Although humans have been propelling satellites and other humans into space for over 50 years now, space travel is no less exciting. Here are some upcoming launches you should watch and why they matter.
Artemis 1: November 16, 2022
Artemis 1 may be the most important mission for NASA in the least the last decade. It is the first full test of the Space Launch System, a massive multi-stage rocket intended to serve the same purpose as the Saturn V of the 1960s—to send humans to the moon. Modified versions could be used to send heavy cargo into space (such as parts for new space stations) or to take humans to Mars and beyond.
This first mission is unmanned (no people on board), but the goal is to launch the empty Orion space capsule on a 280,000-mile trip to the moon and back. If all goes well, Artemis II can take humans on the same journey. The current launch window opens on November 16, 2022 at 1:04 AM Eastern Time. Live coverage will be available on the NASA app, the agency’s website and NASA’s YouTube channel.
The launch has already been pushed back several times, due to technical problems and weather. The initial launch window was set for August 29, 2022, but it was canceled due to discovered problems with cooling an engine. NASA tried again on September 3, but stalled due to a leak of liquid hydrogen in the core stage, then the rocket was rolled back into the vehicle building as Hurricane Ian approached Florida. It’s now back on the launch pad, but there’s still a chance Tropical Storm Nicole could change NASA’s plans again.
Cargo Dragon launch: November 18, 2022
SpaceX has been flying cargo to the International Space Station for years, thanks to a contract with NASA, using the Dragon 1 and Dragon 2 spacecraft. The next “Cargo Dragon” mission is set for November 18, 2022.
Although the Dragon capsule Can carry people to the International Space Station – the first time was in 2020 – there will be no people on this mission. The SpaceX CRS-26 Mission will be an unmanned mission to resupply the space station using a Cargo Dragon capsule and a Falcon 9 rocket. The payload includes a portable hand-held microscope to improve health diagnoses in space, solar panels for the station, a tomato experiment and more.
The current launch is targeted for November 18 and will take place at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX will likely show a live stream on its YouTube channel, and the launch may also be shown on the NASA app, the agency’s website and NASA’s YouTube channel.
Intuitive Machines Payload of the Moon: December 22, 2022
Another part of NASA’s lunar mission plan is Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS for short. The program aims to get private companies (like SpaceX) to launch cargo to the moon and/or conduct science missions on behalf of NASA.
Intuitive Machines of Houston, a space exploration company based in (you guessed it) Houston, Texas, is conducting the next mission in the CLPS program. It is a lunar lander with four NASA payloads, which will run experiments on the lunar surface. One of the payloads is a small data relay satellite. The experiments will collect data for use in future manned and unmanned Moon missions.
The launch is currently scheduled for December 22, 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Since SpaceX is managing the launch, there will likely be a live stream on the SpaceX YouTube channel, or possibly a stream on NASA’s YouTube channel.
Boeing Crew Flight Test: April 2023
SpaceX isn’t the only American company trying to carry humans into space—Boeing has also tried to make it happen. The company’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft looks a bit like the SpaceX Dragon and Apollo command module, but is slightly larger than both vehicles. Boeing and NASA have already completed two unmanned space flights, but the next attempt will have a crew.
The first Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) is scheduled for sometime in April 2023, launching with an Atlas V rocket. NASA has chosen Barry Eugene Wilmore and Sunita Williams as the crew, both of whom previously flew space shuttle missions, with Michael Fincke as backup. If all goes well, the Starliner will fly to the International Space Station and then return to Earth in the same ship after a week.
NASA said on its website, “The CFT astronauts will live and work on the space station for approximately two weeks. After a successful crew flight, NASA will work to complete certification of the Starliner spacecraft and systems for regular crew rotation missions to the space station.”
April 2023 is a while away, but the launch is coming probably broadcast on the NASA app, the agency’s website and NASA’s YouTube channel.
CAPSTONE: Entering Orbit November 13, 2022
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment, or CAPSTONE for short, is a small satellite about the size of a microwave oven. The rocket launch was back on July 4, 2022, so there’s no exciting upcoming live stream for this one – this is more of an honorable mention, since the satellite hasn’t reached its destination yet.
CAPSTONE takes an unusual route to the moon that NASA calls Ballistic Lunar Transfer, or BLT for short — no relation to the sandwich, presumably. NASA said in a blog post, “with the help of the Sun’s gravity, the spacecraft will reach a distance of 958,000 miles from Earth — more than three times the distance between the Earth and the Moon — before being pulled back toward the Earth-Moon system.”
CAPSTONE is unique because it will be the first spacecraft to enter a special elongated orbit around the Moon. It’s the same orbit that NASA hopes to use for the proposed Gateway space station around the moon, making CAPSTONE an important learning opportunity. In the special orbit, less fuel is required to maintain orbit, which is important when the nearest fuel stop is hundreds of thousands of miles away.
Once it reaches lunar orbit, CAPSTONE’s job will test a technology called the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System (CAPS), which is a bit like Google Maps for space travel. NASA said in another blog post, “CAPS will demonstrate innovative spacecraft-to-spacecraft navigation solutions that will enable future spacecraft to determine their location without relying solely on tracking from Earth.” The technology involves communicating directly with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the moon since 2009.
Source: NASA launch schedule
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