What’s next in space in 2023

Into the solar system

Moons of the solar system’s biggest planet are also on the agenda next year. April 2023 will see a gripping new mission launch from the European Space Agency (ESA) called JUICE, for “Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer.” Scheduled to arrive in orbit at Jupiter in 2031, the spacecraft will perform detailed studies of the Jovian moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa, all of which are thought to harbor oceans that could contain life beneath their icy surfaces.

“It’s the first mission that’s fundamentally focused on the icy moons,” says Mark McCaughrean, senior advisor for science and exploration at ESA. “We now know these icy moons have very deep water oceans, and they could have the conditions for life to have developed.”

JUICE will map these oceans with radar instruments, but McCaughrean says it will also be able to look for possible biosignatures on the surface of Europa’s ice, which could rain down from plumes ejected into space from its subsurface ocean.

Later in 2023, ESA is scheduled to see another major mission launch: its Euclid telescope, which was switched from a Russian rocket to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The telescope will probe the “dark universe,” observing billions of galaxies over a third of the sky to better understand dark matter and dark energy in the cosmos.

In October, NASA should launch a significant science mission of its own when Psyche takes flight following a delay from 2022. The spacecraft will head to 16 Psyche, an unusual metal-rich asteroid that has never been seen up close.

A number of other intriguing developments are expected in 2023. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is scheduled to return to Earth in September with pieces of an asteroid called Bennu, which could offer new insight into the structure and formation of the solar system. Amazon aims to send up the first satellites for Project Kuiper in early 2023, the start of a 3,000-satellite orbiting communications network it hopes will rival SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. And several new rockets are set to launch, including the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket (it will carry Astrobotic’s moon lander and some of Amazon’s satellites) and possibly Blue Origin’s large New Glenn rocket. Both are heavy-lift rockets that could take many satellites into space.

“There’s a huge swathe of activity,” says Cowart. “I’m very excited about this year.”

This story is a part of MIT Technology Review’s What’s Next series, where we look across industries, trends, and technologies to let you know what to expect in the coming year.

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