2021: A Big Year For Space Travel
By Danna Beltran
The historic year of 2020 came with its challenges that were conquered to produce some big accomplishments for the international space industry. There were the SpaceX missions, the three Mars launches done by the United States, China and the United Arab Emirates and lastly the victorious recovery of some moon samples. The impact of these events shaped the future to be bright for the upcoming six planned missions this year.
Image taken from the crater-marked lunar surface illustrating the Earth rising above the moon.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover
The first event to come is on February 21, 2021, when NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will finally reach its destination. The Perseverance rover is planned to land in the Jezero Crater on the Red Planet. The goals for this mission are to search for microbial life on Mars and to test technology for hopes of a future human visit to the planet. Intended to test the hopes of a future human visit is fact a small helicopter named Ingenuity onboard Perseverance.
Boeing Starliner Test Flights
SpaceX in 2020 had one test flight and one operational mission sending six astronauts to the International Space Station. This year, however, Boeing, an aerospace company, plans on sending its Starliner spacecraft twice in 2021. The first mission is scheduled for March 29, 2021, which will be an uncrewed orbital flight, and if that goes well the second flight could happen as early as June with astronauts on board.
Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)
Plans of protection for the possibility of an asteroid colliding with Earth have been set into motion to ensure that there is a means of protecting the Earth when that threat might present itself. This NASA project is called Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) that will feature a spacecraft that will intentionally crash into an asteroid in attempt to change its orbit. The launch is planned for July 22, 2021, while the spacecraft’s impact can be expected to occur in the fall of 2022.
James Webb Telescope
Next-in-line to replace the Hubble Space Telescope is the $9 billion James Webb Telescope. This telescope will not orbit our planet, unlike Hubble, but it will orbit the sun placing it to be nearly one million miles away from Earth. NASA is scheduled to launch the telescope on October 31, 2021.
NASA’s Artemis I
NASA is going back to the moon in 2024 sending astronauts, including the first woman ever to go to the moon. In November 2021, although, a giant step for the mission will take place. This mission, Artemis I, will be the first to test the Orion spacecraft along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. They together will be launched for a three-week, uncrewed mission to lunar orbit. If all goes according to plan, Artemis I would give the green light to Orion and SLS for the crewed Artemis I mission, expected to come in 2023.
SpaceX has a new generation spacecraft and rocket, Starship, that will bring some competition to their model the Falcon 9. This new rocket is designed for deep space exploration with the hope of potentially taking astronauts to the moon and Mars. In December 2020, there was a test flight of the Starship prototype, SN8, which turned out to be one of the most exciting launches of the year. SpaceX has not released their timeline for 2021 yet, but there is a certainty that they are not going to disappoint this year.