Every year we continue to see great accomplishments in space exploration and research and the upcoming year is shaping up to be just as promising. Here are some of the most exciting things in space news to look forward to in 2024.
The Race to the Moon
The race to the moon continues in 2024 with a slew of new players—including some private companies— stepping up to the plate. The year is starting strong with a round of lunar landers hitting the surface of the moon in January and February. On January 20th, Japan’s SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) is planned to land. In addition, two other lunar exploration vehicles from the private robotics companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines will be joining in and launching in January, with landings planned for February. Later this year in May, China will launch Chang’e-6 which will be collecting the first ever far-side lunar samples. This feat follows in the footsteps of Chang’e-4’s 2019 mission to land on the far side of the moon and Chang’e-5’s 2021 mission to collect lunar samples.
In the U.S., NASA is also gearing up for the next stage of the Artemis mission, Artemis II, which plans to culminate in 2027 when Artemis III puts people on the moon again. However, Artemis II will need to have a successful launch first. It is scheduled for takeoff in November this year. On this upcoming mission astronauts will orbit the moon without landing. This crew will be “the first humans to reach the vicinity of the Moon since those of Apollo 17 in 1972.” Meanwhile, NASA will continue to work with SpaceX to further develop Starship, their craft that can land on the moon and deliver the crew to the surface. The next test launch will be happening in early 2024.
Beyond Our Moon
There are also some non-lunar missions happening this year. Our moon is getting plenty of attention, but so are the moons of other planets in our solar system. NASA’s Europa Clipper is set to launch in October. As the name suggests, the destination for this mission is Europa, one of Jupiter’s 95 moons. With 95 to pick from you may be asking yourself why Europa is special. According to NASA, “Europa Clipper is being crafted with one overarching goal: determine if Europa has conditions suitable to support life.” The theory is that Europa has a large ocean beneath its surface which may make it a viable place for extraterrestrial life to exist—though it would most likely be in the form of microbes rather than the stereotypical aliens we see on TV.
There’s also a high chance that the Indian Space Research Organization will launch the Venus Orbiter Mission this year. The mission, also known as Shukrayaan, is set to depart in December 2024. While there the vehicle will analyze soil and atmospheric components. They will also look into volcanic activity and lava flow.
In addition, the world of private spacecrafts is also booming— this coming year will see several new competitors for the well-known SpaceX Falcon 9. Such companies include United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser, and Boeing’s Starliner. These developments could help government organizations such as NASA achieve their mission goals in the future.
That just about wraps up the major upcoming space events, but if you’re interested in something more local and less interstellar, you’re in luck. This year also promises a rare and breathtaking planetary event that many of us will be able to participate in. For the first time since 2017, North America will see a total solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024! Keep an eye out for any updates here on my blog and have a happy new year! And if you’re fascinated by the current space race, be sure to check out my book, Dragon on the Far Side of the Moon.