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Space schedule: Gaia data, Nasa Moon rocket test, and Webb’s first photos


It’s going to be a busy summer for space irrespective of what, provided that Nasa plans to try one other fueling test of its mega Moon rocket in June, and the primary science images from the fully commissioned James Webb Space Telescope can be revealed in early July.

But some missions have been bumped into the autumn or later, similar to the Psyche Mission that was expected to launch 1 August, and now won’t launch until the autumn.

Read below for more on what’s next in space in the approaching weeks.

Gaia mission third data release — Monday 13 June

Gaia is the European Space Agency’s space observatory dedicated to constructing a three-dimensional map of the cosmos.

Launched in 2013, Gaia returned its first dataset in 2016, which contained the locations and luminosity of greater than 1 billion stars. It’s second data release in December 2020 offered an in depth map of greater than 2 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

The third Gaia dataset can be released to the general public on Monday June 13, and can contain spectrometry data for thousands and thousands of stars, and data about exoplanets throughout the cosmos. The findings could provide latest targets for remark by the James Webb Space Telescope, which is a couple of month away from releasing its first images to the general public.

Nasa’s Moon rocket “wet dress rehearsal” — 18 June

On 5 June, Nasa rolled its giant Moon rocket, the Space Launch System, (SLS) back to launch complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to organize for the space agency’s fourth attempt at a vital fueling test.

Nasa goals to start the “wet dress rehearsal” on Saturday 18 June, a simulation of launch day processes that can include loading the rocket with cryogenic propellant on Monday 20 June. The propellant loading test is a vital step before the SLS and the Orion spacecraft it carries can launch on the primary uncrewed test flight for either vehicle.

Three previous attempts on the wet dress rehearsal made in April failed as a result of faulty valves, fans, and other components of the mobile launch platform holding the rocket, and on the rocket’s upper state itself. Nasa rolled the 322-foot-tall rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Constructing on 26 April and spent the following month troubleshooting and fixing problems.

As recently as March, Nasa officials hinted that Artemis I, an uncrewed launch of SLS and Orion that can see the latter fly beyond the Moon and back, could happen in May. However the technical issues raised in the course of the earlier wet dress rehearsal attempts have led Nasa assistant administrator Bob Cabana to suggest that an Artemis I launch by sometime in August would take a number of labor to drag off.

SLS and Orion together form the core of Nasa’s Artemis Moon program. Following a successful wet dress rehearsal and successful Artemis I test flight, a crewed mission to orbit the Moon, Artemis II, is scheduled for May 2024. Artemis III, the mission that can return humans to the lunar surface, is scheduled for 2025.

Psyche asteroid mission — launch delayed until no sooner than 20 September

Nasa’s Psyche spacecraft, originally scheduled to launch 1 August, will now take to the skies in the autumn as a result of a software issue.

“To permit more time for this work, the launch period is being updated to no sooner than Sept. 20, 2022, pending range availability,” a Nasa blog read.

On 2 May, the Psyche spacecraft was flown from the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory facility in California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for preflight testing.

Psyche can be the primary spacecraft to make use of solar-electric propulsion to travel beyond the Moon, using 800 square feet of solar panels to power its Hall effect thrusters for the 1.5 billion mile journey to the asteroid Psyche within the foremost asteroid belt. Thrusters use electric fields to push propellant and generate thrust, and are very efficient, but take a protracted time to accumulate speed — Psyche the spacecraft won’t reach Psyche the asteroid until 2026.

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