Video: Adventurers pay big bucks for space tour

By Assistant managing editor
updated 12/31/2012 8:40:48 PM ET 2013-01-01T01:40:48

This year has been a busy one for space missions, and it looks as if next year will ramp things up even more.

Though NASA has retired its space shuttles, astronauts and cosmonauts are still launching regularly on Russian rockets to the International Space Station, and will continue to do so. Plus, China is planning another manned docking mission for 2013, and many more countries, such as South Korea, India, Canada and a coalition of European nations, are due to launch robotic science probes.

Here's a look at 13 notable launches to look out for in the coming year:

  1. Space news from NBCNews.com
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

1. Suborbital test flights: With luck, 2013 will see a host of significant test flights for the private space companies developing manned suborbital vehicles to take paying passengers on brief joyrides to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has flown numerous glide tests, but it's due to make its first powered flight using its rocket engine sometime in 2013. Another company called XCOR Aerospace plans to test-fly its Lynx suborbital vehicle in 2013. Both firms aim to carry their first passengers in 2014.

2. South Korea's third launch: South Korea will try for a third time to loft its Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV 1) booster successfully to orbit. Previous launch attempts in August 2009 and June 2010, which lifted off from a site in southern South Korea, both failed. The third time might be a charm for South Korea, which will attempt to blast off a test satellite called the Science and Technology Satellite 2C (STSAT 2C). Launch is expected sometime in January 2013.

3. Indian/French SARAL/AltiKa: This satellite, a collaboration between India and France, is intended to study the surface height of Earth's seas from space. Called ocean altimetry, the research has many applications for environmental science and oceanography. The spacecraft is due to be launched Jan. 28 by an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which will also carry NEOSSat, an instrument designed to search for near-Earth asteroids that could pose a risk to our planet, and a Canadian space surveillance satellite called Sapphire. The mission will lift off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India.

4. First Cygnus flights: The private space company Orbital Sciences Corp. is one of two firms with a NASA contract to deliver cargo to the International Space Station on unmanned spacecraft (the other is SpaceX). In February, Orbital Sciences plans to launch its Antares rocket on its first test flight, which will carry a model of its robotic Cygnus spacecraft. The launch will blast off from the company's complex on Wallops Island in Virginia.

If the Antares test flight goes well, the first functional Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to fly on its initial test flight to the International Space Station on April 5.

5. SpaceX Dragon flights: SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is the other commercial space company hired by NASA to carry supplies to the space station. SpaceX launched its Dragon cargo ship maiden test flight to the orbital laboratory last May. That successful flight was followed by SpaceX's first routine cargo delivery mission to the station in October.

The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, will continue to fly cargo delivery missions to the space station in 2013, with launches scheduled for March 1 and Sept. 30 out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. These flights are vital for keeping the space station fully stocked, and also help pave the way for the manned missions SpaceX hopes to launch aboard Dragon in coming years.

6. Space station crew launches: Three launches of crew members to the International Space Station are planned for 2013, with liftoffs from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan scheduled for March 28, May 28 and Sept. 25. Each launch will carry three spacefliers from the space station partner agencies — the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe — aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Crew members typically stay for five or six months each, and a rotating crew of three to six people is always onboard the orbiting laboratory.

7. Canada's Cassiope: The Canadian Space Agency's Cassiope (short for Cascade Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer) spacecraft is due to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base sometime in April. The satellite will carry a suite of science instruments to study how solar storms interact with charged particles in Earth's ionosphere. The vehicle will also test out new communications technology. The flight is significant not just for Canada, but for SpaceX, which has never before launched from Vandenberg. Additionally, the launch will mark the first time a Falcon 9 will use the company's new Merlin 1D engines.

8. Space station cargo launches: The next year will likely see numerous launches of cargo to the International Space Station aboard a suite of vehicles from Japan, Europe and Russia, in addition to the private cargo launches from SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. Russian Progress launches are scheduled for Feb. 12, April 24 and July 24, while Japan's HTV freighter will lift off July 15, and the European Space Agency's ATV is scheduled for a liftoff April 18. Each of these tried-and-true robotic spacecraft will deliver food, hardware and science experiments for the crew of the orbital outpost. [Photos: Space Station's Robotic Cargo Ship Fleet]

9. ESA's Space Swarm: The Swarm spacecraft, built by the European Space Agency, is due to launch into a polar orbit in April on a Eurockot Rockot rocket from Russia. The satellite will carry three instruments to study how Earth's geomagnetic field changes over time. The mission aims to offer insight into Earth's climate and interior composition.

10. NASA's Iris: NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (Iris) satellite is a sun-studying mission to analyze the flow of energy through our star's atmosphere and heliosphere. Iris is due to launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket, which takes off in midair after being lofted by a carrier plane from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The flight is scheduled for April 28 or 29.

11. China's Shenzhou 10: Scheduled for June, China's Shenzhou 10 mission will be the fifth manned spaceflight for China. The mission will take launch three Chinese astronauts, including a female spaceflier, to dock with the nation's Tiangong 1 module in orbit. The flight is a follow-up to the historic Shenzhou 9 mission of June 2012, which marked the country's first manned space docking. The next launch will bring China a step closer to establishing a manned space station and potentially landing people on the moon. Shenzhou 10, like Shenzhou 9 before it, will lift off from China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on a Long March 2F rocket. [Photos of China's Shenzhou 9 Mission]

Image: Ladee
NASA
An artist's illustration shows NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer mission.

12. NASA's Ladee: The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Experiment (Ladee) from NASA is a moon orbiter intended to study the moon's transient atmosphere and the ubiquitous particles of dust blanketing its surface that are often seen levitating due to electrostatic forces. Ladee is due to launch aboard a U.S. Air Force Minotaur 5 rocket from Wallops Island on Aug. 12.

13. NASA's Mars Maven: NASA's next Mars orbiter is due to launch sometime in a 20-day window between Nov. 18 and Dec. 7 to enable it to enter orbit around the Red Planet in September 2014. The Mars Atmosphere And Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft, or Maven for short, will study how Mars loses atmospheric gases to space. The mission will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

You can follow Space.com assistant managing editor Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz.Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

loading photos...
  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments