Last year marked a new dawn for space exploration.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope launched, engulfed in a wondrous cloud of smoke and flames. Sometime this year, it will send back unprecedented images of what the universe looked like just after the Big Bang.
The agency’s first spaceborne planetary defense system prototype, DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test), began its journey to crash into a faraway asteroid, and NASA’s Lucy headed to an ancient asteroid cluster near Jupiter. The Mars rover Perseverance and its helicopter buddy, Ingenuity, toiled away, bringing us incredible pictures and data of the planet where humanity may one day settle.
Last year also signaled the start of commercial space travel and paved the way for a future in which the feat becomes normal.
Billionaire Richard Branson flew to the edge of space on his Virgin Galactic spacecraft, and fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos did the same shortly after with a craft built by his own company, Blue Origin. Some argue that funneling money into such ventures is wasteful, and others worry it allows the rich to pivot space travel and to fit their own agendas. SpaceX’s Inspiration4, however, later sent a few much more relatable amateur cosmic travelers into orbit.
Despite all of those achievements last year, 2022 will be a solid competitor.
For starters, the space race is back. Echoing the Apollo years, lunar exploration will lead the charge in 2022 with several countries aiming to send spacecraft to the moon. Reusable spacecraft built by SpaceX, Boeing and Blue Origin may finally reach orbit, and space agencies like the Indian Space Research Organization and the Korean Aerospace Research Institute are entering the extraplanetary game.
It’s going to be wild – here are the big events to keep an eye out for this year. If you think we’ve missed something, or if there’s a mission you’d really like to see on this list, let us know!
Jan. 6 – SpaceX kicked off 2022 with Starlink launch
Starlink is SpaceX’s endeavor to bring low-cost wireless internet connectivity to remote locations by placing thousands of satellites into orbit. The innovative idea, though, has received its fair share of criticism. Astronomers worry, for instance, that too many satellites in the sky will interfere with astronomical observations.
Jan. 24 – James Webb locked into place
This marks a massive milestone for the field-altering James Webb Space Telescope. Just after 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET on Jan 24, Webb reached the second Lagrange point, a gravitational balance point well past the moon’s orbit around Earth and, on the side of our planet not facing the sun. Steadied by the combined gravity of the sun and Earth, it’s setting up shop to unveil the universe’s mysteries.
A huge upgrade from Hubble, the scope will peer past dust clouds hiding star births and catch glimpses of the cosmos just after the Big Bang. So far, it has endured a great deal of midair manipulations, including sunshield deployment, mirror deployment and minute mirror calibrations. You can read more about Webb here.
Feb. 18 – Perseverance rover’s anniversary of landing on Mars
Happy landing on Mars day, Perseverance! One year ago today, NASA’s youngest Mars rover landed on the red planet. It’s been sending back awesome photos and exploring unique-looking rocks – and will continue to do so in 2022.
Mid-March? – Rocket Lab launches NASA’s Capstone mission
NASA wants to return to the moon. A first step is the agency’s Capstone mission, or sending a satellite about the size of a microwave oven into lunar orbit that’ll follow an elliptical trajectory.
This satellite will hopefully inform later lunar missions, where spacecraft will follow a similar path around the moon and use novel navigation technologies Capstone will test.
Mid-March? – NASA launches Artemis I
Another step in NASA’s lunar dreams is Artemis I, an uncrewed flight that aims to test a crew module’s entry, descent and splashdown in preparation for missions that’ll have a full crew on board.
Artemis I’s Orion spacecraft will also hold a few technology demonstrations, including one involving Amazon Alexa. Right now, the agency reports a possible mid-March to April liftoff date. We’ll update this article when we know more.
March 31 – Axiom-1 space tourism mission may launch
The Axiom-1 mission is poised to send the first private crew to the International Space Station this year. The team consists of former NASA astronaut and Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría as commander; American entrepreneur and nonprofit activist investor Larry Connor as pilot; Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy; and Israeli impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe, according to Axiom’s website.
Rumor has it each of the four space tourists paid $55 million to get their spot aboard the craft.
April 15 – SpaceX’s Crew-4 may blast off
We’re living in an awesome time for space exploration – one in which not one but two private crews are readying themselves to board the International Space Station.
SpaceX is eyeing an April 15 launch date for its all-private Crew-4 mission. Four astronauts will board the agency’s Crew Dragon capsule and head to the ISS. Jessica Watkins, a mission specialist, would become the first Black woman to be a long-term crew member aboard the station. The launch window opens on April 15.
May TBD – Boeing Starliner’s second flight attempt
For a few years, Boeing has been trying to move forward with its new reusable Starliner spacecraft, designed to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
In December 2019, the company attempted to launch the Starliner to the International Space Station. Issues with the vehicle’s software prevented it from completing the journey, but now the team’s second attempt is scheduled for May 2022.
April/May? – New modules for Tiangong space station
Since last year, Chinese astronauts have been traveling to and from the country’s new space station, Tiangong. The station’s still slowly coming together, and China hopes to complete the spaceborne lab by the end of 2022.
In the coming months, they’re prepared to send up two new module attachments, which are expected to act as laboratories for science experiments, called Wentian and Mengtian.
May 15-16 – Total lunar eclipse
Fellow eclipse fans, here’s when to look up at the sky for this year’s total lunar eclipse, when the moon moves into Earth’s shadow. Optimal viewing times will change depending on where you are – this site maps out the details for you.
July TBD – Russia launches Luna-25
The US isn’t the only country zeroing in on the moon. Russia’s Roscosmos has plans to launch its Luna-25 lunar rover in July.
The rover will study the moon’s South Pole to understand the composition of the region’s surface and study plasma and dust in the lunar exosphere.
August TBD – South Korea’s first moon mission
The modern space race has a new competitor: South Korea. The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter is set to launch sometime in August, from Kennedy Space Center aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The country’s first moon mission, this lunar orbiter will test various technologies, such as a demo “space internet.” It’ll also begin scoping out possible landing sites for future missions on the moon’s surface.
Aug. 1 – Psyche mission to asteroid belt may launch
Here’s a big one. Lurking between Mars and Jupiter, there’s a massive asteroid made almost entirely of metal. NASA’s aiming to get a better look at the object, dubbed Psyche, as there’s a heated debate over whether this flying rock is a goldmine of valuable natural resources.
At one point, it was estimated to be worth $10 quadrillion. However, many believe that upon closer inspection, Psyche could turn out to be a bunch of unusable rubble.
September – TESS extended mission complete
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, completed the first portion of its mission in 2020: image about 75% of the starry sky. Since then, it’s been working on the secondary, or extended, mission to resume surveying the rest of the observable sky, which will be completed at some point in September.
In the many months following its first dazzling image, the planet-hunting space probe has uncovered several Earth-like planets tons of light-years away, comets flitting through the void and even a few dusty mysteries orbiting distant galaxies. Cheers to a job well done, TESS!
Sept. 20? – Rosalind Franklin rover to Mars
Russia and the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover is embarking on a mission dubbed ExoMars to find something unexpected on Mars. Originally scheduled to launch in 2020, it was delayed due to hardware and software issues as well as COVID-19 setbacks.
Now scheduled to launch this September and arrive on the rocky orb in 2023, the rover is named after the scientist critical to the discovery of DNA. DNA or not though, the rover will add to our repertoire of spectacular photos and information of the red planet’s surface.
Sept. 26 – NASA’s Dart crashes into asteroid
Last November, NASA launched its prototype of a very sci-fi-sounding planetary defense system. The DART mission sent a probe to crash into an asteroid, Dimorphos, to change the flying rock’s course around a larger asteroid, Didymos.
The agency undertook this endeavor as proof of principle that such measures might be able to protect us should an asteroid threaten our planet. This September, DART will make contact with the asteroid and record indispensable crash data every step of the way.
Sept. 29 – Juno mission flyby of Europa
NASA’s Juno mission has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, providing us with gorgeous photos of the gas giant you may not believe aren’t CGI. In late September, it’ll fly by one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, and hopefully send back equally mesmerizing images of the bright orb.
According to the agency, Europa may be the best spot in our solar system to check for alien life.
Oct. 25 – Partial solar eclipse
In October, a partial solar eclipse will decorate the sky. This phenomenon occurs when the sun, moon and Earth aren’t perfectly aligned. The moon isn’t completely blocking the sun’s rays of light, so it looks like a shadow.
PSA: Do not look directly at the sun. Be careful to carry the right equipment if you want to check this out, or better yet, catch photos later and just mentally bask in the glory of it happening in real time.
Nov. 7 – Total lunar eclipse
Yet another total lunar eclipse will adorn the sky in November, in case you couldn’t catch the first one in May. It can be seen from Asia, Australia, North America, parts of northern and eastern Europe, and most of South America.
TBD 2022 – SpaceX starship orbital launches
Reusable spacecraft are the new in-thing. Sometime this year, SpaceX’s reusable Starship may finally lift off after a series of failed attempts – some of which ended in literal flames. Despite the success of the SN15 attempt in May, in which the craft briefly hopped off the Earth, there’s been increasing pressure to truly send the craft all the way into space.
Right now, SpaceX is waiting for the green light to launch from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has postponed the final decision date from Dec. 31 to Feb. 28. But it said it hopes to conduct a dozen Starship launches by the end of 2022. We’ll update this article when there’s a finalized date.
TBD 2022 – Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket takes off
Probably in late 2022, we’ll see the launch of Blue Origin’s partially reusable rocket New Glenn. It’s Starship’s main competitor, and the company says it’ll join NASA’s fleet of commercial space vehicles. We’ll update this article when there’s a finalized date.
TBD 2022 – India’s Space Program gets back in the game
In the second half of 2022, India’s two Gaganyaan uncrewed test flights are scheduled to launch. The second will carry a robot called Vyommitra as a human stand-in, and if all goes well, 2023 will see a third, crewed Gaganyaan mission blast into space.
Meteor shower dates
Calling all scorching rock and metal lovers, here’s a list of 2022’s meteor showers.
April 15-29: Lyrids. Peaks April 21-22.
April 15 to May 27: Eta Aquarids. Peaks May 4-5.
July 7 to Aug. 15: Alpha Capricornids. Peaks July 30-31.
July 18 to Aug. 21: Southern delta Aquariids. Peaks July 29-30.
July 14 to Sept. 1: Perseids. Peaks Aug. 11-12.
Sept. 26 to Nov. 22: Orionids. Peaks Oct. 20-21.
Sept. 28 to Dec. 2: Southern Taurids. Peaks Nov. 4-5.
Oct. 13 to Dec. 2: Northern Taurids. Peaks Nov. 11-12.
Sept. 3 to Dec. 2: Leonids. Peaks Nov. 17-18.
Nov. 19 to Dec. 24: Geminids. Peaks Dec 13-14.
Dec. 13-24: Ursids. Peaks Dec. 21-22.
Dec. 26 to Jan. 16, 2023: Quadrantids. Peaks Jan. 2-3.