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Business News/ Science / News/  Year-Ender 2023: A Look at the Top 11 Space Moments of 2023

Year-Ender 2023: A Look at the Top 11 Space Moments of 2023

From private space attempts to countries notching new triumphs, 2023 saw a host of moments to remember from the space sector this year. We take a look.

This image provided by NASA shows the International Space Station (ISS) backdropped by a blue and white Earth (AP Photo/NASA)Premium
This image provided by NASA shows the International Space Station (ISS) backdropped by a blue and white Earth (AP Photo/NASA)

From private space attempts to countries notching new triumphs, 2023 saw a host of moments to remember from the space sector this year. From rocket launches to space tourists, the emergence of new galaxies, and landing on the moon's south pole, we take a look at all that happened this year.

April 20 — SpaceX's Starship explodes shortly after launching

The inaugural flight of Starship from the SpaceX facility in Texas on April 20 saw the rocket take off from its launchpad but suffer multiple engine failures leading to it going out of control. According to the plan, the booster was to peel away from the spacecraft minutes after liftoff, however, that didn't happen and SpaceX was forced to activate the flight termination system that blew up the rocket.

The launch was a significant milestone as it marked the first comprehensive flight test of a Starship and Super Heavy integrated launch system, which has a towering height of 395 feet (120 meters). An earlier attempt at the launch on April 17 was cancelled due to a fueling issue.

Starship — the largest and most powerful rocket ever developed — is key to Musk’s ambitions of carrying payloads and people to distant destinations like the moon and Mars.

October 4 — NASA’s first asteroid sample lands on Earth

After seven years of long wait, the US space agency NASA's first asteroid sample landed on Earth, in the desert in the western state of Utah after a 3.86-billion-mile (6.21-billion-kilometer) journey.

Researchers "found black dust and debris on the avionics deck of the Osiris-Rex science canister when the initial lid was removed today," the US Space Agency said.

Osiris-Rex launched in 2016, landing on the asteroid Bennu and collected roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface. According to NASA, the debris of the asteroid should "help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth."

April 3 — NASA announces crew for Artemis II manned mission

US space agency NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on April 3 announced the four astronauts who will venture around the Moon as part of the Artemis II mission. Expected to launch sometime next year, Artemis II would be the first crewed voyage around the moon in more than 50 years.

Christina Koch, 44, an engineer who already holds the record for longest continuous spaceflight by a woman and was part of NASA's first three all-female spacewalks, was named as a mission specialist for the Artemis II lunar flyby expected as early as next year, a Reuters report said.

She will be joined by Victor Glover, 46, a US Navy aviator and veteran of four spacewalks who NASA has designated as pilot of Artemis II. He will be the first Black astronaut ever to be sent on a lunar mission, the report adds.

The other two members of the crew are Jeremy Hansen, a Royal Canadian Air Force colonel, and the first Canadian ever chosen for a flight to the moon, as a mission specialist, and Reid Wiseman, another former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, named as mission commander. Both are 47.

June 29 — Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic completes first manned mission to space

Virgin Galactic, the space venture established by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, completed its first manned mission to the edge of space on June 29.

The mission featured two Italian Air Force personnel who were funded by the organisation. Colonel Walter Villadei, who is also slated for a future paid SpaceX mission to orbit, and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi, a physician trained as a crew surgeon for Russian cosmonauts, were among the passengers.

Additionally, Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer affiliated with Italy's National Research Council, and Colin Bennett, a Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor who previously flew with Branson in 2021, were part of the group. Bennett's role was to assess the flight's comfort and functionality, providing valuable feedback to enhance Virgin Galactic's rocket-powered spaceplane, VSS Unity.

July 12 — NASA's James Webb Space Telescope marks its first anniversary

NASA marked one year of discovery by the James Webb Space Telescope on July 12 with a spectacular new image of Sun-like stars being born. It showed the latest snapshot revealing 50 baby stars in a cloud complex 390 light-years away, NASA said.

Webb — the largest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever launched into space — has been churning out cosmic beauty shots for the past year. The first pictures from the $10 billion infrared telescope were unveiled last July, six months after its liftoff from French Guiana.

On August 12, the Webb Space Telescope captured an image of the most distant star known as ‘Earendel’. Earendel, situated in the Sunrise Arc galaxy, is a super-hot and super-bright B-type star, surpassing the heat of the Sun.

On November 7, the Telescope captured a new image of the HH212 star's formation. The image released shows the HH212 star coming into existence which is around 50,000 years old. It was found in the constellation Orion which is close to the three stars that make the "belt" of the mythical hunter. The distance of this star from Earth is about 1,300 light-years.

On November 22, the Telescope also captured a colourful image of the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. In the images, the Milky Way’s dense core can be seen in a new light with an estimated 500,000 glittering stars. The region captured by the NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) instrument is called Sagittarius C (Sgr C) and is about 300 light-years from the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A, NASA said in a press statement.

August 11 — Virgin Galactic takes first space tourists on successful flight

A Virgin Galactic rocket took its passengers to the edge of space before gliding back to the runway at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert on August 11.

The rocket ship portion of the flight began with loud cheers from the families and friends of the passengers watching and lasted about 15 minutes, reaching an elevation of 56 miles (88 km).

Among the passengers on the Virgin Galactic flight were 80-year-old former British Olympian Jon Goodwin and a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean -- 46-year-old health coach from Antigua Keisha Schahaff and her 18-year-old daughter Anastatia Mayers, had won their seats in a charity draw.

August 20 — Russia's Luna-25 mission crashes on the moon's surface

Russia's Luna-25 spacecraft which was launched to make soft-landing on the south pole of the moon has crashed on the lunar surface, the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos confirmed.

It said that the crash occurred due to a deviation between actual and calculated parameters of the propulsion maneuver which led Luna-25 to an unintended orbit resulting in a collision with the lunar surface.

The crash came hours after the Russian space agency reported some “abnormal situation" with Luna-25. Roscosmos said that the spacecraft encountered an unspecified issue during its attempt to enter a designated pre-landing orbit. The exact nature of the problem remains uncertain.

August 23 — India's Chandrayaan-3 becomes the first to land on the Moon's South Pole

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, has successfully landed on the South Pole of the Moon, a remarkable feat no country has ever achieved, amid cheers and applause among the scientists. The Vikram lander at Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft landed at 06:04 pm.

With the landing, India has become the fourth nation in the world to successfully soft land on the moon, and the first to touchdown on the South Pole, an uncharted territory that scientists believe could hold vital reserves of frozen water and precious elements.

As the Chandrayaan-3 landed on the lunar surface, ISRO chief S Somanath said, “We have achieved a soft landing on the Moon. India is on the Moon." The ISRO chief also congratulated his team on the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission.

September 7 — Japan launches H-IIA rocket carrying JAXA's lander SLIM

Japan successfully launched its H-IIA rocket on September 7 carrying the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Moon lander which is scheduled to land early next year. The launch took place after a series of postponements due to unfavourable weather conditions in August.

H-IIA rocket successfully lifted off from the launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan. The rocket carried an X-ray telescope called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), which will study the origins of the universe. XRISM will measure the composition and speed of intergalactic space, AP reported.

This space mission aims to help scientists to understand celestial object formation and the universe's creation. This mission was conducted in collaboration with NASA, and it will involve studying light at various wavelengths, temperature assessments, and analysing the shapes and brightness of celestial objects.

September 15 — Russian spacecraft carrying 3 astronauts blasts off to the ISS

One American and two Russian space crew members blasted off aboard a Russian spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a mission to the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara and Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub lifted off on the Roscosmos Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft at 8.44 p.m. local time. O’Hara will spend six months on the ISS while Kononenko and Chub will spend a year there. While neither O’Hara nor Chub has ever flown to space before, veteran cosmonaut and mission commander Kononenko has made the trip four times already.

According to NASA, when mission commander Kononenko finishes his tour to space in a year, he will hold the record for the person who has spent the longest amount of time — more than a thousand days — in space.

November 18 — Elon Musk's SpaceX uncrewed Starship spacecraft fails for second time

SpaceX's uncrewed spacecraft Starship, developed to carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, was presumed to have failed in space minutes after lifting off on November 18 during its second test. This comes after its first attempt in April also ended in an explosion.

The two-stage rocketship blasted off from the Elon Musk-owned company's Starbase launch site near Boca Chica in Texas, boosting the Starship spacecraft roughly 55 miles (90 km) above ground on a planned 90-minute flight into space. But the rocket's Super Heavy first stage booster, though it appeared to achieve a crucial maneuver to separate with its core Starship stage, exploded over the Gulf of Mexico shortly after detaching, a SpaceX webcast showed.

Meanwhile, the core Starship booster carried further toward space, but a few minutes later a company broadcaster said that SpaceX mission control suddenly lost contact with the vehicle.

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Published: 19 Dec 2023, 08:45 AM IST
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