2022 has been a pivotal year for space exploration.
From new space telescopes giving a view into the deep past of the universe to the late test launch of a rocket that will once again send humans to the Moon, this year has seen a steady stream of major advances in the quest for humanity to investigate the cosmos.
There were also ramifications for space exploration from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which saw a deterioration in relations between Western space agencies and Russia’s Roscosmos.
It happened as Russian and NASA astronauts continue to work together miles from the International Space Station.
Here’s a look at the biggest stories in space this year.
Artemis I takes off
NASA’s mission to land humans on the Moon took another giant leap forward in November, when its much-delayed Artemis 1 finally took to the skies.
Artemis 1 is the first in a series of Artemis missions to enable human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
The ambitious project has been hit by a number of setbacks and delays, with billions in cost overruns.
But on November 16, NASA’s most powerful rocket – the Giant Space Launch System – lifted off, carrying the Orion spacecraft that will host astronauts on the next leg of the mission.
Artemis 1 saw three flight test dummies on board, as the team pushes the limits of what the Orion spacecraft can do before human astronauts are sent on a similar mission for Artemis 2.
The Orion spacecraft surpassed the previous distance record from Earth for a spacecraft built for human passengers, reaching 270,000 miles from Earth on November 28. The previous record was held by the Apollo 13 mission, which saw astronauts travel 248,655 miles from home.
Artemis 2 is scheduled for 2024, but in the meantime there will be a wealth of data to analyze from the first Artemis mission.
James Webb unveils the cosmos
Decades in development, the successor to NASA’s famed Hubble Space Telescope was finally launched into space on Christmas Day 2021.
This year, after completing its 1.5 million kilometer journey from Earth and warming up its science instruments, the James Webb Space Telescope began sending back image data revealing the cosmos as it had never been seen before. .
The $10 billion (9.4 billion euros) telescope can produce the deepest, sharpest infrared images yet, working like a time machine to peer into the universe further and further deeply than ever before.
It has already shown its capabilities by presenting famous galaxies and clouds of interstellar gas and dust in impressive new detail.
But the telescope has also been put to work examining the composition of atmospheres on exoplanets, recently revealing the molecular and chemical profile of a world orbiting a star some 700 light-years away.
Deviate an asteroid from its path
It sounded like the plot of a sci-fi movie – sending a spacecraft millions of miles into space to crash into an asteroid, knocking it off course towards Earth.
While the Didymos asteroid system was not about to collide with our planet, NASA’s DART mission aimed to test if we had the ability to push an asteroid out of its path, just in case. one day we would see one heading towards us.
And it was a success. In late September, the DART spacecraft slammed into the asteroid at 22,500 km/h, some 11.3 million km from Earth.
Subsequent observations and calculations confirmed that the impact had successfully altered the orbit of Dimorphos, the moon orbiting its larger partner, the asteroid Didymos.
The impact left a stunning 10,000 km trail of debris across the sky and potentially bolstered our arsenal in the fight against future Earth-bound asteroids.
‘Planet killer’ asteroid spotted
Speaking of planet-killing asteroids, one was spotted at the end of this year. With a diameter of about 1.1 km to 2.3 km, the asteroid named 2022 AP7 is the largest object potentially dangerous to Earth to have been discovered in eight years, according to the team behind its discovery.
Although described as a “planet killer” asteroid, it is not considered an immediate threat. It crosses Earth’s orbit of the Sun, but at the moment it does so when Earth is on the other side of the Sun from the asteroid.
The scientists who spotted it, however, say that over time it will come closer and closer to us, so it will be something to watch for space watchers in a few centuries.
The future of the International Space Station uncertain
Fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reached the International Space Station this year, with Russia’s new space agency chief Yuri Borisov announcing that Russia will leave the ISS after 2024.
The space station is an international joint venture led by the United States and Russia, with its operation dependent on the two main partners.
Amid deteriorating relations between the two sides, Borisov claimed the ISS was unfit for use and said Russia would build its own space station. He has since renounced this threat.
Euronews Next spoke to Scott Kelly, former NASA astronaut and ISS captain, who said of Russia’s threat to leave the project: “I don’t believe they will ever leave, unless they have no choice, unless they can afford to launch another rocket to fly their crews up there, which might actually be a possibility at some point.
He pointed out that Russia had gained international prestige through its role in the operation of the ISS, and that NASA’s continued cooperation with Russia was “just NASA being very, very practical”.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has officially ended its cooperation with Russia on the ExoMars mission to find life on the red planet.
The decision was announced in July, due to rising tensions between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.
ESA and Roscosmos had collaborated on a mission to search for signs of life on Mars using the European rover ExoMars. Russia was to contribute to the launch of the spacecraft and the landing platform, as well as instruments and radioisotope heating units on the rover.
In other good news for ESA, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has officially become the first European woman to command the International Space Station (ISS).
Cristoforetti, 45, took command in September, becoming the fifth European commander of the ISS after Frank De Winne, Alexander Gerst, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet.
Scott Kelly is also part of a NASA panel that was convened to investigate UFO sightings.
The panel of experts will analyze cases of “unidentified aerial phenomena”, which have been a hot topic since the release of videos by the US military showing US Navy pilots encountering UAPs that appear to move strangely in midair.
The NASA panel will review unclassified sightings and other data collected from the civilian government and commercial sectors.
A Pentagon report released last year found insufficient data to determine the nature of more than 140 credible sightings documented by military observers since 2004.