2019 has been a thrilling year for space exploration with over 100 space launches. 2020 promises to be even more exciting with almost double the launches planned!
Here are the most anticipated space launches of 2020, which include missions to Mars, Moon landings, Sun orbiters, new breeds of rockets, and progress in human spaceflight. That’s a lot of space to cover (pun intended), so grab a coffee and let’s get the juices flowing.
From commercial crew to a flood of Mars missions, 2020 promises to be an exciting year for spaceflight. Companies and space agencies alike have a series of interesting missions on deck for the year, from returning lunar samples to studying the sun up close.
2020 promises to be the year of Mars as we look forward to four new missions to the Red Planet, including NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and Europe’s Rosalind Franklin rover. All missions plan to launch in July 2020 during a critical window of alignment between Earth and Mars.
In 2020, we’ll also see the launch of Europe’s Solar Orbiter mission and China’s Chang’e-5 mission to the Moon, which will collect and return samples of the lunar soil.
It’s also a big year for private space companies. SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Blue Origin all plan to launch humans into space in 2020, but take this prediction with a pinch of salt as we’ve been here before over the past three years!
Elon Musk’s company has never lacked ambition, but in the past two years they’ve really proven their model of reusable rockets with a record-breaking 21 launches in 2018, and 13 launches in 2019.
The highlight for SpaceX in 2019 was their maiden flight of the Crew Dragon capsule in March. This uncrewed test mission docked with the ISS and spent nearly a week in space. Unfortunately, the company had a setback in April when a ground static fire test caused the same Crew Dragon to explode. This delayed their planned crew flight, with a new target set for mid-2020.
Oct. 23: SpaceX will launch its first operational Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station, called Crew-1, with NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi. The mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, at 5:47 a.m. EDT (0947 GMT).
This company has also been contracted by NASA to fly astronauts up to the ISS, using their new Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing plans to launch NASA astronauts to the ISS in mid-2020, but a recent maiden test flight of Starliner did not go exactly to plan. The Orbital Flight Test on 20 December 2019 had a timer issue and did not reach the required orbit, burning too much fuel in the process. While the launch and landing were successful, this issue may cause further delays to their astronaut program.
Both SpaceX and Boeing’s crew spacecraft are designed to carry up to seven astronauts at a time, which will greatly increase the number of available flights for US astronauts.
Starliner had a major milestone in December when it launched an uncrewed test flight, although the spacecraft did not reach the ISS due to burning too much fuel during launch. SpaceX flew a successful uncrewed Crew Dragon flight to the station in March 2018 and is also preparing for an in-flight abort test in January. That SpaceX In-Flight Abort test will launch no earlier than Jan. 11.
The Commercial Crew program recently came under criticism from NASA’s Office of the Inspector General for ongoing delays.
SpaceX Starlink, Falcon Heavy and Starship
SpaceX plans to kick off 2020 with another batch of its Starlink satellites, which are meant to provide global connectivity in broadband. Starlink may eventually comprise as many as 42,000 individual vehicles circling the Earth.
SpaceX has said the vehicles are equipped with sensors to dodge collisions, but observers still worry about orbital debris. The company is also planning to coat the satellites in anti-reflective stuff to ease worries about this large constellation interfering with astronomical observations.
In addition to Starlink and Crew Dragon, SpaceX has a two other ongoing rocket programs. The company’s heavy-lift Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in use today, may launch a mission for the U.S. Air Force in late 2020, according to Spaceflight Now.
SpaceX is also expected to continue development work on its Starship Mk 3 prototype for deep-space missions.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is expected to launch the 12th batch of approximately 60 operational satellites for the company’s Starlink broadband network in a mission designated Starlink 12. It will lift off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, at 2:17 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT). This is expected to occur on September 17, 2020.
Chang’e 5 moon sample-return mission
China’s space agency is expected to launch its next moon mission, called Chang’e-5, sometime in 2020.
The country wants to send a sample of the moon back to Earth for analysis, following on to its highly successful Chang’e-4 mission that put a lander and a rover safely on the far side of the moon. Its landing site is Mons Rümker, a mountain nearby a large basaltic lunar area called Oceanus Procellarum. If Chang’e-5 succeeds, it will be the first mission to bring back samples of the moon since the last Apollo mission of 1972. The launch date is expected to be around 25th November!
A Chinese Long March 11 rocket will launch the Jilin-1 Gaofen-03-1 mission from a barge on the Yellow Sea, at 9:13 p.m. EDT (0113 GMT on Sept. 15). Jilin 1 satellites are a series of Chinese commercial remote sensing satellites for high definition video within the Jilin-1 constellation designed and owned by the Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. This is one of the most awaited space missions in China.
The Jilin-1 Gaofen-03A satellite has a mass of 42 kg and features a light weight imaging system with a resolution of 1 m, an image swath of 17 km from a 579 km high orbit.
The satellite was launched in June 2019 on the first sea launch of a CZ-11H rocket.
A cluster of nine satellites was launched in September 2020 also on a sea launch of a CZ-11H rocket. This cluster consisted of six Jilin-1 Gaofen-03B push-broom imager satellites and three Jilin-1 Gaofen-03C video satellites.
In 2019, Virgin Galactic launched its first test passenger into space. In 2020, the company is expected to begin launching space tourist flights with paying passengers aboard.
Those flights, potentially slated for mid-year, will launch passengers from Spaceport America in New Mexico, the home of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo fleet, and its carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo. Virgin Galactic is offering suborbital spaceflights for passengers at $250,000 per ticket.
Virgin Galactic currently has one SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity, and a single carrier plane the VMS Eve. The company is building a second spacecraft now. SpaceShipTwo vehicles can carry up to eight people, two pilots, and six passengers.
Blue Origin- One Of The Most Well-Know Space Missions Today
Blue Origin, the private space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, launched three flights of its New Shepard spacecraft in 2019 – most recently on Dec. 11 – and is on track to make the leap into human spaceflight in 2020.
The New Shepard spacecraft consists of a reusable booster and crew capsule designed to fly up to six people, or the equivalent weight in experiments, to suborbital space at a time. The booster launches and lands vertically, with the capsule returning to a land-based landing under parachutes.
To date, Blue Origin has flown 12 New Shepard missions, with the last six flying on the same booster and capsule. Ariane Cornell, director of Blue Origin’s astronaut and orbital sales, has said the company needs a “couple of more” flights to be ready for crewed missions.
While Blue Origin has said it will fly passengers on suborbital trips, it has not stated how much a seat will cost.
Virgin Orbit isn’t the only small-satellite company making a launch debut in 2020. So, too, is Firefly Aerospace.
The Texas-based company is developing the Alpha rocket to launch payloads of up to 2,220 lbs. (1,000 kilograms) to low Earth orbit. The rocket stands 95 feet tall (29 meters) and will launch from a Firefly pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Firefly plans to launch the rocket’s first test flight in April 2020, with a second flight to follow by June if all goes according to plan.
Russia – Soyuz
Oct. 14: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch the crewed Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft to the International Space Station with members of the Expedition 65 crew: NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. It will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Oct. 17: A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch a Glonass K navigation satellite from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia. This is one of Russia’s most-awaited space missions this year.
Featured Image Courtesy: SpaceX