With 2023 having just drawn to a close, it is hard not to look forward to some of the more compelling events which will come to pass this year. While the schedule is long and packed with new engineering, science and business, this article will cover some of the largest and most spectacular occasions to keep an eye out for in the coming 12 months.
Leading humanity out into the stars yet again, NASA are targeting November of this year for the launch of Artemis II which will take 4 astronauts on a 10 day trip around the moon. This will be the first time humans have flown in the Orion capsule atop the gargantuan Space Launch System rocket and will be a crucial step in validating the technology which will be used to return mankind to the lunar surface since the Apollo missions in the 60s and 70s. Not only is Artemis II a huge boost for the space industry, but it is also a win for humanity in general.
The Artemis II crew and their spacecraft, Orion – via NASA
Commercial lunar landers
Staying on track for the moon, there will be several lunar missions launched by commercial companies this year. These privately developed landers will deliver cargo to the moon as a part of the CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program run by NASA. Technology demonstrators like these will create competition in the market, no doubt accelerating development and lowering costs while also kickstarting the lunar economy which will be required to sustain long term activities there. Some of the highlights to look out for are Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander which will launch in January, as well as Firefly Aerospace and Intuitive Machines’ missions later in 2024.
Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One ready for launch- via NASA
2023 was a big year for Elon Musk’s SpaceX as they launched a record breaking 96 Falcon rockets to orbit with zero failures and unprecedented levels of reusability. Grabbing the headlines however was Starship, their next generation launcher which managed to explode dramatically on both of its test flights last year. The largest rocket ever built was never going to perform perfectly from the start, especially given the extreme timelines involved, however SpaceX will no doubt be hoping for a less volatile 12 months this time around. With their newly constructed launch pad and mass manufacturing well underway, 2024 is looking to be a busy year for Starship and win or lose, you can guarantee the world will be watching.
Starship undergoing testing ahead of a 3rd flight in 2024 – via SpaceX
New launch vehicles
Alongside Starship, there are a couple of big players in the commercial launch landscape who will be rolling out their next generation rockets to challenge Mr Musk for top spot in the industry.
First up (chronologically at least) is United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur which will be taking off early in January. ULA, who have long been competing with SpaceX in America, are targeting the US Space Force as a key customer due to their close ties to the defence industry.
Closer to home, Arianespace’s long awaited Ariane VI rocket will be launching in 2024 after a lengthy development cycle. For half a year now, Europe has been without access to space after the previous Ariane generation was retired and the ongoing war in Ukraine has taken any Russian rockets off the table. While there are several European companies in the latter stages of their own development cycles, it is a relief to see the Europe’s ability to reach Earth orbit (and beyond) being restored.
Ariane VI preparing for a launch from Kourou, French Guiana later this year – via ESA
Alongside all of these milestones, there are several exciting scientific missions destined for distant planetary bodies as well as the continual growth of satellite constellations in lower Earth orbit. 2024 is undoubtedly going to be a busy year for the space industry and one you will not want to miss.