Writing about the space industry kept me sane during the turbulent and turbulent times of 2020. While the pandemic has spread across the globe and America has dealt with deeply divided social and political issues, the space industry is more or less connected.
Three missions to Mars have been launched. NASA is back in the human spaceflight game, Thanks to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle. The Osiris Rex spacecraft touched an asteroid, while a Japanese spacecraft returned several grams of asteroid regolith. China has returned some moon rocks to Earth. In South Texas, some Starships lived, and some Starships died. It was all glorious to watch.
As we look forward to a new year, there is much, if not more, space for good to come. She asked readers for suggestions On Twitter about what to expect in the next year and received over 400 responses. This list is a recap of those ideas, along with some of mine, for gathering the goodies we look forward to so much in 2021. Spoiler alert: There is a lot.
But first, a cautionary note: History has taught us that not all of this will happen (see, for example, Space preview last year). And if a missile or other major technical program has a schedule that culminates in the next year’s Q4 flight away, it is very likely to slip into the following year. However, we’re doing our best to guess what might happen this year in space.
The arrival of the Mars fleet
Three missions to Mars were launched from Earth during the summer of 2020, and all three missions are now approaching the red planet. The big question is, will the three get there safely in February?
The UAE’s first mission to the red planet, Mars Hope, is slated to arrive on February 9th. At this time, the spacecraft will make a difficult maneuver to slow down and enter orbit around Mars with a low altitude above the planet. 1,000 kilometers. If all goes well, the spacecraft will spend a Martian year – 687 Earth days – studying the planet’s atmosphere and better understanding its weather.
China has not said exactly when its ambitious Tianwen-1 mission will reach Mars, but it is expected in mid-February. After the spacecraft enters orbit, it will spend two months preparing to descend to the surface and assess the planned landing site in the Utopia Planetia region. After that, China will try to become only the second country to easily land a spacecraft on Mars that survives for more than a few seconds. It will be a big moment for the country’s space program.
NASA Mars Perseverance ThIt is likely the last of three missions to reach Mars, reaching the Red Planet in mid-February and attempting to land Jezero Crater on February 18th. That entry, descent, and landing stage – just like the Curiosity Lander in 2012 – will be TV must-watch.
History indicates that at least one of these three tasks will not succeed, but we hope to challenge these odds.
More spacecraft flights
SpaceX ended up flying Starship three times in 2020. It has twice sent prototypes with a single engine to a distance of 150 meters. Then, in December, it sent a full-size prototype to an altitude of about 12.5 kilometers. during This amazing trip, The vehicle – complete with three Raptor engines, a nose cone, and flaps – performed a floppy belly maneuver and nearly landed safely in South Texas.
We will likely expect more flights to higher altitudes in 2021. As SpaceX founder Elon Musk Lars explained In February, SpaceX focused on building the machine to build the machine in South Texas. Now, much of that work is complete, and SpaceX is rapidly producing Starship vehicles at the Boca Chica launch site. In late December, when the company rotated the “serial number 9” spacecraft to the platform, components from 10 to 17 vehicles were at various works in the factory beneath the tents.
At the same time, SpaceX has also begun manufacturing the Super Heavy rocket that will serve as the first stage of the Starship. It seems plausible that one of the spacecraft currently under construction could attempt orbital flight over Super Heavy this year. or not. One thing is for sure – it will be fun to witness the trials, tribulations, and victories that SpaceX has achieved as it seeks to build an interplanetary spacecraft never seen before.
James Webb Space Telescope
Squabbles over delays on an ultra-ambitious launch schedule James Webb Space Telescope It’s becoming popular in the space community, and indeed this major astrophysics mission is way behind schedule and over budget.
However, NASA’s current scientific leadership appears to have addressed a number of technical and management issues that were plaguing the telescope program and are causing delays after a delay. Now, there appears to be quiet confidence that the NASA Space Telescope will stick to its October 31, 2021 launch date on the European Ariane V rocket.
After launch, tension will only increase as the telescope undergoes a two-week process that will see the sunvisor deploy in addition to the primary and secondary mirror combinations. All this could spell a dramatic end to 2021 for astronomers – or a tragic end if this complex process goes awry.