For Nasa, the future is now
From receiving the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope, to readying for launch and then scrubbing the first uncrewed Artemis mission around the Moon and back, sending Nasa technology to the surface of Moon on three missions with commercial partners, and crashing into an asteroid in the first test of planetary defence, 2022 has shaped up to be a busy year for the American space agency
From receiving the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope, to readying for launch and then scrubbing the first uncrewed Artemis mission around the Moon and back, sending Nasa technology to the surface of Moon on three missions with commercial partners, and crashing into an asteroid in the first test of planetary defence, 2022 has shaped up to be a busy year for the American space agency. A look at the key achievements
A save the world mission
In an experimental mission, Nasa’s DART spacecraft clobbered into a distant asteroid at hypersonic speed on September 26 in an attempt to alter the motion of the asteroid. A livestream showed images taken by DART’s camera as the cube-shaped “impactor” vehicle streaked into the asteroid Dimorphos, about the size of a football stadium.
The $330 million mission was devised to determine if a spacecraft is capable of changing the trajectory of an asteroid through sheer kinetic force, nudging it off course just enough to keep Earth out of harm’s way.
10,000km trail of debris
The asteroid has left a trail of debris, the ejecta that has been pushed away by the Sun’s radiation pressure, like the tail of a comet stretching thousands of kilometres, a new image captured by a telescope in Chile shows
Multiple scrubs for moon mission
Nasa’s latest schedule puts the Artemis 1 launch in the calendar for November, preparing its next launch window for between November 12 and November 17
Hurricane Ian forces Artemis back in hangar
The SLS rocket, the most powerful ever designed by Nasa, was returned to its storage hangar at Kennedy Space Center on September 26 in order to shelter it from the approach of Hurricane Ian which hammered Florida that week.
Two previous attempts
NASA had already made two attempts to launch the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission, in late August and early September, but both had to be scrapped at the last minute due to technical problems — an engine-cooling problem and a hydrogen leak in the engine cavity.
The goal of the flight, baptized Artemis 1, is to test the SLS and the Orion crew capsule that sits atop the rocket on a six-week mission. If successful, Artemis I will pave the way to a first crewed SLS-Orion mission, an out-and-back flight around the moon designated Artemis II, as early as 2024, to be followed a year or more later by an Artemis III journey to the lunar surface.
Webb peeks into galaxies far, far away
On July 11, the world got a first look at the capabilities of Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope, a partnership with European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency. Webb revealed the sharpest image to date of the early universe, teeming with thousands of galaxies going back more than 13 billion years. The next day, a tranche of 17 photos was released.
A stellar nursery
The “mountains” and “valleys” of a star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula, dubbed the “Cosmic Cliffs”, 7,600 light years away were revealed in perhaps the most beautiful image from the first lot.
The death of a star
A dim star at the center of the Southern Ring Nebula was found for the first time to be cloaked in dust, as it spewed out rings of gas and dust in its death throes.
A cosmic dance
Webb also revealed never-before-seen details of Stephan’s Quintet, a grouping of five galaxies including four that experience repeated close encounters, which provide insights into how early galaxies formed at the start of the universe. At the center of the cluster is a black hole called an active galactic nucleus.
The hunt for a habitable planet
The telescope also detailed water vapour in the atmosphere of a faraway giant gas planet. The spectroscopy -- an analysis of light that reveals detailed information -- was of planet WASP-96 b.
Unfolding the universe
“Every image is a new discovery,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said after the release of Webb’s first photos. “Each will give humanity a view of the universe that we’ve never seen before,” he said, heralding a new space race. Other notable missions this year
CAPSTONE CubeSat: Launched on June 28, the mission will be the first to precision navigation for a unique, elliptical orbit around the Moon as a precursor to Gateway. The spacecraft — about the size of a microwave oven — will study the orbit where NASA plans to build a small space station for astronauts to stop at before and after going to the moon’s surface
Perseverance mission: The next phase of the mission will continue its search for ancient microbial life on Mars. Last year, the rover aced its journey to Mars and survived a harrowing landing on the surface of the red planet, with its companion, an experimental helicopter called Ingenuity.