Space Missions to Watch in 2021 – Sky & Telescope

Artemis 1
Artemis 1 on its solution to the Moon.

2020 was one other groundbreaking yr in area flight. Prior to now yr, three missions launched towards the Pink Planet, NASA sampled an with Osiris-REX, and China and Japan each accomplished profitable pattern returns. 2020 additionally noticed the return of crewed area launches from U.S. soil with the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

2021 guarantees to be one other wonderful yr in to low-Earth orbit and past. (Observe that every one launch dates talked about on this article are topic to vary.)

Low-Earth Orbit

A number of non-public corporations are taking to area in a giant manner in 2021.

SpaceX will ship three Crew Dragon missions to the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) in 2021, together with the primary absolutely non-public mission for Axiom Area aboard Resilience in October.

SpaceX and OneWeb, which is again in enterprise after declaring Chapter 11 chapter earlier this yr, will even proceed so as to add satellites to their in 2021. These hundreds of low-Earth orbiters will finally present broadband web service, however they’ve the unintended consequence of interfering with astronomy. Each corporations are planning for a launch cadence of 1 batch of satellites each month in 2021. As of late 2020, SpaceX was already offering beta testing to pick out clients for its Starlink service.

Orbital launches for the mid-U.S. Japanese Seaboard are about to get much more widespread, as start-up Rocket Lab will start launching its Electron rocket with smallsat rideshare payloads from NASA’s Wallops Island complicated in Virginia beginning in February 2021.

Rocket Lab's Electron rocket
Coming quickly to Wallops Island, a Rocket Lab Electron rocket at Mahia Launch Advanced One in New Zealand.
Rocket Lab

Look ahead to Boeing’s Starliner — which competes with SpaceX’s crew Dragon for NASA funding — to return to flight. Starliner launched in December 2019 however failed to succeed in the ISS. A second, uncrewed check flight was scheduled for later in 2020 however has now moved to March 29, 2021.

The aerospace firm Blue Origin could be part of the orbital membership in 2021, with the inaugural flight of its two-stage New Glenn rocket from Cape Canaveral Area Pressure Station in July.

RAVN-X drone
An Aevum RAVN-X drone on the ramp.

Area logistics firm Aevum announced in late 2020 that they’ll quickly start air-launching small orbital payloads from their RAVN-X drone platform, flying out of Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida.

China’s large push in 2021 is to launch Tianhe 1, the primary core module for his or her subsequent crewed area station. That launch is at the moment slated for March; crew and cargo flights will observe beginning later within the yr.

The Indian Area Analysis Group may conduct its first uncrewed flight of Gaganyaan (Sanskrit for “sky-craft”) in December 2021, in preparation for ’s first crewed launches in 2022.

Moon Missions

2021 is also a busy yr when it comes to lunar spaceflight.

First up, NASA’s Cis-lunar Autonomous Positioning System Know-how Experiment (CAPSTONE) will launch from NASA Wallops with Rocket Lab in April 2021. CAPSTONE will enter a extremely elliptical polar orbit across the Moon, a forerunner to the crewed lunar Gateway station.

In November, NASA’s Area Launch System (SLS) rocket will make its first flight with the uncrewed Artemis 1 launch. Artemis 1 will make a lunar flyby and return, testing key applied sciences forward of the primary crewed SLS launch in 2023. The ring-shaped MPCV stage adapter aboard Artemis 1 will even deploy 13 smallsat lunar payloads, together with the Lunar Flashlight and the Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper.

Orion capsule
The Orion capsule for the Artemis 1 mission present process environmental testing at Plum Brook Station in Clevelan, Ohio.

Two commercial missions will even head to the Moon as a part of NASA’s Lunar Payload Companies (CLPS) program:

First up is Astrobotics’ Peregrine Mission One lander, which can head to the Moon aboard United Launch Alliance’s debut of its Vulcan Heavy rocket in July 2021. Peregrine will land close to a pit within the Lacus Mortis plain. It is going to then launch three rovers, together with U.Ok.-based start-up Spacebit’s Asagumo, a four-legged rover which can scout out a suspected lava tube.

Then in October, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will carry Intuitive Machines’ Lunar Mission One and Nova-C lander to the floor of the Moon. Nova-C will carry a set of scientific experiments to Oceanus Procellarum.

Russia additionally plans to launch the Luna 25/Luna-Glob lander on October 1, 2021. This mission options an orbiter and lander, which can head to the Boguslavsky Crater close to the lunar south pole. That is the primary mission to the Moon for Russia for the reason that Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

India may make one other lunar touchdown try in late 2021 with Chandrayaan 3. Although its Chandrayaan 2 orbiter remains to be in operation, the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover crashed on the Moon in September 2019.

Welcome to Mars

An thrilling yr of Mars exploration is arising in early 2021, because of three launches in the summertime of 2020.

First, the United Arab Emirates’ Mars Hope mission will enter orbit across the Pink Planet on February ninth. The Hope orbiter marks a primary for the UAE and can be part of an armada of spacecraft in operation round Mars, together with NASA’s Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN missions, in addition to India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, and the Area Company’s Mars Categorical and Hint Gasoline Orbiter.

Perseverance in the lab
The Perseverance Rover deploys the Ingenuity Mars helicopter within the lab.
NASA / JPL / J.Krohn

In February 18th, NASA will try a second -style touchdown with the Perseverance Rover over Jezero Crater. Not like the primary sky crane-landed rover Curiosity in 2012, Perseverance is particularly designed to seek for proof of life, and can acquire and stow samples for a future sample-return mission.

China’s first Mars mission Tianwen 1 will even enter Mars orbit in February. An all-in-one bundle, 1 options an orbiter, lander, and rover. The lander and rover are focused for a touchdown in Utopia Planitia on April 23rd.

Astrophysics and Past

After all, the massive ticket launch in 2021 is NASA’s James Webb Area Telescope, set for October 31, 2021. However first, there are a number of different missions value keeping track of.

The Laser Relativity tv for pc (LARES-2) launches on an ESA Vega-C rocket for the Italian Area Company in June 2021. A follow-up to the primary LARES mission in 2012, LARES-2 will additional refine the measurement of the relativistic impact generally known as frame-dragging.

NASA’s Double-Asteroid Redirection Take a look at (DART) will launch from Vandenberg Air Pressure Base on July 21, 2021. DART will head to and impression asteroid 65803 Didymos in October 2022. DART additionally carries an asteroid-imaging smallsat (Gentle Italian Cubesat for the Imaging of Asteroids, or LICIACube) for the Italian Area Company.

Wanting towards the inside photo voltaic system, the European Area Company’s BepiColombo mission will carry out its second and closest flyby (343 miles/552 kilometers) previous Venus on August 11, 2021, earlier than it makes its first Mercury flyby on October 2, 2021. BepiColombo will flyby the innermost planet six instances earlier than inserting into Mercury orbit in 2025.

Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE)
An artist’s conception of IXPE in area.

In mid-September, SpaceX will launch NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) . The mission will characteristic three equivalent X-ray telescopes that can work in tandem to review the polarization of cosmic X-ray sources.

Then NASA’s Lucy mission will head out to discover the Trojan asteroids of Jupiter. The mission is ready to launch from Cape Canaveral someday within the October 16–November 5 window. Lucy will go to seven asteroids, beginning with main-belt asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson in 2025.

Lastly, barring any additional delays, the James Webb Area Telescope will launch on October 31, 2021. JWST’s launch date has been a shifting goal for the previous decade because it has weathered a number of technical points. However now its launch atop an Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou Area Heart in French Guiana may very well come to go. The mission has good cause to be cautious: JWST will head in direction of the Solar-Earth L2 Lagrange level to start operations, and in contrast to Hubble in low-Earth orbit, can’t be reached for repairs or servicing. Nevertheless, current checks have unfolded (literally) and not using a hitch.

James Webb Space Telescope sunshield
Inspecting and testing the solar shade for JWST within the lab.
NASA / Chris Gunn

And there’s extra to return. In 2022, we will anticipate to see the launch of ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) and delayed ExoMars rover Rosalind Franklin. There are many thrilling area missions to observe for in 2021 and past.



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