Another Year in Space

2022’s achievements in the arena of space exploration.

2022 saw the launch and development of several groundbreaking missions and new spacecraft that have helped astronomers conduct more advanced exploration and research of not just our own solar system, but of the entire universe. A handful of these exciting developments in space research have already left a huge impact on this new age of exploration.

Double Asteroid Redirect Test
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test, or DART, was a mission to test a way of defending the Earth from asteroids by deflecting them with kinetic energy by crashing a spacecraft into the body to alter its trajectory. This mission serves as our first attempt at altering the path of an asteroid, preparing for the possibility of redirecting a life-threatening one. NASA sent the DART spacecraft at the Didymos asteroid system, a small system of two asteroids – the larger central asteroid, Didymos, and the target: the orbiting asteroid Dimorphos. It launched along with the LICIA Cube from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California, on a Falcon 9 rocket on November 24th, 2021. The DART was only a test of the capabilities of this method, and the Didymos system poses no threat to the Earth. DART successfully crashed into Dimorphos on November 24th opposite to its orbit.

The LICIA Cube, or the Light Italian CubeSat (a tiny, shoebox-sized satellite) for Imaging of Asteroids accompanied the DART mission and was deployed 15 days before DART’s impact to observe and document the results of its collision. The LICIA Cube has two cameras: cutely named the LICIACube Unit Key Explorer (LUKE) and the LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid (LEIA). It was also used to determine the viability of asteroid deflection by noting the change in Dimorphos’ orbit. We are still gathering more information on the results of the impact.

Artemis I
On November 16th, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It brought the European Space Administration’s service module to carry all of the mission essentials like fuel, water, and propulsion, and NASA’s Orion capsule intended to carry the astronauts, on an unmanned mission to the moon and back to test the rocket’s systems. Artemis has been in development for many years, first testing the Orion capsule in 2014.
The mission was supposed to begin on August 29th of last year but was delayed due to a problem detected less than 2 hours before its planned launch in one of its engines. This first flight served as a low risk test of all of the spacecraft’s systems and ensured the safety of future manned Artemis missions as humanity returns to the moon after over 50 years as preparation for human exploration of Mars. The Orion capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th. The next flight, Artemis II, is planned to launch in May of 2024, carrying the first woman to the moon.
Read more here.

James Webb Pictures
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launched on Christmas morning of 2021 to orbit 1 million miles from the Earth to observe some of the first galaxies after the Big Bang. In July, the first images were released. JWST is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition to its stunning 21 foot gold plated mirror, the telescope has several different cameras and other instruments on board, including the Mid Infrared Instrument (MIRI) to observe light that our eyes cannot see; the Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to disperse light from objects to learn about various properties such as mass, chemical composition, and temperature; the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) to take pictures of very faint and old objects; and the Fine Guidance Sensor/Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS) to help aim the telescope exactly and to detect light and distant planets.
Using these instruments, the JWST can see a much wider range of wavelengths than Hubble and is able to see much farther. This allows the telescope to see far not just in space, but in time as well. The light that it is able to see has traveled for billions of years to reach the telescope, so the telescope is seeing what distant objects looked like when that light originated from them. Not only do these images released by NASA look really cool, but they also offer insight into some of the mysteries of our universe – what it looked like, what it’s made of, and new details never before seen.

The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) is a CubeSat that launched on June 28th destined to orbit around the moon. The purpose of this satellite is to simulate the elliptical orbit that will be taken by the future Gateway space station around the moon. The Gateway station is a collaboration between several space agencies including NASA, CSA, and ESA. It will serve as support for the future Artemis missions and has habitation and equipment to foster deep space investigation. Until Gateway launches (hopefully in November 2024), CAPSTONE will continue its job for the next 6 months.

NASA’s Juno probe, designed to study Jupiter and its many moons, performed its first flyby of Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, on September 29th, coming as close as 219 miles to the natural satellite and marking the first close encounter with Europa since 2000 by the Galileo probe.
Juno initially launched on August 15, 2011, and took 5 years to travel 1.7 billion miles to reach Jupiter. The mission was initially to explore Jupiter alone – which it did, gathering 3 terabytes of data about the gas giant – and it now serves to explore the entire Jovian system starting with its flyby of Europa and continuing with a planned encounter with Jupiter’s closest moon, Io, this year or next.

Hakuto R
Hakuto R is a privately funded lunar mission by Japanese company ISpace. The mission is a multi-country collaboration for commercial lunar exploration. The lander is carrying two rovers. One rover developed by the UAE, Rashid, weighs about 10 kilograms and hopes to operate for about 14 days. The other rover, the Japanese Lunar Excursion Vehicle, is a 250 gram sphere that unfolds into a cylinder, meant to observe the surface with cameras. The mission is still ongoing, yet to reach the Moon.

On July 24, 2022, China launched the second module of 3, the Wentian Laboratory, to its Tiangong Space Station, about doubling the size of Tiangong. On October 31, 2022, China launched the Wengtian Lab Module, marking the completion of the station and making it the second largest space station in orbit, after the International Space Station. The expansion of the station to its final size lets China allow other countries, like Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Russia, and Spain, to use space on the station to perform experiments.
After the Wolf Amendment in 2011, when Congress banned interaction between NASA and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), China was led to create their own space station with countries other than those on the ISS.

Axiom 1
On April 8, 2022, four people – Michael López-Alegría from Spain and the US, Larry Connor from the US, Eyran Stibbe from Israel, and Mark Pathy from Canada – launched on the first private tourist mission to the International Space Station. The crew launched in a Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX. They lived on the ISS for 15 days performing small experiments, observing the Earth, and creating art. The historic mission splashed down on April 25 and has since led many other organizations, such as Virgin Galactic which plans to head the institution of commercial orbital flights, as well as Boeing’s Starliner and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, to continue to expand space tourism.

Boeing’s Starliner, a spacecraft designed by the aerospace company for the Commercial Crew Program, took flight on May 19, 2022. The program flies American and allied countries’ astronauts on American hardware to the ISS. The unmanned capsule was launched on an Atlas V rocket to certify it for carrying humans. The capsule docked to the station about 24 hours later, then returned to Earth on May 25. The mission succeeded, and NASA has given the go-ahead for a crewed flight in April 2023.

Soyuz Incident on the ISS
On December 14, Soyuz MS-22, one of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft designed to take 2 Russian Cosmonauts and 1 NASA astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS), began to leak coolant while docked to the ISS. The exact cause for the leak is still unknown, but it is suspected to be caused by micrometeoroids, which are tiny, dust-sized meteoroids. No astronauts or cosmonauts were harmed, and the crew is currently stranded, still safely waiting inside the ISS for the Soyuz MS-22 to detach unmanned from the station and to return on the Soyuz MS-23 that will make an unmanned launch on February 20th. The leak was of minor magnitude and did not impact the positioning or orbit of the station.

ISRO Mars Orbiter
On November 5, 2013, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched their Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), and after 300 days of deep space travel, it inserted itself into orbit around Mars on September 23, 2014. The MOM was India’s first mission to Mars to gather information on the planet’s surface and outer atmosphere, or exosphere. 2022 marked 8 years since the MOM has been in orbit, despite the spacecraft being only designed to be a 6 month technology test.
On September 27th, 2022, 4 days after the 8th anniversary of the craft’s orbit, the ISRO organized a meeting to discuss the mission and the resulting data collected in the first seven and a half years of the mission. MOM gathered invaluable data about the geographic, mineral, and atmospheric features of Mars using the Mars Color Camera (MCC) to observe the landscape of Mars to help with future missions; the Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS) to gain information about the thermal emissions of the Martian surface and to learn about the temperature and composition of the landscape; the Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) to understand the Martian atmosphere; the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA) to further research distribution and densities of gasses in the Martian exosphere; and the Lyman Alpha Photometer to record the ratio of hydrogen to deuterium, or hydrogen-2, ratio in the exosphere.

Danuri is the first of several lunar missions planned by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to research and image both the Moon and Earth. As their first mission, the Danuri orbiter is a collaboration between NASA and KARI, with KARI leading the mission and NASA acting as support. The orbiter launched in August 2022, and after 4 months it arrived in lunar orbit on December 22nd.
The orbiter has 3 cameras, 2 of which are provided by KARI. The Lunar Terrain Imager’s (LUTI) main purpose is to take pictures of potential future landing sites on the moon from orbit. The wide-Angle Polarimetric Camera (PolCam) is intended to take pictures of the complete lunar surface – minus the poles. NASA provided the ShadowCam, which is in search of ice on the surface. Aside from cameras, the Danuri also has the KPLO Magnetometer (KMAG) to measure magnetic forces around the Moon and the KPLO Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (KGRS) to identify elements present on the lunar surface.

Rocket Lab: There and Back Again
On May 2, 2022, Rocket Lab, an American aerospace manufacturer, launched its 26th Electron rocket to a sun-synchronous orbit, allowing satellites to always see Earth illuminated by direct sunlight. The mission attempted to catch the rocket’s first stage booster using a parachute and a helicopter to investigate the possibility of re-using the first stage, like how SpaceX reuses their first stages for the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

New Orbital-Class Rockets
In 2022, seven new orbital-class rockets (rockets that are capable of putting a payload into orbit around the Earth) were launched around the world: Angara 1.2, Jielong-3, Space Launch System Block 1A, SSLV, Vega C, ZK-1A, and Zhuque-2.

Angara 1.2 is a Russian orbital-class rocket, which has been in development for 35 years. It launched on April 29, 2022, from the Plesetsk Site 35, carrying Kosmos-2555, which was likely a test of Russian anti-satellite technologies.

Jielong-3, a Chinese made solid-fueled orbital class rocket, launched from the Tai Rui Barge on December 9th, 2022. The rocket carried 14 satellites.

SLS (Space Launch System) launched on November 16, 2022. The launch was NASA’s first flight of the rocket, flying the Orion Capsule and European service module on an uncrewed test flight into a distant retrograde orbit around the Earth-Moon system. The mission marks the beginning of NASA’s return to the moon. Read more here.

SSLV (Small Satellite Launch Vehicle) was a rocket developed by the Indian Space Agency (ISRO), which first launched on August 6, 2022 with the goal of lower cost satellite launches. The launch vehicle’s fourth stage failed, leaving both satellites in the incorrect orbit.

Vega C launched on July 13, 2022 from French Guiana. The mission succeeded, carrying the LARES 2 satellite for the Italian Space Agency to its planned orbit. On December 20, 2022, the second flight failed following second stage ignition. Both Earth-imaging satellites were lost, and the European Space Agency appointed an independent inquiry commission to analyze the reasons for the failure and define measures to permit the Vega C to return to operation.

ZK-1A, a rocket developed by CAS Space, an organization in part funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, launched on July 27, 2022. The four-stage solid fueled launch vehicle derived from an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) launched from Jiuquan in Inner Mongolia, China, carrying several satellites.

Zhuque-2, a privately developed Chinese rocket using a revolutionary fuel of liquid methane and liquid oxygen, made its debut flight on December 14, 2022. From leaked footage, it is suspected that the rocket’s second stage failed after the engines shut down too early, leading to the loss of the estimated 14 satellites on board.