What do NASA, other national space agencies and the private space sector have planned for 2023?
Following the launches of the James Webb Space Telescope in late 2021 and Artemis-I in 2022, the next 12 months will see our Moon, moons of Jupiter, Venus, bizarre asteroids, and some groundbreaking test flights and exciting one-off missions.
Here’s everything you need to know about space exploration, NASA missions and more in 2023, ranked by level of excitement:
1. Return to Earth OSIRIS-REx
When: September 24, 2023
Remember when NASA landed on an asteroid in 2020? NASA’s first asteroid sampling spacecraft, OSIRIS-REx, has since been on an Earth-bound trajectory and will deliver a Bennu asteroid sample to Earth later this year. It is to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and land by parachute at the US Air Force Test and Training Range in Utah.
When: October 10, 2023
NASA wants a close-up of one of the most intriguing and arguably one of the most valuable asteroids we know of, 16 Psyche. After software problems on the 202 delayed the mission, it’s now set to take to the skies on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket on a low-cost Discovery-class robotic space mission to find out if it’s really made of iron and nickel. The orbiter is scheduled to arrive at Psyche in August 2029 (sometime after its January 2026 arrival, which it would have if launched in 2022) to begin at least 21 months of orbital mapping and studying the asteroid’s properties.
When: April 5-25, 2023
The European Space Agency’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission is scheduled to launch in 2023 and reach the Jupiter system in 2030. After that, it will take three and a half years to explore Jupiter’s moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.
4. Test of the spacecraft in the SpaceX orbital flight
When: first quarter of 2023
SpaceX plans about 100 launches in 2023, but will one of them be a Starship? The long-awaited maiden orbital flight of the Starship – slightly taller than the Saturn V rocket used by NASA for the Apollo Moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s – could take place in the first quarter of 2023.
5. Orbital test flight of the “New Glenn” rocket by Blue Origin
When: first quarter of 2023
An orbital-grade reusable rocket that will give Blue Origin the same range as SpaceX, New Glenn could be orbitally tested in 2023. However, it could very easily be delayed until 2024. If successful, it will green light the core of Amazon’s Kuiper Project plans to launch more than 3,000 satellites.
6. Astrobotic’s Peregrine mission to the lunar surface
When: first quarter of 2023
While the Astrobiotic mission to the moon will be exciting in itself, the launch of the Peregrine 1 mission will be closely watched by those in the space industry. This will be the debut spaceflight of the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, which, while not as big as NASA’s proven Space Launch System (SLS) and yet-to-be-tested SpaceX spacecraft, is set to be a big player among heavy-lift rockets.
NASA’s first commercial space mission to the moon, Peregrine Mission 1, will carry science and other payloads to the moon, including the Iris rover, the first rover developed by Americans and students to land on the moon.
7. Rocket Laboratory The “Venus Life Finder” probe.
When: May 2023
The first private mission to Earth’s hotter sister planet could take place this year. A bold plan to place a probe into the atmosphere of Venus to search for habitable conditions and signs of life in the planet’s cloud layer, the Venus Life Finder (VLF) will be launched from New Zealand on Rocket lab’s Electron rocket with an arrival in October 2023.
It will be a short mission, however, as the spacecraft will spend just five minutes in the cloud layers of Venus, some 48 to 60 km above the surface.
The next launch window after May 2023 is January 2025.
8. Indian lunar rover Chandrayaan-3
When: June 2023
India’s budget Chandrayaan (“mooncraft”) missions to the moon are back. After finding water on the Moon with the 2008 Chandrayaan-1, Chandrayaan-2 collided with the Moon in 2019. Cue Chandrayaan-3, a repeat mission in which the lander and rover were sent to land in the Aitken Basin at the Moon’s south pole .
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plans to launch Chandrayaan-3 in mid-2023 from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) in Andhra Pradesh. It is expected to cost less than $100 million.
9. Intuitive Machines lunar lander
When: March 2023
The planned launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral is IM-1, a 14-day mission that will land the Nova-C lander near a collapsed lava tunnel in Lacus Mortis – “Lake of Death” – a large crater in the Lunar Ocean of Storms.
Part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program and designed by private company Intuitive Machines, the IM-1 will also test a precision landing system.
10. Boeing Starliner Crewed Flight Test (CFT)
When: April 2023
NASA has successfully handed over its responsibilities from Earth to orbit to SpaceX and its Crew Dragon capsule, but that’s only half the story. Boeing and its Starliner spacecraft have the same deal with NASA, but it can only be launched after a successful crewed test flight.
After some technical issues during the last few trials, Boeing successfully flew its uncrewed CST-100 Starliner capsule to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 19, 2022. Soon it will be the turn of NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Suni Williams to fly to the ISS on this slightly delayed mission.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.