It goes without a doubt that 2022 was ESA’s best year so far! We’ve seen many records being broken together with a lot of “first times”: the first European female ISS commander, the launch of the first Vega-C rocket, the Solar Orbiter’s first close encounter with our home star, the launch of the first Artemis mission working to bring humans back to the Moon, and first images from the James Webb Space Telescope.
All these achievements were not so easy to be reached: ESA had to deal with the consequences of the events in Ukraine and was forced by taking actions to address those consequences. Relations with Russia had to be revised and Europe, heavily dependent on Soyuz, had found itself in serious trouble and had to find a cheap and rapid substitute!
What we haven’t seen this year
Set to liftoff in 2022, the ExoMars Rover mission had to be postponed (if not canceled as it seemed in the first moments). After securing a reported € 360 million investment from European countries. Europe’s Rosalind Franklin Mars rover, part of the beleaguered €1.3-billion ExoMars program, is now set to launch in 2028.
The adventure of the @ESA_ExoMars #RosalindFranklin rover isn’t over. Bold plans to reshape Europe’s strategy on the way forward for a new journey #ToMarsAndBack are on the horizon 🤩 https://t.co/9t6EDYlpDP pic.twitter.com/5CUHSWTxOF— ESA_ExoMars (@ESA_ExoMars) July 12, 2022
The money will allow ESA to start designing a new landing platform to lower its first Martian rover onto the Planet’s surface. The work became necessary after ESA severed ties with its former partner on the mission, the Russian space agency Roscosmos, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Roscomos was in charge of designing and building landing gear for the rover and launching the mission from its site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
“I am very relieved and incredibly happy that this great mission was not taken away from us, and that I can continue to hope to steer a rover on Mars one day,”Daniela Tirsch, a planetary geologist at the German Aerospace Center in Berlin.
Only the United States and China have so far placed working rovers on Mars.
Let’s see what happened, but first…
“Keep in mind that we’ve chosen to talk about just some of the most important achievements of ESA, and they’re not enlisted by importance or any other meaning.”The Space Voyaging Team
JWST enters in service
The James Webb Space Telescope has just finished a groundbreaking year, with numerous discoveries and milestones achieved. From its successful launch on December 25, 2021, to its first stunning images from deep space, the JWST has completed its first splash in the world of astronomy.
Under an international collaboration agreement, ESA provided the telescope’s launch service, using the Ariane 5 launch vehicle. Working with partners, ESA was responsible for the development and qualification of Ariane 5 adaptations for the Webb mission and for the procurement of the launch service by Arianespace.
ESA also provided the workhorse spectrograph NIRSpec and 50% of the mid-infrared instrument MIRI, which was designed and built by a consortium of nationally funded European Institutes (The MIRI European Consortium) in partnership with JPL and the University of Arizona.
“The European Service Module has performed beautifully”said Philippe Deloo, ESA’s Head of Mission.
“The goal of the first Artemis mission was to test the limits of the spacecraft and put it to the test. For this reason, we used Orion and the ESM to perform maneuvers and operations that we will not necessarily need in crewed missions. But we wanted to propel the spacecraft into its first mission”.
The Orion European Service Module (ESM) was operated by ESA and designed and built by prime contractor Airbus in Bremen, Germany, with tooling supplied by companies from ten European countries. The next European Service Modules are still in production.
The second, for Artemis II, which will carry astronauts around the Moon, was delivered to Kennedy Space Center in 2021, while ESM-3 will be ready next year. ESM-4 is still in production at ADS in Bremen, while the fifth Service Module facility is prepared to leave Thales Alenia Space Italy (Turin) to continue towards Bremen.
“The success of the first Artemis mission further strengthens the international partnership ahead of the mission to the Moon, over the past 25 days, I have often looked at the Moon and thought of Orion on its maiden voyage.”David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration
The forthcoming European Service Modules will provide astronauts and lunar mission astronauts with electricity, propulsion, and cabin thermal control, but also a breathable atmosphere and potable water.
New astronauts class
The European Space Agency has chosen 17 new astronaut candidates from more than 22500 applicants from across its Member States. In this new 2022 class of ESA astronauts are five career astronauts, 11 astronaut reserve, and one astronaut with a disability.
“This is an extraordinary time for human spaceflight and for Europe. After the successful launch of Artemis I with ESA’s European Service Module powering Orion to the Moon, we are on the forefront of human space exploration. We are delighted to have this group of extremely talented people, to continue European science and operations on the International Space Station and beyond.”ESA’s director of Human and Robotic Exploration, David Parker
Human Space Exploration
ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti returned to the International Space Station for her second mission, Minerva, on April 27, 2022. She returned to Earth 170 days later, splashing down in Crew Dragon Freedom in the Gulf of Mexico on October 14, 2022.
On Station, she was USOSLead, responsible for all activities within the US, European, Japanese and Canadian modules and components of the Station for the duration of her mission. She also became the fifth European and the first European female Commander of the International Space Station. During her time on board, Samantha supported numerous European and international experiments in orbit.
Vega-C first launch
Vega’s first launch happened in 2012 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana to complement Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane rockets. Vega-C, a more powerful variant with greater payload volume and improved competitiveness, took over this role with its inaugural flight on June 13, 2022.
A second mission was conducted on December 20, 2022, but an anomaly occurred during the ascent: the investigations are still ongoing.
Ariane 6 fully stacked
The Ariane 6 launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana now hosts for the first time a fully assembled example of ESA’s new heavy-lift rocket, following the addition of an upper composite to the core stage and four boosters already in place.
Director General Josef Aschbacher said sufficient progress had been made over the past several months to anticipate a Q4 2023 first flight.
2023 promises to be an eventful year for ESA, probably even better than the last one!
The exciting Juice mission to explore the icy Moons of Jupiter will be launched, Euclid will undertake the search for the so-called “Dark Universe”, Sentinel-1C will ensure continuity and provide a wealth of Earth observation data, ESA’s new generation of astronauts will begin their training and the maiden launch of Ariane 6 from the European Spaceport will be the highlight.
Enough stuff to be excited for.