2020 was an exciting year for space despite the atrocity that was essentially everything else happening in our world. 2021 will see even more excitement in the space industry, from the first fully private launch to the International Space Station to the first test mission of Artemis to the Moon. Here are the big milestones set to happen in roughly chronological order.
On February 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover (Mars 2020) is scheduled to land on the Red Planet after its nearly 7 month trip through space.
In March, OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s sample return mission to the asteroid Bennu, is scheduled to begin its return flight home to Earth. It will take 2.5 years to return home, landing in Sept 2023.
SpaceX’s Crew-2 and Crew-3 will send astronauts to the ISS in the Spring and Fall, respectively. This marks a momentous occasion in routine access to space from US soil again.
Boeing’s equivalent of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, Starliner, suffered a failure to reach orbit in its 2020 test flight. Boeing plans to retest the uncrewed flight in March and hopefully test a crewed flight no earlier than June. If all goes well, it will be flight-certified like Crew Dragon to send astronauts to the ISS.
A little bit of international news: India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon crashed into the Moon in 2019. Chandrayaan-3 will hopefully launch sometime in early 2021. If successful, this will be India’s first Moon landing.
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed its first test flight earlier in 2020. The second test was scheduled for Dec but was postponed due to Covid. Hopefully the second flight test will happen early in 2021! LauncherOne launches rockets from the wing of a Boeing 747 plane.
In July, NASA’s DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is set to launch. DART will be the first demo to change the motion of an asteroid.
Ah, the big one. Artemis-1, the uncrewed flight back to the Moon in preparation for routinely traveling back to the Moon, is set to launch in the fall. This is largely dependent on Boeing’s Space Launch System (SLS) – the largest rocket ever built – being ready for flight.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is set to complete test flights in 2021, with hopes of moving into commercial operations and sending Richard Branson, the company’s founder, to suborbital space by the end of the year.
After years and years of delays, NASA’s massive James Webb telescope is on track for an October launch. The James Webb telescope is designed to build upon the legacies of Hubble and Spitzer. It will study our universe in infrared and detect light from the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang.
Also in October, the Lucy spacecraft is set to launch. Lucy intends to study the Trojan asteroids around Jupiter which are believed to be remnants of the material that formed the outer planets of our solar system.
United Launch Alliance is completing their new Vulcan Centaur rocket and plans to launch it by the end of 2021. It already has its first payload – Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. Astrobotic is a Pittsburgh-based start-up focused on delivering payloads to the Moon.
Sometime in 2021, Rocket Lab will launch a CubeSat into lunar orbit for NASA. This CubeSat is called the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) and is a NASA mission in support of the upcoming Artemis missions. Rocket Lab is a small private aerospace company that primarily builds rockets.
Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket was just added to NASA’s launch contract, meaning it can start flying NASA missions in 2021 – a big step for Blue Origin!
SpaceX will also continue testing its Starship rocket with hopes of sending it to space by the end of the year.
What a HUGE year for space! I can’t wait to see all of these milestones come to fruition. Stay tuned to my Instagram, @TheGalacticGal, for all the latest news!