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Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via NASA]

Moon Robot VIPER Will Reimagine Lunar Exploration

NASA’s Artemis program is set to achieve groundbreaking milestones with the launch of its first mobile robot, the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). Tasked with exploring the Moon’s South Pole, VIPER aims to identify ice and resources beneath the lunar surface, crucial for future human exploration and habitation. Designed with innovative features like the first headlights on a lunar rover, VIPER will navigate the challenging, permanently shadowed regions, providing valuable data on ice locations and concentrations. Astrobotic, under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, will facilitate VIPER’s launch, transit, and lunar surface delivery. The rover’s enhanced design, succeeding the canceled Resource Prospector, includes specialized wheels and a suspension system for versatile exploration of lunar craters. VIPER’s mission duration has been extended to three lunar days, showcasing its evolution and increased science capabilities.

Equipped with advanced instruments such as the TRIDENT hammer drill, Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo), Near-Infrared Volatiles Spectrometer System (NIRVSS), and Neutron Spectrometer System and (NSS), VIPER will pave the way for future lunar exploration. Astrobotic’s first flight will carry MSolo, NIRVSS, and NVSS to the Moon, marking a significant step in CLPS deliveries. NASA’s investment in VIPER amounts to $433.5 million, emphasizing the agency’s commitment to advancing robotic science missions and human exploration synergistically. Sarah Noble, program scientist for VIPER, highlights the rover’s significance, stating it will be NASA’s most capable lunar robot, providing insights into lunar water origin and distribution. VIPER’s mission aligns with NASA’s broader Artemis program, aiming to send both robots and humans to explore unprecedented lunar territories. The eventual return of astronauts to the lunar surface, with a focus on the South Pole and the historic landing of the first woman, marks a pivotal step towards sustainable lunar exploration and prepares humanity for future space missions, including Mars.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Hera Mission]

HERA Asteroid Mission

A thrilling space mission is on the horizon as Hera, a European Space Agency (ESA) endeavor, prepares to embark on an extraordinary journey to explore the asteroid Didymos and its moon Dimorphos. This mission is part of the collaborative effort between NASA and ESA known as the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA). In the initial phase, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will have already visited the asteroids, impacting Dimorphos with significant force to induce a measurable change in its orbit. Hera will return to the system approximately 5 years later for a follow-up assessment, focusing on planetary defense and the evaluation of kinetic impact deflection.

First, it focuses on measuring Dimorphos’ mass with precision to determine momentum transfer efficiency accurately. Then, the mission involves examining crater details to improve our understanding of how craters form in low-gravity conditions. Hera will also observe subtle dynamic effects, which are hard to detect from the ground. The mission includes characterizing both the surface and interior of Dimorphos to scale momentum transfer efficiency for other asteroids. Hera aims to achieve scientific objectives such as characterizing the binary system, studying surface structures, regolith mobility, and surface geophysics. Scheduled for launch in October 2024 and expected to reach the Didymos system by December 2026 on an Ariane 6, Hera is poised to revolutionize our understanding of celestial bodies. While the payload details are still under discussion, it is anticipated to include imaging systems and possibly a laser altimeter. Excitingly, plans are in place to carry two 6U cubesats, Juventas and APEX, which will contribute to further studies of asteroids, adding an extra layer of anticipation to this groundbreaking mission.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Space News]

ESCAPADE Mars Mission

Advanced Space, a trailblazer in space tech solutions, and the University of California Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) join forces to unlock the mysteries of Mars. The spotlight is on NASA’s Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission, where UC Berkeley takes the helm in managing and orchestrating groundbreaking operations. ESCAPADE, a stellar component of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, promises to rewrite the narrative of space exploration. Two nimble spacecraft named BLUE and GOLD, developed by the ingenious minds at Advanced Space, hitch a ride on a Blue Origin New Glenn rocket set to launch into the cosmic unknown in late 2024. Come September 2025, they’ll execute the first-ever duo in orbit around the enigmatic Mars.

The 11-month primary science mission encompasses two distinct campaigns that will unravel the secrets of Mars’ atmosphere and its celestial dance with the space environment. Advanced Space’s cutting-edge technology becomes the guiding force, ensuring the success of ESCAPADE. From mission design intricacies to navigating the interplanetary cruise and orbital strategy, their innovations push the boundaries of space exploration. Behind the scenes UC Berkeley, Rocket Lab, Blue Origin, and NASA all play integral roles. Dr. Jeffrey Parker, CTO of Advanced Space and ESCAPADE mission design lead, shares the mission’s ethos: pushing the envelope of innovation while maintaining sustainability for future cosmic endeavors. This isn’t just another mission; ESCAPADE is poised to redefine the norms of high-capability scientific missions, all while adhering to a fraction of the cost of previous Mars orbiters. It’s a cosmic rendezvous where the stars align, setting the stage for an era of limitless possibilities in space exploration.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via NASA]

Peregrine Mission One Lunar Delivery

NASA’s groundbreaking lunar delivery service, operated by Astrobotic, recently ended its inaugural mission, marking a significant milestone in space exploration. The Peregrine Mission One, part of NASA’s CLPS initiative, concluded its 10-day and 13-hour journey in space with a controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. On January 18 Astrobotic, the pioneering commercial vendor, led the mission aimed at advancing lunar capabilities under NASA’s Artemis campaign. Despite a propulsion issue preventing a soft lunar landing, the responsible decision was made to guide Peregrine back to Earth, where it safely burned up upon re-entry. This mission is a precursor to a series of upcoming CLPS deliveries, with seven additional projects awarded to American companies. The next commercial flight is anticipated in February, reinforcing NASA’s commitment to fostering a collaborative space economy.

Despite the challenges, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson emphasized that the collaboration with commercial partners is crucial for future lunar exploration and beyond. NASA’s numerous payloads on Peregrine successfully powered on and collected valuable data during the flight. Preliminary results indicate measurements of natural radiation and chemical compounds in the vicinity of the lunar lander. The success of Astrobotic’s Peregrine mission not only contributes to NASA’s understanding of lunar conditions but also serves as a vital benchmark for future CLPS flights, optimizing the process of collecting crucial data in the harsh space environment. NASA remains dedicated to supporting its U.S. commercial vendors in their endeavors to advance science and technology on the Moon’s surface.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Space.com]

India’s Aditya-L1 Sun Monitoring

In just four months since its launch on September 2, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) groundbreaking solar mission, Aditya-L1, has successfully reached its destination at Lagrange Point 1. Positioned at a distance of approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, the spacecraft is strategically located to conduct an in-depth study of the sun, focusing on the solar corona and its impact on space weather. Aditya-L1, named after the Hindi word for the sun, is equipped with seven payloads and is expected to engage in remote sensing of the sun and in-situ observations for an estimated five years. The mission is particularly crucial as it aims to provide insights into the effects of solar radiation on the growing number of satellites in orbit, with a specific focus on phenomena that may influence ventures like Elon Musk’s Starlink communications network. Scientists involved in the project emphasize the importance of understanding the sun’s role in controlling space weather, especially as the low earth orbit is anticipated to become increasingly crowded in the coming years.

This solar mission follows India’s recent achievement of successfully landing on the moon’s south pole with the Chandrayaan-3 mission, surpassing Russia’s previous attempt with Luna-25. The successful positioning of Aditya-L1 at Lagrange Point 1 takes advantage of gravitational forces that enable the spacecraft to remain relatively stationary, minimizing fuel consumption. Furthermore, scientists view the mission as an early warning system for space storms, providing roughly a one-hour advantage in preparation for potential solar disturbances. As part of ISRO’s ambitious slate of projects, Aditya-L1’s success is just one step in a series of upcoming missions. Noteworthy among these is ISRO’s first human space mission and the collaborative low-Earth orbit observatory system called NISAR, developed jointly with NASA. NISAR is poised to map the entire planet every 12 days, offering valuable data for understanding changes in ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level rise, and natural hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via SciTechDaily]

Proba-3 First Tandem Satellites

This groundbreaking mission is dedicated to showcasing cutting-edge technologies and techniques for highly precise satellite formation flying. Consisting of two small satellites launched together, Proba-3’s unique approach involves separating these satellites to fly in tandem, paving the way for future multi-satellite missions that can function as one cohesive virtual structure. The challenges faced by current scientific and applications endeavors demand the detection of increasingly faint signals and smaller features. To meet these goals, satellite formation flying emerges as the solution. It allows for larger apertures, longer focal lengths, and baselines beyond the capabilities of a single spacecraft. The achievement of precise formation flying heralds a new era for science and applications, opening up possibilities for assembling future missions on a much larger scale. Applications of interest span Earth observation to in-orbit satellite servicing.

Proba-3 represents a significant leap forward in formation flying. Comprising two satellites – the Coronagraph spacecraft and the Occulter spacecraft – this mission achieves millimeter and arc-second precision at distances of 144 meters or more for six hours autonomously, without relying on ground guidance. Launched together into a highly elliptical orbit in 2024, these satellites will conduct formation flying maneuvers and scientific observations, showcasing their prowess in maintaining a virtual giant satellite. The mission’s innovative techniques and simulators will not only be instrumental in future missions but will also validate key technologies essential for formation flying, making Proba-3 a pioneering space laboratory.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Science et vie]

Polaris Dawn Mission

In early 2024, SpaceX is set to launch the Polaris Dawn mission using its Falcon 9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dragon spacecraft, carrying the Polaris Dawn crew, will embark on a groundbreaking mission lasting up to five days. The objectives of this mission are ambitious and include flying at unprecedented altitudes, conducting the first-ever commercial extravehicular activity (EVA) at 700 kilometers above Earth, and advancing health research in space. The Polaris Dawn mission brings together four passionate individuals with expertise in space exploration, driving advancements that will shape the future of human space exploration. During this phase, the crew will conduct research to enhance our understanding of the impact of spaceflight and radiation on human health. A key highlight is the attempt to perform the first commercial EVA using SpaceX-designed spacesuits, marking a crucial step in developing scalable spacesuit designs for future long-duration missions to the Moon and Mars.

The Polaris Dawn mission will push the boundaries of space exploration by flying higher than any previous Dragon mission, venturing into portions of the Van Allen radiation belt. While in orbit, the crew will engage in health impact research aimed at benefiting both human health on Earth and our understanding of health during extended spaceflights. This includes using ultrasound to monitor venous gas emboli, collecting data on space radiation’s effects on human biological systems, contributing to a long-term Biobank through multi-omics analyses, and researching Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS). SpaceX’s collaboration with various institutions further strengthens the mission’s scientific impact, involving expertise from organizations such as the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, BioServe Space Technologies, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and more.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Space.com]

Nova-C Private Moon Landing

Intuitive Machines, the company behind the NASA-funded IM-1 mission moon lander, has announced a multi-day launch window starting on January 12, 2024. The excitement builds as the lunar lander, named Nova-C, will hitch a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Florida’s Space Coast. The target destination is the rim of Malapert A, a crater near the lunar south pole. Steve Altemus, co-founder and CEO of Intuitive Machines, expressed the company’s anticipation, having completed the lunar lander in September.

The Nova-C, a truck-sized hexagonal cylinder with six landing legs, is set to carry five NASA science payloads, weighing nearly 2,000 kg. But this mission is not just about a lunar landing; it serves as a precursor for NASA’s human spaceflight missions on the moon. Acting as a scout for the Artemis 3 crewed landing, Nova-C aims to launch for the moon’s south pole no earlier than 2025. In a friendly race to be the first private venture to safely land on the moon, Intuitive Machines faces competition from Astrobotic, which plans to launch its Peregrine lander on the debut flight of United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket on December 24. Both missions are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, a crucial aspect of NASA’s broader Artemis program. CLPS aims to bring robotic payloads to the moon’s south pole, a region rich in water that holds promise for mining and logistical support, aligning with astronauts’ future landing plans.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory]

Launch of NISAR Strengthens U.S.- India Space Diplomacy

NASA and ISRO are set to launch the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission later this year, marking a groundbreaking collaboration between the United States and India. The mission, described by NASA/JPL Project Scientist Paul A. Rosen as a “truly enabling partnership,” was recently showcased at the Global Science Festival Kerala (GSFK) held at the Bio 360 Life Sciences Park in Thonnakkal. Organized by the US Consulate General Chennai in partnership with the Kerala Government, the event featured lectures on NISAR and highlighted its diverse applications, ranging from forest management to flood mapping and monitoring.

NISAR represents the largest space collaboration to date between NASA and ISRO, emphasizing the significance of this joint venture. The U.S. Pavilion at GSFK, a testament to U.S.-India space diplomacy ties, provides an opportunity for participants to explore exhibits and access educational resources in high demand. The pavilion showcases exhibits on various topics, including the environment, space sciences, and extraterrestrial intelligence, featuring collaborations with renowned entities such as NASA and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Labs. According to US Consulate General Chennai spokesperson Samantha Jackson, this pavilion exemplifies the commitment to advancing science, technology, and innovation to address global challenges, fostering public-private partnerships in research and promoting science and technology-based entrepreneurship.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Global Times]

China’s Chang’e-6 and The Dark Side of the Moon

China is on the verge of launching a groundbreaking space mission that promises to redefine lunar exploration. Set to take off in May 2024, the Chang’e-6 mission represents a significant leap forward in the country’s space endeavors. Building on the success of the 2020 Chang’e-5 mission, which brought back lunar samples from the near side of the Moon, Chang’e-6 aims to make history by collecting samples from the far side. The target is the South Pole-Aitken basin, a massive ancient impact basin on the lunar far side that holds the key to unraveling mysteries about the Moon’s geological history. Landing in the southern portion of the Apollo crater within the SPA basin, the mission seeks to obtain diverse samples, potentially offering insights into the unique geological characteristics and the cessation of volcanic activity on the lunar far side.

Executing this ambitious mission requires a meticulously planned sequence of events. Launched from the coastal Wenchang spaceport, the four-part Chang’e-6 spacecraft will enter lunar orbit, land, and employ scooping and drilling techniques to collect samples. An ascent vehicle will then transport the samples into lunar orbit with the waiting service module, initiating a challenging 53-day odyssey. Beyond its scientific goals, Chang’e-6 carries additional payloads, including instruments from France and Sweden to detect lunar outgassing and negative ions. The collected lunar samples will not only contribute to Chinese scientific research but also be made available for international cooperation, fostering a collaborative exploration of the Moon’s mysteries. As we anticipate this historic mission, there is growing speculation about the potential for an extended mission for the Chang’e-6 service module, reflecting the unexpected achievements and ambitions that have become synonymous with China’s lunar exploration efforts. The exploration of the lunar far side is poised to provide unprecedented insights into the early history and evolution of the Moon, Earth, and the broader Solar System.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via The Planetary Society]

MMX Martian Moon Mission

The Red Planet is home to two peculiar moons, Phobos and Deimos, whose origins and compositions remain elusive. Japan’s upcoming Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) spacecraft mission aims to unravel these cosmic enigmas by drilling into Phobos and bringing back invaluable samples. Scheduled for launch in 2024 the MMX mission is a collaborative effort between Japan, Europe, and the United States. The spacecraft is equipped with nearly a dozen scientific instruments, including two sampling mechanisms – the Corer Sampler and Pneumatic Sampler – designed to collect material from Phobos. Additionally, a German-French rover will be deployed to explore Phobos’ surface autonomously, assisting in selecting specimens for the spacecraft to retrieve.

Phobos, the larger of the two Martian moons, orbits the Red Planet three times a day in a microgravity environment. The MMX spacecraft faces the challenge of landing on a surface whose properties are still unknown – whether it’s hard enough to land on or soft and fluffy remains uncertain. The mission’s ambitious goal is to answer the fundamental question of whether Phobos and Deimos are captured asteroids or remnants of a massive impact on Mars, shedding light on the solar system’s origin and evolution. The MMX mission incorporates cutting-edge technology, such as the GAmma-rays and NEutrons (MEGANE) spectrometer, to analyze Phobos’ elemental composition. Scientists like Terik Daly from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory anticipate that the mission’s success will not only provide insights into the Martian moons but also contribute to our understanding of the broader solar system. With a return to Earth planned for 2029, the MMX mission represents a significant leap forward in planetary science, building on the success of Japan’s previous Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 missions to near-Earth asteroids.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via NASA Science]

Lucy Mission Set For Jupiter Trojan Asteroids

NASA’s Lucy mission is gearing up for a groundbreaking exploration of the never-before-explored Jupiter Trojan asteroids after its successful rendezvous with an asteroid in 2023. In 2024, Lucy will undergo a series of maneuvers to transition from its current orbit skimming the inner-edge of the asteroid belt to a new orbit beyond Jupiter. This involves deep space maneuvers and an Earth gravity assist, starting with the spacecraft’s main engines operating for the first time in space on January 31. This marks a crucial step in propelling Lucy towards its second milestone of the year – a second Earth gravity assist in December 2024. The spacecraft will fly within 230 miles of Earth, utilizing the gravitational slingshot effect to propel it through the main asteroid belt and towards its encounter with the Jupiter Trojan asteroids in 2027.

During Lucy’s first asteroid encounter in 2023, the spacecraft discovered a satellite, officially named “Selam,” orbiting the asteroid Dinkinesh. The International Astronomical Union approved the name, meaning “peace” in Amharic, the Ethiopian language. This satellite, a contact-binary and the first of its kind observed, offers unique insights. Data from this encounter is currently being processed, providing valuable information for the upcoming mission objectives. Lucy’s science instruments, including the L’Ralph camera and the Lucy Thermal Emissions Spectrometer, collected data on the composition and surface properties of Dinkinesh and Selam. This information will aid scientists in understanding the composition of these asteroids and how they relate to other celestial bodies. With plans to visit a total of 10 asteroids over the next decade, Lucy’s upcoming Earth gravity assist in December 2024 is a crucial step before encountering asteroid Donaldjohanson in April 2025 and reaching the primary targets, the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, in 2027. The successful performance during its first asteroid encounter and the data collected provide a solid foundation for the mission’s ambitious exploration ahead.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Caltech]

NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer

Scheduled to launch in 2024 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Trailblazer aims to map the form, abundance, and distribution of water on the Moon. Equipped with infrared spectrometry, it will detect water and hydroxyl molecules by analyzing how the Moon’s surface reflects and absorbs infrared light. With its better resolution, Trailblazer can distinguish between different forms of water, including ice, liquid, and vapor. The spacecraft’s comprehensive dataset will be crucial for interpreting future studies and missions, such as NASA’s VIPER rover, which launches in 2024 to study water ice in permanently shadowed regions. Commissioned by NASA in 2019 under the SIMPLEx program, Trailblazer exemplifies efficient exploration on a budget. This satellite is tailor-made to advance our understanding of lunar water, a critical aspect of lunar exploration and science. With its cost-effective approach, Trailblazer showcases how impactful planetary science missions can be conducted without breaking the bank.

NASA’s Artemis campaign aims to surpass the achievements of the Apollo missions, planning to land humans on the Moon for a more extended stay. A significant shift in lunar exploration between Apollo and Artemis lies in the discovery of lunar water. While earlier studies suggested the Moon was exceptionally dry, advancements in technology revealed water in lunar volcanic glasses and minerals. India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission further confirmed the presence of substantial amounts of water across the Moon. This unexpected revelation sparked global interest in exploring the Moon not only for scientific purposes but also for potential resource utilization. Scientists are now focused on understanding how water molecules are produced on the Moon and transported to the poles, where they can be sequestered in permanently shadowed regions for billions of years. The Artemis program, which envisions human habitation on the Moon using local resources like water, necessitates a thorough understanding of its nature and accessibility. To achieve this, a series of NASA-funded robotic missions over the next five years will conduct specific measurements.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via NASA]

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8

The astronauts assigned to NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8 mission recently undertook crucial preparations at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This included a detailed rehearsal of launch day activities and an up-close examination of the spacecraft set to transport them to the International Space Station (ISS). As part of the Crew Equipment Interface Test, the crew, consisting of NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt, and Jeanette Epps, alongside Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin, donned their flight suits and conducted essential checks within SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. During this test, the crew not only familiarized themselves with the spacecraft’s interior but also performed leak checks and communication verifications. Additionally, they listened to the sounds generated by the Dragon’s fans and pumps, anticipating the auditory experience during their upcoming spaceflight.

The Dragon spacecraft, named Endeavour, has previously supported several significant missions, including NASA’s Demo-2, Crew-2, and Crew-6, as well as Axiom Space’s Axiom Mission 1. Beyond spacecraft preparations, the Crew-8 astronauts engaged in a comprehensive familiarization tour of Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A. They completed emergency training and ascended the launch pad’s tower via elevator, enjoying a panoramic view of the Florida spaceport. The Crew-8 mission is scheduled for launch no earlier than mid-February 2024, utilizing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. This mission, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, signifies the ninth human spaceflight mission facilitated by a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and the eighth crew rotation mission to the ISS since 2020.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via YouTube]

Blue Origin’s New Glenn

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, appears to be making significant progress towards launching its long-anticipated New Glenn rocket within the next 12 months. The company is currently in the process of assembling the massive rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. While there is a history of delays, Blue Origin has been consistent in targeting a 2024 launch for New Glenn, and recent signs, including statements from a senior Blue Origin official, suggest real progress is being made. The New Glenn rocket is a two-stage behemoth standing over 320 feet tall with the capacity to carry nearly 100,000 pounds of payload into low-Earth orbit. NASA has expressed its intention to launch one of its robotic Mars missions, named ESCAPADE, on the inaugural flight of New Glenn. The mission is slated for August 2024, but alternative launch trajectories are under consideration.

Blue Origin’s vice president, Lars Hoffman, outlined the company’s readiness and plans to conduct engine testing in the coming months, emphasizing their commitment to launching New Glenn next year. Despite a history of delays and the Berger’s Law guideline suggesting potential postponements, Blue Origin seems determined to meet its 2024 launch schedule for New Glenn. The company’s efforts include ongoing construction at the launch pad, visible progress in the manufacturing plant, and plans for cryogenic propellant loading tests in Florida. With Blue Origin’s focus on reusability, including the recovery of boosters on offshore platforms, the upcoming New Glenn launch signifies a critical milestone in Jeff Bezos’s broader space ambitions.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Axiom Space]

Axiom Mission 4

NASA and Axiom Space have recently sealed an agreement for the upcoming fourth private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), set to launch no earlier than August 2024 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This collaboration marks a significant step in NASA’s strategy to transition low Earth orbit activities from government-sponsored to a multi-customer model, where NASA is one of many clients. The move aims to sustain a continuous U.S. presence in low Earth orbit and eventually shift beyond the ISS operations. Dubbed Axiom Mission 4 (Ax-4), the mission is expected to last up to 14 days docked to the ISS, contingent on overall spacecraft traffic and other planning considerations. The private astronauts, part of Ax-4, will coordinate their in-orbit activities with station crew members and ground-based flight controllers.

Axiom Space, the orchestrator of these private missions, views each mission as a building block towards establishing the world’s first commercial space station, Axiom Station, to succeed ISS operations in low Earth orbit. These endeavors also play a pivotal role in expanding global access to space and developing the expertise required for living and working in microgravity. The Ax-4 crew members, yet to be confirmed, will undergo comprehensive training with NASA, international partners, and SpaceX, the chosen launch provider. Axiom Space has engaged SpaceX not only for transportation to and from the ISS but also for familiarizing private astronauts with Dragon spacecraft systems, procedures, and emergency protocols. Axiom Space is acquiring NASA services through both a mission-specific order and a reimbursable Space Act Agreement, emphasizing the collaborative effort and shared responsibilities in advancing commercial space activities.

Upcoming Space Missions and Launches that Blow Our Minds
[Image via Star Walk]

SpaceX Starlink Launches

In January 2024, SpaceX is gearing up for yet another awe-inspiring Starlink launch, with Starlink Group 6-38 scheduled for January 28th at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The exact date and time might change, so people hoping to catch a glimpse of the satellites during launch or in the sky keep an eye on updates. Recent launches, such as Starlink Group 7-11 on January 23rd from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, and Starlink Group 6-37 on January 14th from Cape Canaveral, Florida, have all been successful, contributing to the growing constellation of over 5,250 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. As SpaceX prepares for its sixth Starlink launch in January 2024, the company’s vision for a global internet communication satellite constellation continues to unfold, raising both admiration and apprehension within the scientific community.

Following each Starlink launch, spectators often witness a peculiar train of lights in the night sky. These lights are the Starlink satellites transitioning to a higher orbit. You can track their path over your location using the Find Starlink website. Despite the excitement surrounding these launches, concerns have arisen in the astronomical community. With SpaceX planning to deploy possibly up to 30,000 satellites, astronomers worry about the bright Starlinks interfering with professional astronomical observations, impacting our understanding of the cosmos. Although SpaceX has made efforts to address these concerns, the issue remains a point of contention.

Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

Europa Clipper Mission: https://europa.nasa.gov/mission/about/

Artemis II Flight Test: https://www.nasa.gov/missions/artemis/nasas-first-flight-with-crew-important-step-on-long-term-return-to-the-moon-missions-to-mars/

Moon Robot VIPER: https://www.nasa.gov/solar-system/nasa-rover-to-search-for-water-other-resources-on-moon/

HERA Asteroid Mission: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=HERA

ESCAPADE Mars Mission: https://advancedspace.com/technology-enabling-2024-escapade-mission-to-mars/#:~

Peregrine Mission One Lunar Delivery: https://www.nasa.gov/news-release/nasa-science-astrobotic-peregrine-mission-one-concludes/

India’s Aditya-L1 Sun Monitoring: https://www.reuters.com/science/india-isros-aditya-l1-solar-mission-reaches-destination-2024-01-06/

Proba-3 First Tandem Satellites: https://www.esa.int/Enabling_Support/Space_Engineering_Technology/Proba_Missions/Proba-3_Mission3

Polaris Dawn Mission: https://polarisprogram.com/dawn/

Nova-C Private Moon Landing: https://www.space.com/moon-landing-intuitive-machines-private-mission-target-january-2024

Launch of NISAR Strengthens U.S.- India Space Diplomacy: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/nisar-mission-an-enabling-partnership-between-us-and-india-nasa-jpl-scientists/article67765872.ece

China’s Chang’e-6 and The Dark Side of the Moon: https://www.planetary.org/space-missions/change-6-collecting-the-first-lunar-farside-samples

MMX Martian Moon Mission: https://www.space.com/mars-moons-phobos-jaxa-mmx-mission

Lucy Mission Set For Jupiter Trojan Asteroids: https://blogs.nasa.gov/lucy/

NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer: https://www.planetary.org/space-missions/lunar-trailblazer

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-8: https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew/tag/falcon-9-rocket/

Blue Origin’s New Glenn: https://arstechnica.com/space/2023/12/blue-origin-sure-seems-confident-it-will-launch-new-glenn-in-2024/

Axiom Mission 4: https://www.nasa.gov/news-release/nasa-selects-axiom-space-for-another-private-space-mission-in-2024/

SpaceX Starlink Launches: https://earthsky.org/spaceflight/spacex-starlink-launches-january-2024/

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