The Soaring Highs and Stark Lows of Spaceflight in 2023

Looking back at spaceflight in 2023, it was a year of progress and setbacks. The New Space Race continued to push the boundaries of what’s possible, leading to both successes and failures. One notable achievement was SpaceX’s Starship, although it experienced two explosive flights. The inaugural flight on April 20 resulted in a disastrous launch mishap, causing delays in the program. However, SpaceX made improvements and launched a second Starship on November 18, showcasing important milestones despite the destruction of both the booster and upper stage.

SpaceX also maintained a rapid pace of launches, positioning itself to achieve 100 orbital missions within the year. The company introduced Starlink V2 minis, featuring design improvements and a smaller form factor, while continuing to develop the Starship.

However, 2023 also saw a series of rocket failures. Japan’s H3 rocket experienced a critical failure during its inaugural launch, impacting Japan’s aspirations in the space industry. Relativity Space’s Terran 1 and ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rockets also failed to reach orbit. Rocket Lab experienced an in-flight anomaly, causing a three-month grounding, while United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur faced delays due to an explosion at the test stand.

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, part of NASA’s commercial crew program, faced ongoing technical problems, remaining grounded throughout 2023. The first crewed flight is now scheduled for April 2024.

Amidst these setbacks, one significant breakthrough occurred when researchers from the California Institute of Technology beamed solar power from space to Earth, offering a sustainable solution to Earth’s energy demands.

Virgin Orbit, founded by Richard Branson, faced bankruptcy after the failure of its “Start Me Up” mission in January. However, Virgin Galactic, Branson’s space tourism venture, performed two missions in 2023 and focused on developing its upgraded spaceplane.

Despite the challenges, several projects made significant milestones, including Amazon’s Project Kuiper launching two prototype satellites to orbit. Overall, 2023 was a year of highs, lows, and everything in between in spaceflight.

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