Dec 26, 2021 - Science

Moon, Mars and asteroid missions top 2022 space goals

Illustration of an astronaut helmet forming the zero in 2022.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Space science next year will be rocketed forward with missions to the Moon, asteroids, Mars and the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope coming online.

Why it matters: The data sent back to Earth from these upcoming missions will help scientists learn more than ever before about objects in the solar system and far beyond it.

What's happening: Space agencies like NASA, the European Space Agency and Japan's space agency, JAXA, are all aiming to send probes to various targets around the solar system this year. They include:

Mars: The European Space Agency and Russia are planning to launch their joint ExoMars lander and rover to the surface of the Red Planet in September.

  • It will join NASA's Perseverance and Curiosity rovers on the Martian surface. Both are expected to continue their work next year.

Asteroids: NASA's Psyche mission is due to launch in August 2022 on a mission to explore a strange, metal-dominated asteroid that may have once been part of the core of a long-dead planet.

  • NASA's DART mission is also expected to arrive at its asteroid target next year in the hopes of slamming into it and figuring out just what it would take to throw a dangerous space rock off of a collision course with Earth.

The Moon: NASA is expected to launch the first flight of its Space Launch System mega-rocket on a trip around the Moon, and the space agency plans to load it with scientific experiments.

  • The rocket will carry a clutch of small satellites that will investigate water in the lunar environment.
  • Other nations like Japan, Russia and India are also aiming to send missions to the Moon next year. Russia's mission — called Luna-25 — is designed to search for water near the south pole of the Moon.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope — the successor to the Hubble — is also expected to be up and running starting early in 2022.

  • The JWST is tasked with no less than piecing together the early history of the universe using its powerful, sensitive instrumentation to see the light of some of the universe's first galaxies and cut through dust to see newborn stars.
  • The space telescope is also expected to parse the atmospheres of distant alien planets.

Between the lines: As all of these missions launch and arrive at their targets, astronomers and planetary scientists will also be shoring up their goals for the coming years.

  • In 2021, an influential report laid out the major priorities for the next decade of astronomy and astrophysics, centering on the idea that scientists should strive to find a potential twin of Earth orbiting a star like the Sun.
  • 2022 will be the year that researchers and agencies like NASA continue to find ways to prioritize those goals and others laid out by the scientific community this year.

What to watch: China is expected to continue collecting data from ongoing robotic missions to the Moon and Mars.

  • The nation is also expected to complete its space station in the next year or so, providing a new platform for possible scientific research above Earth.
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