Tuesday, January 5, 2021

A Set of Predictions for the Year in Space - 2021

A preview of the year to come in space exploration is an annual feature at Ars Technica, and Eric Berger posted this year's version this morning.  He titled it, “There are an insane amount of cool space things happening in 2021” and that's as good a summary as I could hope to do.  As I usually do when I say to go RTWT, I'll excerpt some pieces, starting with what I was thinking of this morning: when are those Mars probes that launched for the opposition going to arrive?
The United Arab Emirates' first mission to the red planet, Mars Hope, is due to arrive on February 9. At this time, the spacecraft will make a challenging maneuver to slow down and enter orbit around Mars with an altitude above the planet as low as 1,000km. If all goes well, the spacecraft will spend a Martian year—687 Earth days—studying the planet's atmosphere and better understanding its weather.

China has not said when, exactly, that its ambitious Tianwen-1 mission will arrive at Mars, but it's expected in mid-February. After the spacecraft enters orbit, it will spend a couple of months preparing to descend to the surface, assessing the planned landing site in the Utopia Planitia region. Then, China will attempt to become only the second country to soft-land a spacecraft on Mars that survives for more than a handful of seconds. It will be a huge moment for the country's space program.

NASA's Mars Perseverance will likely be the last of three missions to arrive at Mars, reaching the red planet in mid-February and attempting a landing in Jezero Crater on February 18. This entry, descent, and landing phase—much like with the Curiosity lander in 2012—will be must-see TV.

History suggests at least one of these three missions will not make it, but we'll hope to defy those odds.
They go on to mention that many Starship tests will take place.  Eileen, on the new test pad over in Boca Chica is up now, with the usual "every date changes" course of action we see.  Today's updates are that residents have been given an over pressure warning for tomorrow.  That implies a minimum of the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and probably static firing.  The FAA granted an unlimited Temporary Flight Restriction for the area, Friday through Sunday, which could be Eileen's flight to 15 km - or higher.

A test flight of the first Super Heavy booster in the first six months of the year is likely, making it almost a sure bet for the whole year.  Berger predicts that's not the only totally unprecedented mission the year will see.  He predicts we'll see one of the most anticipated and most-delayed missions:
Snarking about the delays in the launch schedule of the ultra-ambitious James Webb Space Telescope have become commonplace in the space community, and indeed this flagship astrophysics mission is far behind schedule and over budget.

However, it seems like NASA's current science leadership has addressed a number of the technical and management issues that had been plaguing the telescope program and causing delay after delay. Now, there seems to be quiet confidence that NASA's space telescope will stick to its Oct. 31, 2021 launch date on a European Ariane V rocket.
In addition to Super Heavy, we're likely to see the launch of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket, carrying Astrobotic's Peregrine lander to the Moon.  This one doesn't look good to me; the Vulcan is based on Blue Origin's BE-4 Methane-Oxygen engine, which technically doesn't exist.  Delivery is expected in the summer and launch in the 4th quarter, which is tight considering the amount of newness there.  Other big rockets are possible as well: Japan's H3 booster and Europe's Ariane 6 rocket.  Finally, not a new rocket, but SpaceX has three Falcon Heavy flights on the manifest this year.  Their main emphasis will be recovering all three boosters.  Only one center rocket has landed, and that one later tipped over and fell due to rough seas combined with the lack of hardware to hold it on deck (the Octagrabber on both recovery drone ships now).

This is just a look at a few things that caught my eye.  If you like to follow space exploration, go read

James Webb Space Telescope, rendering for NASA.  The diameter across those 18 hexagonal mirror "tiles" is 6.5 meters or 256 inches.  Intended for Infrared observation, it has nearly three times the aperture of the Hubble Space Telescope.  Lots of details here.


  1. That is, if the administrations don't change.

    I firmly believe that a new administration will shutter private and semi-private space exploration companies. On at least an 'environmental' basis and going up to out-right pandering of the ChiComs.

    So, yes, the future in 2021 for Space may be bright and shiny. Or...

    And ULA basing their rocket on vaporware-motors was and is dumb. If I were they (ULA)(hey, hey, that rhymes...) I would be working my overly bloated corporate corpse to a high sweat in finding another supplier. Of course, now that LockMart has bought Aerojet Rockedyne, mayhaps that is EXACTLY what is going on. I am sure that there is a design in AjRd's vast files that can be whipped out and working way before actual working models of BO's motor arrive (if ever...)

    Heck, I'm surprised ULA hasn't tried sucking up to SpaceX for a couple Raptors or even a brace of Merlins or something.

    I hope the future of space exploration includes the United States as a front-runner, rather than sucking hind-teat on a second-rate system like what the ChiComs and the Russkies use (sorry, not, but the Soyuz system was, is and always will be a friggin nightmare. We'd do better building Geminis and upsized versions of the Gem. Way too many close calls and 'Eh, it verks' attitude about their lauchers and space vehicles.)

    1. You can see it in their "Pride of Workmanship" standards. Where it absolutely has to be good, it's built and finished to very high standards. Where it doesn't have to be so good, like the metalwork and paint on the outer skin, it isn't. I've seen way better rattlecan paint jobs done by 15 year old kids. But, "It Works". Until somebody wires up some gyros backwards, or loads a wrong program into it, or....

    2. I firmly believe that a new administration will shutter private and semi-private space exploration companies.

      There's - perhaps - a foreshadowing of that generating some whispers now. SpaceX wants to do more from Boca Chica, including some orbital flights, if I understand it all. The FAA has decided their previous inspections and certifications won't count if they go that high. They're being looked at again, and it just has this whiff of putting up barriers. My interpretations; it might be as routine as can be, but I see a few words here and there about it.

      To be honest, it's a strange situation. There are residential areas on the island, just outside SpaceX's gate. The whole island is about two miles long, so they're closer than that to each other. Musk has tried to buy them out and wasn't successful.

      It's rather more dangerous than the guy in the neighborhood with several cars up on blocks in his yard, which is just an eyesore ;-)

      Of course, I'd be happy if they moved here but that's no reason to do anything. They had or still have a facility in Cocoa that was working on Starship and that operation appears to be shut down.

    3. I have been having tbe same misgivings that you have expressed if and most likely the Democrats rule this country (notice I did not say govern).