What’s Happening in Space in 2019
At the start of 2019, we look ahead at the most exciting space adventures that await us.
It’s that time of year again where we reflect on the space highlights of 2018 and look forward to those coming up in 2019.
This coming year promises to be the year of the Moon as we celebrate both the 50th anniversaries of the Apollo 9, 10, 11, and 12 missions, and look forward to several new robotic landings on the Moon from countries like China and Israel.
It’s also a big year for private space companies. SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Boeing, and Blue Origin all plan to launch humans into space in 2019.
As usual, there’s always something big going on in space!
Apollo: 50 Years On
For many space fans, if they think of 2019, they think ’50 years since the first Moon landing’.
In July 1969 the whole world watched riveted as two humans gingerly stepped foot onto an extraterrestrial world for the first time.
The crew of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, made history that day, but their mission would never have happened without the rapid stream of daring Apollo missions that took place in the year ahead.
Between 2017 and 2022, we remember the 50th anniversaries of twelve crewed Apollo missions:
Apollo 1 – 27 Jan 1967 – the tragedy of a rushed spacecraft and a fire on the launchpad.
[Read our blog: Apollo 1 Fire 50 Years On]
Apollo 7 – 11-22 Oct 1968 – the first crewed Apollo mission in space.
[Read our blog: Apollo 7 and the Importance of Guenter Wendt]
Apollo 8 – 21-27 Dec 1968 – the first crewed mission around the Moon.
[Read our blog: Christmas in Space with Apollo 8]
Apollo 9 – 3-13 Mar 1969 – the first flight of the lunar module.
Apollo 10 – 18-26 May 1969 – the dress rehearsal for the Moon landing.
[Learn more: See the Apollo 10 artefacts in our Space Oddities gallery]
Apollo 11 – 16-24 July 1969 – the big one! The first humans to land on the Moon.
[Read our blog: Apollo 11 – the Key Moments]
Apollo 12 – 14-24 Nov 1969 – the ‘lightning strike’ mission and a visit to the Surveyor probe on the Moon.
[Learn more: See Apollo 12’s Dick Gordon’s flightsuit in our Space Oddities gallery]
Apollo 13 – 11-17 Apr 1970 – the ‘successful failure’ of an aborted Moon mission.
[Read our blog: Square Peg, Round Hole – The Story of Apollo 13]
Apollo 14 – 31 Jan-9 Feb 1971 – the ‘lunar olympics’ on the Moon.
[Learn more: See a signed baseball with the olympics story in our Space Oddities gallery]
Apollo 15 – 26 Jul-7 Aug 1971 – the first mission with a ‘lunar buggy’ drive on the Moon.
[Read our blog: Taking the Moon Buggy for a Spin]
Apollo 16 – 16-27 Apr 1972 – the first to visit the lunar highlands.
[Learn more: See space food flown on the Apollo 16 mission in our Into Space gallery]
Apollo 17 – 7-19 Dec 1972 – the last Apollo mission to the Moon and the first with a scientist astronaut.
[Learn more: See a Moon Rock from Apollo 17 in our Rocket Tower]
Back to the Moon
As well as remembering the remarkable pace and achievements of the Apollo Moon landings, 2019 is also a year for celebrating new landings on the Moon, courtesy of space organisations in China, India, and Israel.
Chang’e-5: Lunar sample return
On the back of the recent launch of the Chang’e-4 mission to the far side of the Moon (landing scheduled between 1-3 Jan 2019!), China has something even bigger planned for 2019. Its Chang’e-5 mission will launch sometime in 2019, and will be a sample return mission. This means it will land on the Moon, collect lunar soil, launch off the Moon, and return safely to Earth. This will be the first mission of its type since the 1970s when the Soviet Union landed three successful missions to robotically collect and return lunar soil.
Chandrayaan-2: Lunar orbiter and rover
After some delays due to rocket checks, India plans to launch its next Moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, in late January 2019. This mission includes a spacecraft to fly in orbit around the Moon, a lander, and a rover. It will be the first mission to land a rover near the south pole of the Moon.
SpaceIL: Israel’s first Moon mission
Between 2007 and 2018, Google ran a competition for private companies to be the first to land and operate a mission on the Moon. This competition, called the Google Lunar XPRIZE, offered the chance to win 30 million dollars if the mission could be launched by March 2018. Sadly this prize went unclaimed as no team was ready to launch.
But one of the teams, Israel’s SpaceIL, still has sights on the Moon and plans to launch its Sparrow Lander in February 2019. The lander carry several experiments as well as a digital time capsule with information about Israel and the mission.
Private human spaceflight
So who knows if we’ll actually see the promised first crewed flights by companies like SpaceX and Boeing this year. But with no less than four different private space companies planning to launch humans into space in 2019, there’s a good chance we’ll see at least one or two of them succeed!
Here are the four companies to keep an eye on:
SpaceX – Elon Musk’s company has never lacked ambition, but in 2018 they’ve really proven their model of reusable rockets with a record-breaking 21 launches in 2018. The only player ahead is China, with about 35 launches in 2018. SpaceX also launched their new heavy-lifting rocket, the Falcon Heavy, with a stunning double booster landing and the iconic Rocket Man + Tesla in space.
These feats bode well for SpaceX as they promise to test fly their Crew Dragon 2 capsule in mid-January 2019, with a first crewed flight sometime in July 2019.
This flight would be in the service of NASA, carrying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). It would mark a return to human spaceflight launched from US soil after the end of the Space Shuttle programme in 2011.
Boeing – This company’s space plans are more under the radar than SpaceX, but they have equally impressive ambition for 2019. They’ve also been contracted by NASA to fly astronauts up to the ISS, using their new CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
Boeing plans a test flight of this 4.5 metre spacecraft in March 2019, with a first crewed flight to the ISS in August 2019.
Both SpaceX and Boeing’s crew spacecraft are designed to carry up to seven astronauts at a time, which will greatly increase the number of available flights for US astronauts.
Virgin Galactic – As 2018 drew to a close, Virgin Galactic finally made good on its long-standing promise to launch people on sub-orbital flights to the edge of space. This flight of SpaceShipTwo was piloted by two experienced pilots.
But owner Richard Branson plans to fly to space in the near future – and quite probably in 2019. Beyond this, the company will open up regular space flights to its list of space tourists who’ve already bought tickets at the tune of ~200,000 USD. This list includes celebs and icons from space history such as Wally Funk of the Mercury 13.
Blue Origin – Last but not least, Jeff Bezo’s space company has been quietly but surely ticking off impressive milestone after milestone in its bid to reuse rockets and launch tourists to the edge of space. In December 2017, Blue Origin launched its first test flight of its Crew Capsule 2.0, carried by a New Shepard rocket. On board was a dummy nicknamed ‘Mannequin Skywalker’, and the video footage from inside the capsule feels wonderfully visceral – almost like you’re there!
Blue Origin has promised to launch a crewed sub-orbital flight of New Shepard in the first half of 2019.
With new rocket launches every week, ambitious space missions in operation, and some very special astronomical events, we’ve only scratched the surface of a busy year for space. Here are a few other space dates for your diary:
NASA’s New Horizons mission will rendezvous with distant world called ‘Ultima Thule’ on 1 Jan 2019. Three years since New Horizons made a spectacular fly-by of Pluto, it’s still going strong and has narrowed in on a newly discovered world that is about 30 kilometres across, and a whopping 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth. This makes Ultima Thule the most distant body in the Solar System to receive a visit from a spacecraft. We have no idea what Ultima Thule will look like, so stay tuned for pictures!
A Total Lunar Eclipse will occur on 21 Jan 2019, and will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, and extreme western Europe. In the UK, this eclipse will be visible in the early hours of the morning as the Moon is setting in the west.
Mercury will transit across the face of the Sun on 11 Nov 2019. In the UK, this transit will be visible in the afternoon before the Sun sets. Special filters or eclipse glasses are needed to view this event.
As always, the unexpected news is often the most spectacular, and we look forward to sharing them with you all next year.
Have a great New Year!
About the author: Dr Tamela Maciel is the Space Communications Manager at the National Space Centre.