2024 space calendar events: Artemis 2, total solar eclipse, and more
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2024 space calendar events: Artemis 2, total solar eclipse, and more


The year 2024 could be the dawn of a new Space Age, full of landing attempts on the moon and even a return of NASA astronauts to deep space.

It may seem doubtful that it could top 2023: The super-sensitive infrared James Webb Space Telescope enriched astronomers’ understanding of other worlds and the early universe, and the U.S. space agency flew home its first asteroid chunks. SpaceX’s Starship is priming to become the most powerful spaceworthy rocket. And India joined the ranks of nations that have successfully landed a robotic spacecraft on the moon.

But 2024 promises another banner year. NASA is prepping the Artemis II astronauts to blast off on a test-drive of the Orion spacecraft for a journey around the moon, the first crewed lunar mission in over a half-century. And much of North America will get to experience a total solar eclipse in the spring: Another such opportunity for the United States won’t come for two decades.

Here’s a round-up of space missions and cosmic events just around the bend.

Astrobotic’s moon landing attempt: January 2024

Lander sitting on the moon

The Astrobotic Peregrine lander is expected to deliver NASA instruments to the moon’s surface in February 2024.
Credit: Astrobotic Technologies illustration

An Astrobotic Technologies lander will blast off atop a new rocket in January on a quest to be the first commercial company to land on the moon.

The launch, expected no earlier than Jan. 8, will be the maiden voyage for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. If the spaceflight succeeds, the company will try to land its Peregrine spacecraft on Feb. 23.

NASA tapped Astrobotic as one of several vendors for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative to explore the moon over the next few years. The program has recruited the private sector to help deliver instruments and send back crucial data. Astrobotic is set to be the first of the CLPS vendors to embark on the 250,000-mile trek from Earth to the moon.

Japan’s moon landing attempt: January 2024

The Japanese space agency JAXA will try to put its own lander on the lunar surface early this year.

The SLIM mission, short for Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon, is expected to touch down near Shioli crater on the moon’s near side on Jan. 20. Its goal is to demonstrate so-called “pinpoint landing” with an accuracy of less than 100 yards, a level of precision unprecedented for moon landings.

JAXA announced that the mission had achieved a major milestone on Christmas, successfully inserting into an oval-shaped orbit around the lunar north and south poles.

Intuitive Machines’ moon landing attempt: February 2024

A private Houston company is nipping at the heels of Astrobotic’s first lunar lander mission.

Intuitive Machines recently announced its IM-1 mission is targeting a mid-February launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. Assuming a successful spaceflight, it will attempt to touch down its Nova-C lander near the lunar south pole about a week later. Like Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines is part of NASA’s CLPS initiative, and the two companies are neck and neck in a race to achieve the first successful private moon landing.

The space agency’s payloads onboard the lander will focus on testing communication, navigation, and precision landing technologies, as well as gather data about rocket plume and lunar surface interactions.

SpaceX Starship orbital spaceflight: 2024

SpaceX Starship blasting off on a test flight

SpaceX’s Starship made significant progress over the past two test flights.
Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX attempted two orbital flights of its skyscraping rocket and spacecraft, known collectively as Starship, in 2023. During both attempts, Starship exploded before reaching space.

But billionaire Elon Musk‘s company is getting closer. It made significant progress over the past two tests — in particular demonstrating a new method of separating the booster from the spacecraft in the air, known as “hot-staging.”

These tests are crucial for NASA, which will depend on Starship and its human landing system to get astronauts on the moon in the next few years. If successful, it’ll mean Musk is one small step closer to realizing his personal dream of building a city on Mars.

As part of SpaceX’s contract with NASA, the company will need to show a successful uncrewed test flight to the moon before Artemis III, which could come as early as 2025.

Total solar eclipse for North America: April 2024

Total solar eclipse

A rare total solar eclipse will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada on April 8, 2024.
Credit: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

A rare total solar eclipse will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada on April 8, the likes of which won’t return until Aug. 23, 2044.

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. People can’t normally see the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. During a total solar eclipse, the sky will darken as if it were dusk, allowing people to remove their protective eclipse glasses for a few minutes.

This phenomenon can confuse wildlife, causing nocturnal critters to wake up and other animals to head off to bed.

Boeing Starliner’s first crewed flight: April 2024

Boeing Starliner approaching the International Space Station

Boeing encountered many technical problems with the spacecraft, finally docking an uncrewed capsule at the space station in 2022.
Credit: NASA

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft will take astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, becoming the second commercial carrier capable of transporting NASA crew to the outpost.

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No longer serviced by its own shuttle program, the U.S. space agency relied on Russian rockets after 2011 to get astronauts into space. That period ended in 2020 when SpaceX largely took over that responsibility, but NASA has been without any backup, which wasn’t the original plan.

Boeing encountered many technical problems with the spacecraft, finally docking an uncrewed capsule at the station in 2022. But more issues arose with the spacecraft, causing the first crewed flight to slip. NASA will send two astronaut test pilots — Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams – to the station on Starliner no earlier than April.

Peak of Lyrids meteor shower: April 21-22, 2024

Meteor showers happen every year or at regular intervals as Earth passes through the dusty wake of previous comets. Each time a comet zips through the inner solar system, the sun boils off some of its surface, leaving behind a trail of debris. When the planet intersects with the old comet detritus, the result is a spectacular show, with sometimes up to hundreds of meteors visible per hour. The Lyrids, best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, will be active from April 14 to 30.

China’s return to the moon: January — June 2024

China plans to return to the moon with another uncrewed robotic mission this year.

The mission dubbed Chang’e 6 will send a probe to the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon. It’s expected to collect rock samples from different regions and periods. To enhance communications between the moon’s far side and Earth, China plans to launch its new relay satellite Queqiao-2, or Magpie Bridge-2, according to China’s State Council Information Office.

It’s unclear when exactly the mission will launch, as the military-controlled space program is often secretive. The Chinese government has previously said the mission would happen in the first half of the year.

The spacecraft will carry instruments from France, Italy, Pakistan, and the European Space Agency. The United States has prohibited NASA by law from collaborating with China or participating in scientific exchanges with the national program.

Peak of Eta Aquariids meteor shower: May 4-5, 2024

The Eta Aquariids meteor shower, best viewed from the southern tropics, produces strong “persistent trains” of shooting stars. The celestial event will be active from April 19 to May 28.

Peak of Perseids meteor shower: Aug. 11-12, 2024

The popular Perseids, made up of remnants of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, is a spectacular show for the Northern Hemisphere. The meteor shower is active from July 14 to Sept. 1.

NASA’s Europa orbiter launch: October 2024

One of Jupiter’s moons could hold double the water that is in Earth’s oceans. That’s why experts are eager to send the robotic Clipper spacecraft to explore Europa up close.

Scientists think Europa could perhaps have conditions capable of supporting life. Clipper, set to launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral in October, will determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and its surface interactions with the ocean below. Instruments will also help scientists investigate its geology.

The spacecraft, expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2030, will make nearly 50 flybys of the water world, coming within 16 miles of the surface at its closest approach.

DART follow-up asteroid mission: October 2024

In 2022, NASA deliberately crashed a spacecraft into a harmless asteroid to practice thwarting a space rock, should a hazardous one ever be on a collision course with Earth.

A follow-up to the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, better known as DART, comes the European mission, Hera. The spacecraft will launch no earlier than October and rendezvous with Dimorphos, the slammed asteroid, in 2026.

Performing a sort of post-op investigation, the spacecraft will measure the asteroid’s mass and take a close look at the crater. The data should tie up the loose ends of the experiment, perhaps making DART a repeatable planetary defense technique in the future.

NASA’s water-mining mission: November 2024

Hitching a ride on an Astrobotic Griffin lander, NASA’s rover will set out on a mission to drill for ice at the lunar south pole.

Scientists believe ice is buried in permanently shadowed craters in the southern region. The plan is for VIPER — short for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover — to land on Mons Mouton in late 2024. Over 100 Earth days, it will explore roughly 12 miles and venture into craters where it will drill and measure frozen water.

NASA’s Artemis II moon mission: November 2024

Artemis II crew sitting for portrait

From left, Christina Hammock Koch, Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Jeremy Hansen will crew the Artemis II mission.
Credit: NASA

Astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch, and Jeremy Hansen will be the first people to fly into deep space since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

NASA’s Artemis II seeks to test-drive the Orion moonship, this time with passengers. The crew, which includes the Canadian Space Agency’s Hansen, will journey 6,400 miles beyond the far side of the moon, and examine the spacecraft’s life-support systems. If successful, only then will the U.S. space agency feel confident sending astronauts to actually walk on the moon during Artemis III.

The mission is planned as a 10-day spaceflight, leaving Cape Canaveral no earlier than November 2024.

Delivery of NASA moon rover and orbiter: 2024

Intuitive Machines has the added responsibility of sending a new NASA rover to the south pole of the moon later in the year. This mission, referred to as IM-2 or PRIME-1, is to land and test a drill and mass spectrometer, a device that identifies the kinds of particles in a substance.

As currently planned, another spacecraft, NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer, will also hitch a ride on this flight. The small satellite will orbit the moon to map out the locations of lunar water. The mission will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Firefly’s moon landing attempt: 2024

In yet another CLPS initiative mission, a private U.S. company will carry 10 NASA instruments to the moon.

The space agency tapped Firefly Aerospace, a Cedar Park, Texas, company, to take its payloads to Mare Crisium on the moon’s near side. The mission, using Firefly’s Blue Ghost lander, is expected to happen in 2024.

The NASA cargo is designed to test soil sample collection, navigation systems, radiation-tolerant computing, and moon dust mitigation.

Peak of Geminids meteor shower: Dec. 13-14, 2024

Widely regarded as the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids can be seen from most any part of the world, especially the Northern Hemisphere. The Geminids are denser meteors, allowing stargazers to see them as low as 29 miles above ground before the cosmic dust burns up. The shower will be active between Nov. 19 and Dec. 24.

This year a full moon will obscure the number of meteors people can see. If skies are clear, though, you could glimpse bright meteors by facing a direction with the moon at your back, according to the American Meteor Society.

Other 2024 space mission events

Sept. 5, 2024: The European Space Agency’s BepiColombo mission is expected to make its fourth Mercury flyby.

Dec. 2, 2024: ESA’s BepiColombo mission should make its fifth Mercury flyby.

Dec. 13, 2024: NASA’s Lucy mission will make its second Earth flyby.





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