2022 has been a landmark year for space exploration.
From new space telescopes offering glimpses into the universe’s deep past to the belated test launch of a rocket that will take humans to the Moon once more, this year saw a steady stream of breakthroughs in humanity’s quest to investigate the cosmos.
There were also ramifications for space exploration from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen relations deteriorate between Western space agencies and Russia’s Roscosmos.
This has come as Russian and NASA astronauts continue to work together miles up on 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 once again took a big step 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 was hit by a series 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 house the astronauts on the next stage 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 record for distance 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, in which astronauts traveled 248,655 miles from home.
Artemis 2 is scheduled for 2024, but in the meantime, there will be a lot of data to analyze from the first Artemis mission.
James Webb reveals the cosmos
Decades in the making, the successor to NASA’s celebrated Hubble Space Telescope 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 transmitting imaging data revealing the cosmos as never seen before.
The $10 billion (€9.4 billion) telescope can produce the deepest, sharpest infrared images to date, working like a time machine to look further and deeper into the universe than ever before.
It has already proven its capabilities by displaying famous galaxies and clouds of interstellar gas and dust in stunning new detail.
But the telescope has also been put to work examining the composition of exoplanet atmospheres, recently revealing the molecular and chemical profile of a world orbiting a star some 700 light-years away.
divert an asteroid from its course
It sounded like the plot of a science fiction movie: sending a spaceship millions of miles into space to crash into an asteroid, knocking it off course for Earth.
While the Didymos asteroid system wasn’t actually on course to collide with our planet, NASA’s DART mission was intended to test whether we had the ability to push an asteroid off its course, should we one day detect one. that is heading towards us.
And it was a success. At the end of September, the DART spacecraft crashed into the asteroid at 22,500 km/h, some 11.3 million kilometers from Earth.
Subsequent observations and calculations confirmed that the impact had successfully disrupted the orbit of Dimorphos, the small moon that orbits its larger partner, the asteroid Didymos.
The impact left an impressive 10,000km trail of debris in the sky and potentially bolstered our arsenal in the fight against future Earth-bound asteroids.
‘Planet Killer’ Asteroid Discovered
On the subject of planet-killing asteroids, one was spotted late this year. With a diameter of around 1.1 km to 2.3 km, the asteroid named 2022 AP7 is the largest object that is potentially dangerous to Earth discovered in eight years, according to the team behind its discovery.
While described as a “planet killer” asteroid, it is not believed to be an immediate threat. It crosses the Earth’s orbit of the Sun, but right now it does so when Earth is on the other side of the Sun from the asteroid.
The scientists who detected it say, however, that it will come closer and closer to us over time, so it will be something space observers will have to watch out for centuries from now.
Future of the International Space Station in doubt
The fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reached the International Space Station this year, with the new head of the Russian space agency, Yuri Borisov, announcing that Russia would leave the ISS after 2024.
The space station has been an international joint venture run by the US and Russia, and its operation depends on both major partners.
Amid deteriorating relations between the two sides, Borisov claimed the ISS was not fit for purpose and said Russia was going to build its own space station. Since then, he rowed that threat.
Euronews Next spoke to Scott Kelly, a former NASA astronaut and ISS captain, who said of Russia’s threat to abandon the project: “I don’t think they will ever leave, unless they have no choice, unless they can’t pay.” launch another rocket to get their crews there, which actually might be a possibility at some point.”
He noted that Russia gained international prestige from its involvement in the ISS operation, and that NASA’s continued cooperation with Russia was “just that NASA is very, very practical.”
Meanwhile, 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 amid rising tensions between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine.
ESA and Roscosmos had been collaborating on a mission to search for signs of life on Mars using the European ExoMars rover. Russia would contribute to the launch of the spacecraft and landing pad, as well as the instruments and radioisotope heating units on the rover.
In more positive 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 ISS commander after Frank De Winne, Alexander Gerst, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet.
Scott Kelly is also part of a NASA panel that has been convened to investigate UFO sightings.
The panel of experts will look at instances of ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’, which have been a hot topic since the US military released videos showing US Navy pilots encountering UAPs that seem to move strangely in mid-flight.
The NASA panel will analyze unclassified sightings and other data collected from the civilian government and commercial sectors.
A Pentagon report issued last year found insufficient data to determine the nature of more than 140 credible sightings documented by military observers since 2004.