This year, a series of new rockets will launch into space

Start countdown to launch.

Last year, space fans witnessed the much-anticipated first test flight of NASA’s lunar-bound Space Launch System rocket, but this year could see even more action on the launch pad as a slew of new rockets appear to make their debut.

“There’s a lot to look forward to,” said Colleen Anderson, a technology historian at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. “It will be an interesting time with the first flights for many new launch vehicles.”

From new boosters to replacing old workhorses to the highly anticipated maiden flight of a massive rocket billed as the tallest and most powerful ever built, here’s what to look out for this year.


Few rockets inspire as much curiosity and awe as SpaceX’s colossal starship.

Standing at a towering 394 feet (with a 50-foot-tall spacecraft also known as Starship attached), the fully stacked launch vehicle is taller than NASA’s retired Saturn V rocket used during the Apollo lunar program, as well as the agency’s new rocket. Space Launch System.

The next-generation rocket is designed for missions to the moon and eventually to Mars.

The massive booster will play an important role in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts back to the moon and establish bases on the lunar surface. If successful, the rocket will not only pave the way for more regular flights to the moon, but also reduce the cost of such trips.

“Starship has the ability to really revolutionize the way we do space transportation, so it’s a big deal,” said Laura Forczyk, the executive director of Astralytical, an Atlanta-based aerospace consulting firm.

Starship is what is known as a super heavy-lift launch vehicle, which refers to rockets that can lift more than 110,000 pounds into orbit. SpaceX has said its reusable spaceship can lift up to 330,000 pounds to orbit.

Starship is expected to launch its first unmanned orbital flight this year, though SpaceX has not announced a specific date. Last month, the company said it had completed a “wet dress rehearsal,” fully fueling the rocket with 10 million pounds of propellant, as would be done prior to launch.

Next, SpaceX will likely perform another major safety test by starting all 33 Raptor engines on the booster’s first stage — a demonstration known as a “static fire test.” Once the company has obtained a license from the Federal Aviation Administration, Starship will finally be able to fly from SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas launch site.

Vulcan Centaur

Another new rocket that could play a vital role in the coming years is the Vulcan Centaur, developed by the Denver-based United Launch Alliance.

The heavy Vulcan Centaur is designed to carry satellites and other spacecraft to various orbits around the Earth. The rocket, approximately 60 meters high, will be used for commercial launches, as well as launches on behalf of NASA and the Space Force.

The Vulcan Centaur is expected to eventually replace United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy rockets.

The rocket’s various components will be assembled at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station prior to its maiden flight. That launch, known as Certification-1, will carry two demonstration satellites to low Earth orbit, place a commercially built lunar lander in a highly elliptical orbit above Earth, and take another payload to a trajectory that will take it beyond the Earth-Moon. bring system.

The debut of the Vulcan Centaur represents an exciting opportunity for United Launch Alliance, a longtime NASA and military contractor. It also sets up the new booster to replace some of the most widely used rockets currently available, Anderson, the technology historian, said.

“With the Atlas V and the Delta IV presumably retired, this missile is very important to US launch capabilities right now,” Anderson added.

Ariane 6

American space companies aren’t the only ones designing new rockets that can fly this year. Arianespace, headquartered in France, is preparing a new booster called Ariane 6 for its first launch.

The nearly 60-meter-tall rocket is designed to launch satellites and other payloads into orbit around the Earth. The booster is expected to replace the Ariane 5 heavy rocket, although it could operate at a lower cost.

Anderson said the Ariane 6 will provide significant mid-range launch capabilities, but will likely face stiff competition from other companies, including SpaceX.

Like Arianespace’s other rockets, Ariane 6 will launch from a spaceport in South America, northwest of Kourou in French Guiana.

No specific date has yet been announced for the first test flight.

H3 rocket

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is preparing its new rocket for its inaugural flight this month.

The booster, known as H3, will launch an Earth observation satellite into orbit during the test flight. Launch is currently scheduled for February 12.

The rocket will be launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center, on the southeast coast of Tanegashima, an island south of Kyushu.

Other missiles in the making

Several other U.S. private companies are also developing new rockets that could fly this year or in the years to come.

Relativity Space, an aerospace company headquartered in Los Angeles, is aiming to launch a 3D-printed rocket called Terran 1. While 3D-printed parts have been used to build boosters before, this would be the first rocket developed entirely with additive manufacturing.

ABL Space Systems, a company headquartered in El Segundo, California, attempted to launch its RS1 rocket on its debut flight last month, but failed. The January 10 launch took place at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island. Shortly after the planned launch, ABL reported that the rocket failed to reach orbit.

“After launch, RS1 experienced an anomaly and prematurely shut down,” the company tweetedadding that it worked with officials from the FAA and Alaska Spaceport in the aftermath.

While not a new rocket, the California-based Rocket Lab first launched its Electron rocket on US soil on Jan. 24. Previous Rocket Lab missions have taken place in New Zealand. For the Virginia launch, the booster lifted off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with three small satellites in orbit. The company is developing a new rocket called Neutron, but doesn’t expect the booster to fly until next year.

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