Although NASA’s space shuttles, are no more, it doesn’t mean NASA is not busy in space. Astronauts and Cosmonauts are still launching regularly on Russian rockets to the International Space Station until such time as the incredible commercialization of space that brings us SpaceX and Orbital Science’s Antares and so much more takes over.SpaceX already has the cargo drops in hand and Antares is next in June or July after last week’s sucessful test launch. And also planning to fly is China in another manned docking mission for 2013. Other countries from South Korea, India, and Canada to various European nations intend to launch robotic probes in the name of science next year.
So what is going on in space? Who are the mighty few who dare to go where many will not tread? Below I have listed a list of some of what has been and some of what is to come:
1)Virgin Galactic & Lynx Suborbital Test Flights: Many private space companies are not only at the point of doing a test but have already made many successful tests for the awe-inspiring tourist’s brief joyrides to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic's has completed a number of sucessful test glides to date but its first powered flight where it uses its rocket engine should occur sometime in 2013. Not to be out done, another company in the mix called XCOR Aerospace has plans to test fly its suborbital vehicle, Lynx, next year. Both companies have lofty plans of beginning their tourism in 2014.
2)Third Time’s a charm!:January saw South Korea’s sucessful launch of a satellite into space. A deal was struck back in 2005 where Russia aided South Korea in their development of a launch vehicle. Russians also took South Korea aboard the Soyuz in a launch to the ISS. Now after two failed launches the South Koreans finally joined the club. But South Korea is already looking ahead with its “Space Vision 2040” and has rapidly begun to rebuild the launch site as well as prepare new vehicles and new technology now that they see where success lies. It has a plan that begins with a moon orbit vehicle for 2020.
3)AltiKa – A French-India collaboration This satellite saw its successful launch in February 2013. The satellite built with several modules; DORIS Laser Retro-reflector Array, AltiKa-altimeter, and ARGOS-3 – advanced research and global observation satellite pact has many applications for environmental science and oceanography. NEOSSat, a Canadian satellite that aims to protect us from near-Earth asteroids that could pose threat and a Canadian space surveillance satellite called Sapphire both hitched a ride. The mission lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India.
4)Antares & Cygnus flights: SpaceX has received most of the attention, but another private space coporation hit the stage in a big way. Orbital Sciences Corp. one of two firms with a NASA contract to deliver cargo to the ISS via unmanned spacecraft flew the Antares rocket and faux dropped off cargo The launch was at the company's complex on Wallops Island in Virginia. As the Antares test flight went well after two delays (one due to a cable that disconnected and the other due to the wind) they are now expected to move on to the next stepand fly to the ISS in a test sometime in either June or July.
5)SpaceX Dragon Flights: Launches are never exactly the same twice, yet Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), makes it seem so easy. Having begun their commercial contract for payloads to the ISS a year ago (last May) NASA has them all signed up for many repeat flights. This is the first o\phase while the second phase is still developing. That phase will see astronauts flying once again under the auspices of NASA. Sort of.
6)Space Station Crew Launches: This year count on 3 separate launches to the ISS aboard the Russian Spacecraft Soyuz. While the tickets are quite pricey Russia has been the perfect host. Each of the three launches will see three astronauts from varying agencies (US, Russia, Canada, Japan & Europe) to their posts.These launches are currently scheduled for March 28, May 28, and Sept. 25. The ISS requires a staff of 3-6 people and so every 5 or 6 months the crew rotates.
7)Canada's Cassiope: As if SpaceX wouldn’t be busy enough, the launch of the Canadian Space Agency's Cassiope (short for Cascade Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer) spacecraft is planned aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California's Vandenberg Air Force Basesometime in April. The satellite carries instruments that will study how solar storms interact with the Earth’s charged particles in the ionosphere and also test out new communications technology – the pairing of these two tasks makes al too much sense as solar storms have been interfering with many communications during the explosive year. The launch will mark the first time a Falcon 9 will use the company's new in-house made Merlin 1D engines.
8)Space Station Cargo Launches: MANY LAUNCHES are likely, even necessary to the ISS aboard specific country launch vehicles such as Europe and Russia. In addition to those, the private sector will also be taking its turns. (at present consisting of SpaceX and newly joined by Orbital Sciences) Russian Progress launches are scheduled for Feb. 12, April 24, and July 24, while Japan's HTV freighter will lift off July 15, and the European Space Agency's ATV is scheduled for a liftoff April 18. From food, hardware and science experiments, these necessary robotic launches will resupply the crew of the orbital outpost.
9)ESA's Space Swarm: The Swarm spacecraft, built by the ESA (European Space Agency) will launch into a polar orbit in August-September aboard a Eurockot Rockot rocket from Russia. This particular launch has been postponed a number of times. The satellite is to carry 3 instruments that will enable the study of Earth’s geomagnetic field and note its changes over time. The Swarm satellite will give a 3-D view of the Earth’s magnetic field. The goal is a clearer picture of Earth's climate & interior composition.
10)NASA's Iris: Part of NASA’s Heliophysics, NASA's Iris (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) satellite is part of a sun-studying mission where it will analyze the flow of energy through our star's heliosphere. Iris will be launching aboard the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket, taking off in midair; after being brought there by a carrier plane from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The flight/Launch is scheduled for April 28 or 29.
11)China's Shenzhou 10: Currently scheduled for sometime in June, China's Shenzhou 10 mission - the fifth manned spaceflight for China, will carry 3 Chinese astronauts, including one female up to dock with the China's Tiangong 1 module in orbit. China’s Shenzhou 9 mission of June 2012, was historic as it marked the country's first manned space docking. Taking the next step China moves closer to establishing a manned space station and perhaps landing people on the moon. Shenzhou 10, like Shenzhou 9 before it, will lift off from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on a Long March 2F rocket.
12) NASA's Ladee: Ladee (The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment) is a moon orbiter that is intended to not only study the moon's atmosphere but also the particles of dust that blanket its surface when they are not levitating due to electrostatic forces. August 12th is the anticipated launch date for the orbiter that is making the trip aboard a U.S. Air Force Minotaur 5 rocket from Wallops Island.
13)NASA's Mars Maven: The much anticipated (by me)Mar’s Maven (Mars Atmosphere And Volatile Evolution) is due to launch somewhere in a twenty day window that spans from Nov. 18 to Dec. 7 allowing it to enter orbit around the Red Planet around September 2014. Maven’s goal is to discover how Mars loses atmospheric gases to space. Launching from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket the Mar’s MAVEN will be joining Odyssey though their missions and abilities differ greatly.
That would be the top launches anticipated for 2013. Most of them should be covered on NASA TV.
Call me crazy but I really DO place a reminder in my iPhone for launches and night sky events. I seriously recommend you do too! (And it is no guanrantee – if the Antares weren’t scrubbed the first two times I might have missed it!)