Space 2023 in numbers: a record number of flights, astronauts in orbit and new “space countries”

2023 was a record year for the space research market and “new space” — the concept of liberalizing extraterrestrial flights. During the year, a record number of orbital launches were made, and a record number of earthlings were also in space at the same time.

collected several key market figures:

The United States set a new world record for the number of spacecraft launches by one country — 108. The previous record since 1982 belonged to the USSR. SpaceX sent 1 million kg of cargo into orbit and completed about half of all launches in 2023. A number of research instruments have been launched into space: JUICE — Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, an explorer of Jupiter's icy moons, developed by the European Space Agency; the Euclid space telescope to study dark matter and dark energy: it should determine the rate of expansion of the Universe; Psyche from NASA – to study the metal asteroid of the same name, which has a diameter of 253 km. There will soon be traffic jams on the Moon: on August 23, the Indian Chandrayaan-3 made a soft landing on the previously unexplored south pole of the Moon; in orbit is the Japanese SLIM (Smart Lander of Investigating Moon), which is scheduled to land on the surface of the satellite on January 19; the Russians managed to crash the Luna-25 station on the Moon; The Japanese lost the Hakuto-R private module. SpaceX's Falcon 9 completed its 19th landing in December 2023, breaking its launch vehicle reuse record.. Virgin Galactic conducted its first commercial space flight and sent the first tourists into space. 2023 saw a number of landmark launches in the history of the space industry.. In particular, the following countries and companies joined the club of space-faring countries: Iran (Qaem 100 launch vehicle); North Korea (Chollima-1 seemed to take off, but fell rather quickly); Relativity Space (a unique Terran 1 launch vehicle, partially printed on a 3D printer); Rocket Lab (testing the world's first hypersonic drone for the US Department of Defense); Space Pioneer (Tianlong-2 cargo launch vehicle); Evolution Space (the company's third successful launch, Gold Chain Cowboy mission); Galactic Energy (sea launch of the Ceres-1S launch vehicle); ABL (not on the first try, but the RS1 took off); SpaceX (the Starship super-heavy launch vehicle took off and returned on November 18 — at least officially). Several countries received control of their satellites: Ireland, Djibouti, Albania, Oman to the Vatican. Last year, a new fuel was also tested for the first time. The Chinese launch vehicle Zhunque-2 became the first vehicle to reach orbit using methane, and Space Pioneer became the first private company to reach space using a liquid rocket engine..

One of the most important figures of the year was the number of successful launches: last year, as in 2022, it was 94%.

And now – about some of these events in more detail.

1. Juice probe sent to the moons of Jupiter

Artist's rendering of the Juice Probe. Source:

The European Space Agency (ESA) has spent over 1.5 billion euros on the production of the Juice spacecraft (JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) since 2015.. On April 14, 2023, the Ariane 5 launch vehicle carrying Juice took place from Kourou in French Guiana.

The device will fly to Jupiter for eight years, after which in the summer of 2031 it will begin a comprehensive study of the gas giant and its three moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Juice's main goal is to confirm the presence of water oceans beneath the surface ice on these moons and study their properties.. Scientists expect that Juice will be able to collect indirect evidence of the existence of life on these celestial bodies.

2. Caltech transmitted energy from satellite to Earth

Satellites in orbit can continuously collect solar energy 24 hours a day and transmit it to Earth using microwave radiation.. On June 1, 2023, Caltech announced that it had successfully implemented this idea for the first time.

The experimental installation SSPD-1 (Space Solar Power Demonstrator) was launched into orbit in January 2023. Using two solar panels, she collected energy in space and sent it to a receiver on earth.. Caltech researchers say they have detected an influx of energy on the roof of one of their campuses in Pasadena.. Thus, they confirmed that in the future it will be possible to urgently power hard-to-reach regions and military facilities on Earth with microwaves from a satellite.

3. Euclid space telescope launched

On July 1, 2023, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the European Space Agency's (ESA) Euclid Space Telescope into orbit.. It took 10 years and $1.5 billion to create this device.. It should help understand how dark energy and dark matter affect our Universe.

Over the next 6.5 years, Euclid will capture clear images of billions of galaxies up to 10 billion light-years away.. From this data, scientists will build the largest three-dimensional space map, covering 35% of the visible part of the Universe.. The galaxy map is needed to verify and clarify the General Theory of Relativity and other theoretical models.

4. China launched a methane-fueled rocket

The Chinese analogue of SpaceX — the private company LandSpace — sent into space the world's first launch vehicle, in which methane plays the role of fuel and liquid oxygen acts as an oxidizer. The Zhuque-2 methane rocket has a diameter of 3.35 meters, a length of 49.5 meters, weighs 219 tons and is capable of delivering 4 tons of cargo to a 500-kilometer altitude. It first took off on July 12, 2023 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and launched a test payload into orbit.. On December 8, the Chinese launched the Zhuque 2 rocket for the second time and carried three satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 460 kilometers.

Methane has several advantages over kerosene or hydrogen, which is widely used as rocket fuel.. It is cheaper and features cleaner combustion, increasing engine life.. This makes methane suitable for reusable rockets. Landspace's success should increase investor confidence in methane as a rocket fuel and make space missions cheaper.

5. Hindus planted a scientific station on the Moon

Vikram lander photographed by Pragyan rover

India became the fourth country in the world to successfully land its module on the surface of the Moon, after the USA, USSR and China.. The automatic interplanetary station Chandrayaan-3 weighing 3.9 tons was launched on July 14, 2023 on the largest and heaviest Indian rocket LVM3 from the spaceport on the island of Sriharikota.

On August 23, the Vikram lander successfully descended from lunar orbit and landed softly near the little-studied south pole of the Moon.. A day later, the six-wheeled rover “Pragyan” descended from it and transmitted data on the composition of the soil, as well as photographs of its stay on the Earth’s natural satellite.

The most high-profile space mission of 2023 was also the cheapest. The Chandrayaan-3 project cost the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) 6 billion rupees ($73 million). For this modest budget by cosmic standards, Indian engineers managed to outdo their Russian and American colleagues who failed lunar missions. Thus, in May 2023, NASA was unable to place the Moon into orbit and lost the Lunar Flashlight device, and in August 2023, Roscosmos crashed the Luna-25 station onto the Moon while trying to transfer it to a pre-landing orbit.

6. The OSIRIS-REx probe delivered samples of the asteroid Bennu to Earth

Image of OSIRIS-REx above the surface of the asteroid Benn

After seven years of space flight, soil samples from the asteroid Bennu were delivered to Earth. NASA mission launched in 2016. The OSIRIS-REx device reached the target 500-meter asteroid without serious problems, conducted scientific research in its orbit, collected a pinch of rocks with a robotic arm and returned safely to Earth orbit. On September 24, 2023, the capsule he dropped with 250 grams of soil parachuted into the desert of the American state of Utah.

The material recovered from Bennu is called a “time capsule” — it was preserved in a vacuum as it was billions of years ago, when the solar system was just beginning to form. NASA will distribute it among research laboratories around the world, and scientists will try to understand what planets were like in the past, and whether asteroids could be carriers of life in the Universe.

7. Psyche probe launched towards metallic asteroid Psyche-16

The Psyche probe approaches the asteroid Psyche-16. Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

For the first time, NASA sent a research mission to an unusual cosmic body consisting not of gas, ice or stone, but of metals: nickel and iron.. On October 13, 2023, the Psyche device was launched on the giant SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. It headed for Psyche 16, the largest known metallic asteroid in the Solar System, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The Psyche probe will fly 3.6 billion km and meet with Psyche-16 in July 2029. Interest in the metal asteroid is caused by the fact that scientists consider it a dead “embryo” of the planet. It probably could have grown to the size of the Earth, but became a victim of a cosmic accident. Billions of years ago, due to a collision with another celestial body, its shell flew off, and the exposed core cooled and froze.

Studying Psyche-16 should shed light on how planets form and what the core inside the Earth is like. The researchers also want to evaluate the possibilities of mining metallic asteroids.

Read also: Top 5 space achievements of 2022: James Webb, DART, Tiangong and Artemis