It can be tough to keep up with everything humanity is sending skyward, so we created a list of 20 missions so you can mark your calendars for all the exciting moments in space travel, planetary research, and even colonization in the coming decade.
SpaceX To Launch Starlink Fleet (2020)
This will undoubtedly become one of the most-watched missions in the next decade as SpaceX plans to launch 12,000 communication satellites into Earth’s orbit in the next year.
The plan has already ruffled feathers. Dark sky advocates are concerned the vast constellation of satellites could dampen our ability to peer out into the starry skies. Others have voiced concerns that the network could make Earth’s orbit too crowded, potentially leading to crashes and, eventually our inability to leave the planet.
SpaceX To Launch Crewed Starship Flight (2020)
This is ambitious, to say the least. Even Musk admitted it during a Sept. 28 SpaceX event in which the company’s founder revealed his plan for the shiny new spacecraft. But still, he’s committed to sending an intrepid crew up into space within the next six months.
NASA Mars Rover Launches Toward Mars (2020)
The duration of the mission is estimated to be close to a Mars year which is equivalent to 687 Earth days, of course, if it’s anything like other Mars rovers, that mission could be extended for a long time. The rover has seen an upgrade that includes a stronger and “more capable” wheel design and also allows for drilling so that samples of Martian rocks and soil can be examined.
You can follow the countdown to launch here.
ExoMars Reaches the Martian Surface (2021)
During the same launch window as Mars 2020, this collaboration between the ESA and Roscosmos aims to discover if life ever existed on the red planet. This plan has already been set in motion—in 2016, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) was launched in order to determine if there’s methane or other gases present on Mars and 2017’s ExoMars Lander was sent as a vanguard for the eventual rover, but it crashed into the Red Planet’s surface.
Roscosmos Begins Offering Space Tours (2021)
Russian agency Roscosmos has partnered with Space Adventures to create a new tourist destination…in space, and the Russian space agency also has plans to turn a decommissioned International Space Station into a luxury hotel.
The James Webb Telescope Finally Begins Its Mission (2021)
The James Webb Space Telescope is set to be the successor to the Hubble Telescope and has a planned launch date of 2021, but that’s after a long line of delays and setbacks. Webb will be launched with the assistance of the European Space Agency (ESA) who will provide an Ariane 5 rocket to set the Webb into orbit.
India Enters the Realm of Crewed Spaceflight (2021-2022)
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to send the first group of Indian astronauts into space between 2021 and 2022 for a duration of approximately a week.
The astronauts (one of which will be a female military pilot) are expected to be chosen for Gaganyaan (the moniker given to the spacecraft) sometime this year.
SpaceX Launches a Mission to Mars (2022)
Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, plans to launch an unpiloted mission in 2022 to “confirm water sources, identify hazards, and put in place initial power, mining, and life support infrastructure.”
In 2024, Musk wants SpaceX to send a crewed spacecraft to Mars with the primary objectives of “building a propellant depot and preparing for future crew flights,” though SpaceX is quick to label these goals “aspirational.”
China Launches a Third Space Station (2022)
Earlier this year, China reached a historic milestone by landing the Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon—previously unchartered territory. This is an especially exciting outcome because the Chang’e 4 landed in the Moon’s oldest and deepest crater which may be able to shed new light on the Moon’s origins.
The country of more than 1 billion isn’t stopping there. According to TheNew York Times, “China now plans to begin fully operating its third space station by 2022, to put astronauts in a lunar base by later in that decade, and to send probes to Mars, including ones that could return samples of the Martian surface back to Earth.”
ESA Creates an Asteroid Insurance Policy (2023)
The European Space Agency (ESA) would like to have a method that detects “risky” asteroids weeks before they get near Earth. The Hera Mission is “humankind’s first visit to a binary asteroid system” with a launch date of 2023.
SpaceX’s First Moon Tourism Trip (2023)
Japanese entrepreneur, designer, and art curator Yusaku Maezawa will be “the company’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon in 2023.”
Recently, however, Maezawa revealed that he’s “broke,” so it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be able to stick to the plan and make the trip.
OSIRIS-REx’s Asteroid Sample Return (2023)
The OSIRIS-REx mission, which launched in 2016 to visit the asteroid Bennu, is expected to return a 2.1-ounce sample of the rocky body back to Earth by 2023.
The spacecraft reached Bennu in Nov. 2018, and returned a number of stunning images of the asteroid. These celestial objects are remnants of the formation of the solar system and could have brought the building blocks of life to Earth. Scientists are hopeful we can use these samples to learn about the origins of life here on our home planet.
NASA’s Artemis Mission To The Moon (2024)
NASA announced that they plan to send the first woman and the next man back to the Moon by 2024.
The Artemis mission will take astronauts to the Lunar South Pole to learn more about the availability of resources such as water and test vital technology that will prove useful during future missions to Mars. Another goal will be to, well, see how the human body endures long term space missions. They’ll fly in the Orion spacecraft, which will be powered by the Agency’s SLS rockets.
In essence, it’s practice for Mars.
JAXA’s Takes a Trip to the Martian Moons (2025)
In March 2025, JAXA’s Martian Moons Exploration probe will enter Mars orbit before moving on the Phobos to collect particles with a simple pneumatic system. The last attempt to nab a sample of Phobos was Russia’s Fobos-Grunt mission in 2011 which failed in low-Earth orbit.
If successful, the spacecraft will return to Earth five years later, hopefully shedding light on whether Mars’ moons are captured asteroids or the result of devastating planet impacts.
The Extremely Large Telescope Fires Up (2025)
Some of the most interesting space projects are still happening right here on Earth. When completed at its location in Chile, the ETL will be the largest telescope in the world, able to gather 13 times more light than today’s most powerful space-gazing telescopes.
The U.S. Habitat Arrives at the Lunar Gateway (2025)
NASA’s Gateway, a cis-lunar orbital space station in conjunction with other international partners, will be an ongoing project throughout the 202os. But once the U.S. habitat is delivered to the space station in 2025, the real science begins.
Current designs allow for four astronauts on board the space station at the same time, and a litany of proposed lunar landers will make the Gateway a hive of space-based activity—and a possible stepping stone to Mars.
NASA Glimpses Psyche For the First Time (2026)
The world will get its first close-up of Psyche, one of the 10 major asteroids in the asteroid belt which scientists theorize is the exposed nickel-iron core of a protoplanet.
Launching in 2022, the mission will take four years to reach its destination, but once there, it will conduct groundbreaking science while delivering images that further illuminate our solar system.
NASA’s Dragonfly Mission to Titan (2026)
This highly anticipated mission to Saturn’s icy moon, Titan. The rotorcraft is scheduled to launch in 2026 and is expected to arrive at Titan in 2034 when it will begin to study the moon’s wide variety of environments.
Because Titan’s atmosphere is so dense–four times that of Earth–Dragonfly will be able to carry its entire science payload to different locations around the ocean world for the 2.7-year mission. Titan has been likened to an early Earth analog, so scientists hope the mission will inform our understanding of how life evolved here on our home planet.
ESA’s JUICE Explorer Arrives at Jupiter (2029)
This probe from the European space agency will not explore one but three moons of Jupiter—Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa—as well as the Gas Giant itself. Once it makes its seven-year journey after launch in 2022, the probe will enter the Jupiter system, but it will take another four years before it reaches orbit around Ganymede in 2033.
Galileo would be proud.
NASA Mission to Mars (2030s)
Technically, the date for this mission is a year outside of our decade timeline, but we deemed it was worth a mention. NASA is aiming to send people to Mars by 2030 (at the earliest).
NASA has a plan that features 5 phases for traveling to Mars and has issued a Transport Plan outlining “an effort that expands human presence deeper into the solar system through a sustainable human and robotic space flight program.”