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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
2020 is a make-or-break year for the U.S. to reassert its dominance in human spaceflight as Boeing and SpaceX race to launch NASA astronauts to orbit.
Why it matters: Up-and-coming space powers like India and China are making plays at sending astronauts into space while launching increasingly ambitious missions to the Moon, as NASA has been riding on its Cold War-era achievements in human spaceflight.
What's happening: Since the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has relied on Russian rockets for rides to the International Space Station.
Yes, but: Hiccups for Boeing and SpaceX in 2019 could make a 2020 crewed launch for either company more difficult.
Here's what else we're watching as the U.S. tries to solidify its 21st-century dominance in space:
Moon missions: NASA is developing its Artemis program to bring people back to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
Space tourism: Companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are also expected to start flying commercial suborbital missions sometime this year.
Moneymakers: SpaceX and OneWeb are expected to launch more of their internet-beaming satellites to orbit, proving out the business case for these mega-constellations and showing just which companies may capitalize on it.
Science: Four Mars missions are planned for 2020, with the U.S., China, the United Arab Emirates, and a joint mission between Russia and Europe expected to launch later in the year.
The bottom line: 2020 is shaping up to be one of the most consequential years for the space industry in recent memory, but technical issues and delays threaten to potentially undo that optimism.
Earth rising above the Moon. Photo: NASA
NASA is racing against the clock to get its astronauts' boots back on the Moon in four years.
Why it matters: The Artemis program to the Moon is the Trump administration's flagship space mission, designed to show off U.S. capabilities in space and eventually prove out the technology needed to send humans to Mars.
State of play: In an interview with Axios, Loverro said he's not afraid to make hard decisions when it comes to Artemis.
Details: He said he's also keeping an eye on SpaceX and Boeing's progress toward crewed flights while making sure that Artemis reaches its milestones this year.
Betelgeuse as seen by ALMA. Photo: ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/E. O’Gorman/P. Kervella
Astronomers are speculating that one of the most famous stars in the night sky could explode as a supernova in the not-too-distant future.
Driving the news: Scientists have been watching as Betelgeuse, which is located in the constellation Orion, has dimmed more than expected, potentially signaling that it's about to explode.
Why it matters: Being able to observe a nearby supernova would be a rare opportunity that would allow researchers to gather priceless data on an event that only happens two or three times per century in the Milky Way.
How it works: When a star goes supernova, subatomic particles called neutrinos shoot out from its collapsing core before the light from the explosion is visible.
But, but, but: There's no guarantee that the star's explosion is imminent. It's possible that Betelgeuse's dimming is a normal part of its stellar cycle and isn't actually a sign of exciting things to come.
Go deeper: A giant star is acting strange, and astronomers are buzzing (National Geographic)
Earth from space. Photo: NASA
York Space Systems is offering a new series of missions using its standardized spacecraft to fit the needs of a variety of customers.
Why it matters: As more companies and government entities work to launch small satellites to orbit, this kind of standardization could help to cut down on development time, getting experiments, technology demonstrations and other payloads qualified for spaceflight more quickly.
Details: Once a customer has developed a payload — like an imaging sensor — they will bring it to York, which will then manage testing and integration onto one of the company's spacecraft for the Hydra Mission Series.
Yes, but: It's not yet clear exactly how large the small satellite market will be going forward, potentially limiting the customers for this kind of standardized spacecraft in the future.
A SpaceX rocket takes flight. Photo: SpaceX
Mysterious radio signal from space seems to have suddenly vanished (Leah Crane, New Scientist)
Watch what SpaceX's first-ever astronaut launch will look like (Jackie Wattles, CNN)
The truth and consequences of Spaceport America (Loren Grush, The Verge)
2020 space events calendar (New York Times)
SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites (Rebecca Falconer, Axios)
Photo: NASA/ESA/B. Holwerda (University of Louisville)
A new photo from the Hubble Space Telescope shows off a spiral galaxy located 232 million light-years away and thought to be the largest in our known, local universe.
Background: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope's life in space. Its successor — the James Webb Space Telescope — is expected to launch in 2021.
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