Science

Global space agency leaders consider asteroid deflection and moon landings top priorities

PARIS — The heads of the world’s largest space agencies presented their big plans for the coming years at a major congress in Paris, while highlighting the serious challenges that could affect space and humanity.

Officials from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) took the stage on September 18 at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). 2022 in Paris.

The first important milestone of the mission under discussion is approaching. “This weekend, at 15,000 mph, the spacecraft will crash into a small asteroid that is orbiting a larger asteroid,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said of the upcoming DART mission impact. “We’re going to see if we can shift that trajectory just a little bit so that while we’re looking out there and trying to find the killer asteroids that are going to threaten the Earth… so we can carry them far enough that by the time he gets to Earth, he will miss us.”

Related: DART Asteroid Mission: NASA’s First Planetary Defense Spacecraft

There have been two notable absences among agency heads this year. China National Space Administration (CNSA) deputy administrator Wu Yanhua dropped out of the group due to a scheduling conflict, organizers said. Updates on the country’s lunar plans are still pending later during the five-day convention.

Russia has not been present at the IAC since the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began in February. However, his delegates were issued visas, according to the Russian TASS news agency. (will open in a new tab). While most of the world reacted to the invasion with condemnation, Nelson said that cooperation in space (will open in a new tab) between the US and Russia continues to this day. Both are partners in the International Space Station program.

“Despite the political challenges on solid ground, you still see these professional relationships working in the civilian space arena,” Nelson said.

ESA’s Josef Aschbacher said the current economic and geopolitical situation is setting the stage for the upcoming ESA ministerial meeting, in which he will request more than 18 billion euros ($18 billion) from member states, about 25% more funding.

Major ESA missions in the near future include the Jupiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) launch in the second quarter of 2023 and the first Ariane 6 launch also expected next year.

Aschbacher added that the ESA also wants to select a handful of 23,000 applicants to become the agency’s next astronauts.

An artist’s illustration of an Ariane 6 rocket at the launch pad at the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. (Image credit: ESA – D. Ducrot) (will open in a new tab)

Lisa Campbell of the CSA also noted the challenges, including the fact that Canada has 7,500 wildfires every year, burning over 2.5 million hectares of forest. “In response, we are developing the WildFireSat mission to expand our ability to monitor wildfires,” said Campbell.

Related: Devastating 2021 wildfires break records and satellites track it all

She also noted that space technology is rapidly advancing, integrating a wide range of AI computing, meaning that “we can create endless solutions to many of the problems we face.”

In terms of major missions, Campbell stressed that the country is working on Canadarm3 as part of the Lunar Gateway project and will send an astronaut on the Artemis 2 manned lunar flyby mission, with an astronaut selected in the coming months. She also revealed that in the coming weeks, the CSA will announce a winning proposal for a south pole lunar rover for the 2026 mission.

JAXA’s Hiroshi Yamakawa stressed that Japan is working on numerous research projects, including an MMX sample return mission to Mars’ moon Phobos and a pressurized manned lunar rover. JAXA and its industry partners are also close to getting the new H3 rocket ready for a test flight, scheduled to launch before the end of the Japanese fiscal year ending in March 2023.

ISRO Chairman S. Somanat touched on his agency’s plans to send astronauts into orbit, saying that the human launcher is ready, but developing the Gaganyaan crew capsule and its escape system is proving to be more of a challenge.

S. Somanath, director of the Vikram Sarabai Space Center at the time, stands next to a scale model of the Indian Gaganyan Crew Module in 2020. (Image credit: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images) (will open in a new tab)

S. Somant added that there has been a significant increase in space startups in India, including several companies building small satellites in India, adding that ISRO is happy to support and promote the work of these commercial firms.

The IAC in Paris is the 73rd annual congress that brings together space agencies, astronauts, scientists, researchers, industry and the press.

This year’s ‘Space for @ll’ event attracted a record 8,700 registrations from 130 countries, said Pascal Ehrenfreund, president of the International Astronautical Federation, in his speech at the opening ceremony.

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