From manned missions to asteroid defense, 2022 was filled with ground-breaking space milestones that captured the world’s attention. CGTN’s science-technology reporter has selected six game-changing space-related stories in 2022.
#1 – China’s Space Station
At the top of the list is the construction of China’s Space Station. The China Manned Space Agency has yet to officially announce its completion, but it has already sent the station’s three main units – a core and two laboratories – into orbit. Together they form the iconic T-shaped configuration of the space station. Today, China has its own space station that is open for international cooperation.
#2 – NASA’s Artemis mission
After four attempts, the experimental Orion spacecraft drove a massive Space Launch System rocket and gave us a sneak peek at what Earth looks like from the moon. Its fall into the Pacific Ocean on December 11 marked a new chapter in humanity’s return to the moon after more than half a century.
The mission’s success also launched a new race for lunar exploration, which saw China execute the fourth phase of a program that began in April. With the Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 launch missions, China aims to explore the South Pole of the Moon and start construction of the International Lunar Research Station.
#3 – Destination: Mars
In 2022, the number of operational Mars probes reached 11. However, it has since been reduced by one with the retirement of America’s InSighter a few days ago.
China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, has been exploring the Red Planet for more than a year. As of May 15, it had logged 347 Martian days and recorded 940 gigabytes of data. Now it has gone into hibernation during the cold, dark Martian winter.
2022 was also a launch window to Mars, as the astronomical phenomenon known as a “Mars opposition” gave spacecraft their most economical route to the planet. Unfortunately, none were released this year and the window won’t open again for another two years.
#4 – The James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) captured some of the most incredible images ever seen. Launched on Christmas Day 2021, JWST celebrated its first anniversary and will continue to transmit amazing cosmological data.
#5 – Asteroid Redirection Tests
Should an uninvited visitor hurtle toward Earth, planetary defense experts want to push potentially threatening asteroids or comets into harm’s way years or even decades before impact. Hence, fifth on the list are mankind’s attempts to influence the orbit of a celestial body, first achieved by the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.
In April, China announced a planned asteroid defense system to be tested in 2025 or 2026. It will track a dangerous asteroid and possibly deflect it from its orbit toward Earth.
#6 – Low Earth Orbit Clutter
In 2021, China’s Space Station had to maneuver twice to avoid collisions with SpaceX Starlink satellites, which are involved in an average of 1,600 close encounters each week, accounting for nearly 50 percent of such incidents. Once the entire constellation is developed, this percentage will increase to 90%.
With the rise of the commercial space industry and increasingly crowded low-Earth orbit, orbital clutter is a bona fide threat to space exploration. China is active in space governance and has presented several solutions at Airshow China 2022.
For example, a fist-sized device installed on a satellite can be deployed like a kite, helping to accelerate the derailment of aging spacecraft. Either that or a satellite fuel supplier could extend their life.
With the dream of sustainable exploration in mind, we can optimize our shared space through collaboration.
What do you think and what is at the top of your wish list for 2023?
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