The space industry is on track to make 2021 even more spectacular than 2020. Here is everything happening in 2021, in order of awesomeness.
NASA already had a mostly successful static fire test of their not reusable Space Launch System in early January 2021. It’s still scheduled for its first launch in late 2021. SLS is basically Space Shuttle 2.0, outdated and overpriced, it’s almost already obsolete but will still be cool to see it fly.
Joe Biden put a moon rock in the oval office, subtly signifying his support of Donald Trump’s drive to go back to the moon. This sent waves of relief through the space-nerd community as many presidents have attempted to undermine the previous administration’s space ambitions.
There will be two more flights with astronauts to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX Dragon Capsules.
SpaceX has already in January broken a world record by launching 143 individual satellites in a single launch.
Boeing’s new Starliner Capsule will attempt another uncrewed flight, which will hopefully go better than the last one.
China will land its first rover on mars. They will be the only country other than The United States to do so.
SpaceX will begin modifying two retired oil rigs (which they purchased in 2020 for barely more than 1% of their original price) to serve as off-shore floating launch platforms. This is some beautiful symbolism as the garbage from the dying oil industry is recycled to help build the space industry.
Rocket Lab will begin catching their rockets with a helicopter as they parachute back to Earth and hopefully start reusing them.
In 2016 Elon Musk handed control of SpaceX over to Gwynne Shotwell. Since then, he has been her star engineer and served as the face of the company, but she has actually been running the show. Every single investor in SpaceX has signed a pledge stating they will prioritize the needs of the human race over profit. Despite not prioritizing profit, in 2020, SpaceX became the most highly valued private company on the planet and launched more mass to orbit than all other space agencies combined. And their progress is accelerating. We now have a woman leading the most successful, most important, and most technologically advanced company in history. I am hoping 2021 will be the year people outside of the space-nerd community take notice of her.
Blue Origin will begin launching commercial tourists on their sub-orbital New Shepard rocket as early as April.
The European Space Agency, China, and Russia will all begin development of their own partially reusable rocket systems.
SpaceX Starlink Internet Service Provider will come out of beta and begin full-service in North America, at prices comparable to other ISPs. They will continue rapidly expanding until they can provide high-speed internet to any location on the planet, while causing only a fraction of the environmental harm of traditional ISPs.
Virgin Orbit achieved orbit for the first time early in 2021. Their rockets are launched from underneath an airplane wing, uniquely positioning them with the ability to place payloads into orbit from any major airport.
India will make another attempt at putting a rover on the moon, hopefully succeeding for their first time.
The first commercial company will land on the moon, Intuitive Machine’s NOVA-C lander, delivering both NASA and commercial payloads to the moon’s surface.
NASA will land a rover on mars which includes a tiny helicopter. This will be the first ever flight on another planet.
China will launch the first module of its new space station.
Gwynne Shotwell believes SpaceX’s giant, fully reusable Starship will reach orbit in late 2021. It’s very ambitious but she is known for the accuracy of her predictions. This vehicle could bring launch costs down by 90% or more in just a few years.
After almost 25 years of development, the James Webb Telescope will finally launch. Since the 1990’s, our best telescope was Hubble. The James Webb is orders of magnitude faster and more powerful. It will have the ability, among many other new things, to see the atmospheres of planets many light-years away and determine if there is life out there.