surface of Mars to a depth of 6.5 feet (2 meters), where the scientists hope they may find signs of life.
Across the solar system
Prepare for more stunning images from NASA’s Juno mission, which has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016. During its extended mission, the spacecraft is moving on to observe some of Jupiter’s 79 moons. It will make a close sweep by one of its most captivating moons, Europa, in September.
Europa intrigues scientists because a global ocean is located beneath its ice shell and it could support life. Occasionally, plumes eject from holes in the ice out into space. Juno may observe those plumes in action.
The collision will be recorded by LICIACube, or Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging of Asteroids, a companion cube satellite provided by the Italian Space Agency. Three minutes after the impact, the CubeSat will fly by Dimorphos to capture images and video.
The video of the impact will be streamed back to Earth, which should be “pretty exciting,” said Elena Adams, DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
Eyes on the moon
In 2022, everyone is looking to send robots to the moon.
The Indian Space Research Organisation will send its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on a lunar mission in 2022.
However, the orbiter for that mission has remained safe as it continues to circle the moon, and it will be used as a communications relay for Chandrayaan-3. The mission will include a lunar lander and rover similar to that of Chandrayaan-2.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is expected to launch SLIM, or the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon mission, in 2022.
Preparing for human spaceflight
In January, the stacked spacecraft and rocket will go through the final test, called a wet dress rehearsal, which includes running through the full set of operations to load propellant into the fuel tanks and a launch countdown — basically everything necessary for a launch without actually launching.
The launch of Artemis I, an uncrewed mission serving as the first step of the ambitious program, will likely lift off in March or April.
During the flight, the Orion spacecraft will launch atop the SLS rocket to reach the moon and travel thousands of miles beyond it — father than any spacecraft intended to carry humans has ever traveled. This mission is expected to last for a few weeks and will end with Orion splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.