From Artemis to Webb, look back – and look ahead – to the year’s top aerospace trends

This image of the star-forming galaxy NGC 7469 serves as this season's

This image of the star-forming galaxy NGC 7469 serves as this season’s “Christmas card” from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. (ESA/Webb, NASA and CSA/L. Armus, A. S. Evans)

In a few years, we can just look back to 2022 as the first year of a new era in aviation: it was the year NASA’s next-generation space telescope delivered the goods, when NASA’s lunar rocket passed its first flight test, and when the all-electric airliner built from the base soared into the skies.

For the last 25 years, I’ve been collecting the most important stories in space every year (beginning with the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997), and 2022 is one of the biggest years when it comes to opening new frontiers on the final frontier. The best thing about these frontier stories – especially the James Webb Space Telescope and the Artemis lunar program – is that the best is yet to come.

Here is my list of the top five events of the past year and five trends in the aviation industry to watch in the coming year:

Looking back to 2022

JWST delivers the goods: The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Christmas Day was one of the big stories of last year – but space telescope scientists didn’t start sharing their space gadgets with the rest of the world until July. The first gifts to be opened included a new deep field image that was filled with distant galaxies and an updated view of the Pillars of Creation, the Hubble Space Telescope’s most iconic image.

And that was just the beginning: In December, astronomers gathered in Maryland to celebrate JWST’s first scientific results. We’re sure to see more wonders from the space telescope when the “Super Bowl of Astronomy” (aka the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society) comes to Seattle in January.

“One of the things I really noticed about JWST last year is how many people want to talk about it,” James Davenport, an astronomer at the University of Washington, told me in an email. “Of course I knew any astronomer would be excited – these images of young stars and ancient galaxies are something we’ve only dreamed of up until now – but almost every week I run into someone at the grocery store or at the airport and someone knows about this mission! They’ve seen some of these iconic photos and are moved.”

Davenport said that’s what he loves about astronomy and JWST: “It strikes a deep chord and brings us together in the awe and wonder of the universe.”

DART hits the asteroid bullseye: Davenport said his “surprise hit of the year” was a NASA mission that sent a camera-equipped space probe to crash into an asteroid in September. The double asteroid diversion test was designed to evaluate how a collision involving a spacecraft the size of a vending machine could alter the orbit of one asteroid around a larger one.

Scientists determined that the impact caused a larger-than-expected orbit change, in part because so much debris was ejected from the target asteroid during the impact. This has fueled hopes that future probes could help humanity avoid deadly space rocks.

“At the DiRAC Institute of the University of Warsaw, we are building algorithms to map our Solar System and search for asteroids that can threaten the Earth” – said Davenport. ‚ÄúSeeing one of these objects up close and in real time was surreal! Watching the huge plume forming after the impact and seeing how far we were able to push this mountain-sized pile of debris gives me hope that one day we can come together and actually save our planet.

NASA lunar rocket debut: After years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, NASA’s Space Launch System rocket launched for the first time in November, sending the unmanned Orion capsule on a seemingly perfect test mission around the moon and back. Speaking of images, the cameras mounted on Orion’s solar panels transmitted breathtaking views of the Moon and planet Earth that evoked the spirit of the Apollo era. (Orion sailed on the 50th anniversary of the last Apollo moon landing, adding a sense of history.)

The Artemis 1 mission has paved the way for a manned circumnavigation of the moon scheduled for 2024, followed by a lunar landing in 2025. NASA is expected to nominate the Artemis 2 crew in 2023.

The Aerojet Rocketdyne facility in Redmond, Washington, played a significant supporting role in Artemis 1. Ken Young, general manager of the Redmond facility, told me in an emailed statement that he and his teammates “have worked tirelessly over the years to ensure the delivery trusted reliable drive for the Artemis 1 mission.

The Redmond-based Aerojet team supplied or supported mission-critical equipment, including the thruster for the Orion launch abort system, the reaction control system thrusters for the crew module, the auxiliary engines on the European-built service module, the Orion main engine, and the RCS thrusters on the top of the SLS stage.

“We are extremely proud of our Redmond team and the larger national coalition that contributed to the success of the Artemis 1 mission,” said Young. “As we like to say, the way back to the moon and back to Mars is through Redmond.”

Eviation Alice’s plane takes to the skies: Arlington, Washington-based Eviation achieved a milestone in zero-emission aviation in September, when the company subjected its all-electric Alice airplane prototype to its first flight test at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. done, it has become aviation history,” said Greg Davis, president and CEO of Eviation, after the eight-minute flight.

Alice (which takes its name from Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane) is expected to take years to go through a full testing program and earn FAA certification. But Eviation says it already has more than $2 billion in booked orders, with first deliveries scheduled for 2027.

The last Boeing 747 begins a long goodbye: A different kind of aviation story was made in November when the last Boeing 747 jumbo jet rolled off the production line in Everett, Washington. The freighter has yet to be painted and delivered to Atlas Air, which will operate the jet for a Swiss logistics company. But the late night premiere marked the end of a story that began in Seattle in the 1960s.

Kim Smith, Boeing vice president and general manager, 747 and 767 programs, hailed the 747 as “a great plane that really changed the world.” Unfortunately for the 747, the world was changing: today’s airlines prefer smaller models, from the single-aisle 737 to the twin-aisle 767, 777, 787 Dreamliner and 777X.

Since the last 747 left the building, Boeing has received a huge dose of good news from other fronts – including huge orders for Dreamliners and 737 MAX planes from United Airlines and BOC Aviation.

Although this was the final launch of the “Queen of Sky”, the 747s are likely to remain in service for decades to come, primarily as cargo aircraft. The next-generation Air Force Ones will also be 747s. Ironically, these planes are currently being upgraded by the US Air Force for presidential use after being built for a now-defunct Russian airline.

Looking ahead to 2023

Will this be a big year for Blue Origin? Jeff Bezos’ space venture suffered a setback in September when the uncrewed New Shepard suborbital spacecraft experienced an anomaly during launch. Blue Origin says spaceflighters would survive a booster dud; nevertheless, New Shepard flights were suspended pending an investigation. It seems likely that crewed flights will resume in 2023, but how will the September accident affect operations?

Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engines are also expected to be used for the first time in 2023 (initially on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket), as well as the debut of Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital-class rocket. We should also find out if Blue Origin will play a role in building a second type of lunar lander for NASA, and if the company’s plans for a commercial space station called Orbital Reef will move forward.

Will Amazon Launch Project Kuiper? United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket also plays a key role in Amazon’s plans to build a satellite broadband network known as Project Kuiper. Two prototype satellites are to be deployed in low Earth orbit as additional payloads for Vulcan’s first launch.

At the moment, Project Kuiper is far behind SpaceX’s Starlink constellation. The successful deployment of the prototypes would show that Amazon is serious about its multi-billion dollar effort to put more than 3,000 satellites into orbit and provide global Internet service (including access to Amazon Web Services). Kuiper’s advancement is likely to sharpen the debate over whether the benefits of having thousands of extra satellites zooming across the night sky outweigh the disadvantages.

Will Boeing’s Starliner fly properly? Two and a half years after the failure of the first uncrewed test flight, Boeing’s Starliner space taxi docked with the International Space Station on a second uncrewed test in May. Now Boeing is resolving technical problems that arose during the test and is planning the first-ever manned Starliner flight in April next year. Boeing is betting on a successful test mission that would solidify the Starliner’s position as an alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space taxi. Having alternatives is essential, as exemplified by the current crisis over the leaky Russian Soyuz capsule attached to the space station.

Will other commercial space missions reach the level? 2023 is expected to be a pivotal year for many other commercial space projects – including the SpaceX Starship super rocket, Relativity Space’s Terran 1 rocket and Stoke Space’s reusable rocket. Also on the agenda: Virgin Galactic’s resumption of suborbital space travel, privately funded orbital tours by Axiom Space and the Polaris program, and robotic lunar landings by iSpace, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines.

Will eclipse mania return? The focus here is on 2023, but it’s not too early to start thinking about the total solar eclipse that will be visible in a narrow track stretching from Mexico to Maine on April 8, 2024. The event could attract as much attention as the “All-American” Eclipse” from 2017, especially because the path of totality is relatively close to the population centers of the Midwest and Northeast United States. For what it’s worth, I already have an Airbnb reservation near Austin, Texas.

To whet your appetite, on October 14, 2023, you can watch an annular solar eclipse with “Ring of Fire” in locations from Oregon to Texas and beyond. Weather permitting, Seattle residents will be able to watch the show in and around Eugene just after 9 a.m. that day. This will be the culmination of the 2023 skywatching schedule.

More from GeekWire:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *