It’s right to say that 2018 was a very wonderful year for space. We saw SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy lift off for the first time, a new European mission launch to Mercury, Japanese rovers land on an asteroid, and more.
But if you thought 2018 was great, you’re in for a treat. Because 2019 has got a whole host of incredible missions and launches in store for us, and the action begins straight away.
So let’s take a look at some the exciting space events coming up in the next 12 months. From human launches to scientific missions in the Solar System, there’s plenty to look forward to.
The year gets off to an incredible start on January 1 when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft arrives at the distant Solar System object Ultima Thule, the furthest object we’ve ever visited in the Solar System. The first high-resolution images will arrive back on New Year’s Day, but it’ll take 20 months for all the data to be sent back to Earth.
By January 3, we are expecting China to attempt a landing of its Chang’e 4 rover on the far side of the Moon. This is the first mission ever to the Moon’s far side.
On January 17, SpaceX is scheduled to launch its crewed Dragon 2 spacecraft on its first test flight, dubbed Demonstration Mission 1 (DM-1). There won’t be any crew on this fight, but SpaceX hopes to launch its first humans in the summer.
India hopes to launch a lander and rover to the Moon on January 31, called Chandrayaan-2. It will attempt to visit the south pole of the Moon for the first time in history.
By early February, NASA’s InSight lander should begin drilling into the surface of Mars. It’ll hammer sensors up to five meters (16 feet) into the ground to measure the temperature inside the Red Planet.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft will perform five close flybys of Jupiter in 2019 – on February 12, April 6, May 29, July 21, and September 11.
On February 13, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to take a lunar lander built by Israeli company SpaceIL to the Moon. Originally part of the canceled Google Lunar XPRIZE, SpaceIL is now hoping to make it to the Moon alone.
At some point as early as February, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will descend to the surface of the asteroid Ryugu to try and collect a sample.
Boeing will conduct an uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle at some point in March, with plans for a first crewed test in August.
SpaceX is scheduled to launch its second Falcon Heavy rocket in March, the launch of the Arabsat-6A spacecraft for Saudi Arabia.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will make its next close approach to the Sun on April 4. After that, the next closest approaches are on September 1 and December 26.
By April, Elon Musk says that SpaceX will perform a test flight of its Starship vehicle, intended to one day take humans to Mars.
By early 2019, Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit company plans to send its first rocket to space.
Also in early 2019, we’re expecting a third Falcon Heavy launch, this time taking a variety of military and scientific satellites into orbit, including some from NASA.
In June, we are expecting to see the first crewed launch of SpaceX’s Dragon 2 vehicle from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This will be the first launch of astronauts from US soil since the final Space Shuttle flight on July 8, 2011. On board will be NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley, both on their third spaceflight.
We’re also expecting a possible first crewed flight from Blue Origin at some point in the first half of 2019.
And following their first flight to “space” on December 13, Virgin Galactic could very well take its first paying customers to space in the first half of 2019 after further testing.
Here’s a bonus astronomy event for you. A total solar eclipse will be visible from Chile and Argentina in South America on July 2.
And set your calendars for July 20 because that will be the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first mission to land humans on the Moon.
We could see the first contracted crew flight of SpaceX’s Dragon 2 in August, providing the test flight sticks to schedule. This is called USCV-1, and it’ll be taking astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover to the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft will swoop down to the surface of the asteroid Bennu in September and try to collect a sample. It will return to Earth with this sample in 2023.
A new planet-hunting mission from ESA will launch between October 15 and November 14. It’s called CHEOPS (Characterising Exoplanets Satellite), and it’ll look for planets orbiting bright stars close to our Solar System.
Another astronomy one for you. On November 11, Mercury will transit the Sun as viewed from Earth.
Japan’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft will depart the asteroid Ryugu in December, returning to Earth in December 2020.
And finally, by the end of the year, we’re expecting China to launch a sample-return mission called Chang’e 5 to the Moon. No launch date has been revealed yet – but it could bring to a close a rather impressive year for space.