2021 will be a busy year for space travel. Multiple missions to the moon are launched, different vehicles must land on the surface of Mars and a large number of commercial companies want to launch their new missiles for the first time. What’s on the agenda?
This year, several companies are hoping to (literally) launch their brand-new space initiatives. For example, nearly thirty companies want to show that their small rockets are operational by 2021.
Big companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have much bigger vehicle launches. For example, SpaceX hopes to take the 120-meter spacecraft into space, and Blue Origin wants to bring the nearly 100-meter New Glenn spacecraft to the world.
It is also expected to be the year that NASA works to procrastinate it. The highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch in October, when it was supposed to be ten years ago.
NASA also promises that the Space Launch System (SLS) should make its debut this year. The launch date for the largest and most powerful rocket to date has been set, according to NASA, in 2017.
Multiple manned spacecraft, China is building a space station
SpaceX achieved a milestone last September by being the first commercial space company to launch astronauts with its own rocket and capsule. Boeing, SpaceX’s direct competitor, is hoping to catch up with the company with its Starliner capsule.
Starliner is the direct competitor to the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. On its first test flight in 2019, Boeing failed to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Boeing will make a second attempt in March.
Another spacecraft is targeting the International Space Station this year: the “Little Space Shuttle” Dream Chaser. This spaceship should be able to fly in both manned and unmanned low earth orbit and could, for example, bring supplies to the International Space Station.
If everything goes according to plan, China will also start its manned space program this year. They go beyond just rockets and capsules: the Chinese hope to start building their own space station this year and to visit that station with manned flights.
Too much traffic to the moon, Russia resumes the Soviet program
In September 2019, the Indian mission Chandrayaan-2 crashed on the moon’s surface. This year, the Indian Space Agency is trying again with Chandrayaan-3. If this succeeds, India will become the fourth country to land on the moon, after Russia, the United States and China.
Russia wants to continue the Luna Moon Reconnaissance Program in October. The Soviet Union made history with Luna, when Luna 2 became the first man-made object to successfully reach the Moon. The last Luna mission was Luna 24 in 1976. With Luna 25, Russia wants to place a lander on the south pole of the moon.
At the same time, NASA will take the first concrete steps toward returning Americans to the moon. This is how Artemis 1: The first mission of the Apollo successor from the 1960s and 1970s should be done. This will be the first flight of the aforementioned SLS missile as well as the first lunar flight of the Orion capsule (unmanned). This mission may be delayed until 2022.
Crowds on the red planet
Three countries launched a mission to Mars in July 2020. China sent the Tianwen-1 mission, which consists of a satellite and a lander. If the probe successfully lands on the surface of the Red Planet in April, China would become the third country to set foot on Mars.
The United States has launched the Persevering Rover, which should begin searching for traces of life as of February. The United Arab Emirates was the first Arab country to send a mission to another planet. The “Hope” satellite is scheduled to arrive in February, and then will examine the Martian atmosphere.