The year 2021 was a big one as far as stories from space are concerned! From start to finish, 2021 witnessed innumerable milestones and groundbreaking missions mounted by space agencies and the commercial space industry. Among them, the long-awaited launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the arrival of the Perseverance mission, the launch of Double-Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), multiple test flights with the Starship, and the inauguration of space tourism. There was something for everyone!
However, looking at what’s planned for the year ahead, one might get the impression that 2021 was the appetizer and 2022 is the main course! That may sound like an idle boast, but not when you consider all of the ambitious missions, programs, and developments that are scheduled and anticipated for the next twelve months! So exactly what’s in store for space in 2022? We’ve provided a helpful list below:
Building on their success with the Ariane 5 heavy launch vehicle, the European Space Agency and their primary contractor (Arianespace) plan to unveil its successor in 2022. The Ariane 6, which has been in development since 2010, is a two-stage heavy launch vehicle that measures over 60 meters (197 ft) tall and will weigh up to 900 metric tons (992 US tons) with a full payload.
Artist’s view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters (A64). Credit: ESA
Depending on the payload, the rocket will come in two variants: the Ariane 62, with two strap-on boosters, and the Ariane, 64 with four. The Ariane 62 will be capable of launching payloads of approx. 4500 kg (9920 lbs) into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) or 10,300 kg (22,700 lbs) into a Low Earth orbit. (LEO). The Ariane 64 will be able to launch payloads of approx. 11,500 kg (25,350 lbs) to GTO and 20,600 kg (45,415 lbs) into low Earth orbit.
Led by ArianeGroup, 600 companies in 13 European countries have been involved in the development of the Ariane 6. Meanwhile, France’s space agency (CNES) is busy preparing the Ariane 6 launch facilities at Europe’s Spaceport at Kourou, French Guiana. The ESA hopes to conduct the first flight of the Ariane 6 during the second quarter (between April and June) of 2022.
The NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is a demonstrator that will evaluate planetary-defense technologies. DART will test the kinetic impact technique, where a spacecraft intentionally collides with a potentially-hazardous asteroid to change its course and divert it from hitting Earth. The target for this mission is the binary near-Earth asteroid (65804) Didymos, which consists of a primary measuring 780-meter (2,560 ft) and a small “moonlet” 160-meters (525 ft) in size.
While this asteroid does not pose a threat to Earth, it is an ideal testing ground to evaluate the technology and technique involved. Once the DART spacecraft reaches Didymos, it will rely on an onboard camera (named DRACO) and sophisticated autonomous navigation software to collide with the moonlet at a speed of approximately 6.6 km/s (4 mi/s). The collision will cause a change in the speed of the moonlet’s orbit, which telescopes on Earth will then measure.