Main space milestones of 2023 in Spain and the world

The current year comes loaded with relevant events that will be decisive for the Spanish and global space ecosystem

PHOTO/PLD Space  -   Spanish company PLD Space based in Elche (Alicante) is finalising plans to fire its Miura 1 recoverable suborbital rocket in the coming months. Engine and integration tests in Teruel have been completed

2023 is not just any year in the global space sector. Much less so for Spain, which in a few days, in the first or second week of February at the latest, will officially establish its national space agency.

Its creation will be followed by the appointment of the first "Míster Espacio" or "Madam Espacio". Putting a face to the person who will govern the national space strategy will mean that Spain will no longer be absent from international forums other than ESA, as has been the case until now. Such a person will be able to sit down with the top managers of the different agencies to share plans and experiences on the present and future of the competitive global space scene.

And what else will 2023 bring for Spain? For now, Hispasat, Spain's leading commercial satellite communications operator, is starting the year with the launch of the Amazonas Nexus into orbit. The take-off window from Cape Canaveral (Florida) for the Falcon 9 carrier rocket opens on 5 February. If there are no delays, Hispasat expects it to begin providing services "throughout the month of August".

PHOTO/European Space Conference 2022 - El avanzado satélite de comunicaciones Amazonas Nexus de Hispasat va a dar paso a una nueva era para la compañía, afirma Miguel Ángel Panduro, consejero delegado de Hispasat
PHOTO/European Space Conference 2022 - Hispasat's advanced Amazonas Nexus communications satellite will usher in a new era for the company, says Miguel Ángel Panduro, CEO of Hispasat

Amazonas Nexus enjoys "a high level of contracted services" and ushers in a "new era" for the company, says Miguel Ángel Panduro, Hispasat's CEO. It incorporates a so-called "transparent" digital processor (DTP), which enables it to reorient the traffic of its communications beams according to changes in market demand. As a result, the company's commercial director, Ignacio Sanchis, has closed important deals to provide broadband for the growing demand from cruise lines and airlines on their Atlantic, Caribbean, Canary and Mediterranean routes.

But there is more. Satlantis, the company headed by Juan Tomas Hernani, plans to put two satellites into orbit: in June it will be Geisat, to detect methane. In December, Urdaneta 2, to duplicate the observations that its big brother began in May 2022. There is also news about the future Atlantic Constellation, which is being promoted in equal parts by the governments of Madrid and Lisbon. Spanish companies Alén Space, DHV Technology, Elecnor Deimos and Satlantis have teamed up to jointly bid for the eight spacecraft that Spain is responsible for developing and manufacturing. 

PHOTO/Moncloa - La Constelación Atlántica que promueven los gobiernos de Madrid y Lisboa cuenta con la implicación directa de las ministras de Ciencia de España, Diana Morant, y de Portugal, Elvira Fortunato (derecha)
PHOTO/Moncloa - The Atlantic Constellation promoted by the governments of Madrid and Lisbon has the direct involvement of the Spanish Minister of Science, Diana Morant, and the Portuguese Minister of Science, Elvira Fortunato (right)
Finally, PLD Space's Miura 1 will finally go aloft

The national community is eagerly awaiting the first mission of the recoverable suborbital launcher Miura 1 from PLD Space, the company from Elche (Alicante) that since 2018, one year after another, has been proclaiming that the launch will take place the following year. At the presentation of the full-scale model of the Miura 1 in Madrid in November 2021, its managers, Raúl Verdú and Raúl Torres, anticipated take-off "by the end of 2022". With the tests and trials practically completed, it is to be hoped that this will finally happen in the first half of 2023.

In the field of global space transportation, 2023 began with the failed launch on 10 January of the US micro-launchers RS1 from ABL Space Systems and LauncherOne from Virgin Orbit. But in the first 20 days of the month, five more Chinese and five more American launchers have successfully departed. It is expected that the 186 orbital flights of 2022 will be surpassed in the course of the year. SpaceX founder Elon Musk wants to reach 100 launches - 61 in 2022 - including the first of his Starship vector to travel to the Moon. China has more than 70 planned, which, if achieved, will surpass last year's 64

4.- PHOTO/Real Estate Market - El fundador de la compañía SpaceX, Elon Musk, pretende conseguir que los lanzamientos durante 2023 de su familia de cohetes Falcón alcancen o rocen el centenar. China tiene planeados más de 70
4.- PHOTO/Real Estate Market -  SpaceX founder Elon Musk is aiming for more than 100 launches of his Falcon family of rockets in 2023. China has more than 70 planned

The ones attracting the most attention are the trio of new heavy launchers scheduled for their maiden launches this year. They share several common characteristics, one of which is that none of them is retrievable. They are disposable and are designed to retire four veteran rockets in Europe, the United States and Japan.

The first to make its debut is the Japanese H3, under development since 2013 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japan Space Agency (JAXA). It is due to replace the H-IIA and B, whose first mission dates back to August 2001. The launch of the H3 is "planned for 12 February from the Tanegashima base", announced Japan's prime minister, Fumio Kishida, at a meeting with the country's main space authorities on 23 December.

The H3, which is 63 metres high, weighs 574 tonnes and has two propulsion stages, is to carry Japan's 3-tonne, 80-centimetre resolution ALOS-3 stereoscopic observation satellite into orbit. A few days later, on 25 February, the United States has scheduled the maiden flight of the Vulcan Centaur, developed by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a company created in December 2006 and owned 50/50 by the space arms of Boeing & Lockheed Martin.

5.- PHOTO/JAXA - El nuevo vector espacial de Japón es el H3, desarrollado por Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. El propio primer ministro nipón, Fumio Kishida, ha sido quien ha desvelado que su despegue inaugural se producirá el 12 de febrero
5.- PHOTO/JAXA - Japan's new space vector is the H3, developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida himself has revealed that its maiden launch will take place on 12 February
From Europe's Ariane 6 to Boeing's manned capsule

At 61.6 metres tall, weighing 547 tonnes and with two booster stages, it will be capable of carrying up to 27 tonnes into low orbit. But because it is a qualification flight, it carries only two prototypes of Amazon's Kuiper mega-constellation, which has committed to placing more than 3,200 satellites in space. Alongside them is the lunar surface module Peregrine 1 from the US company Astrobotic.

The Vulcan Centaur is to take over from Lockheed Martin's Atlas V and Boeing's Delta IV, which have been in service since the early 2000s. Both rockets enjoyed a monopoly on launching the large, heavy platforms of the defence department, NASA and other federal organisations, and especially spy satellites, into orbit. But the advent of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, their low cost and proven reliability, smashed the monopoly. 

6.- PHOTO/CNES - Durante la cumbre franco-alemana celebrada el 22 de enero, el presidente de la agencia espacial gala, Philippe Baptiste (derecha), detalló al presidente Macron y al canciller Scholz la importancia del cohete Ariane 6 (maqueta a la izquierda)
6.- PHOTO/CNES - During the Franco-German summit on 22 January, the president of the French space agency, Philippe Baptiste (right), explained to President Macron and Chancellor Scholz the importance of the Ariane 6 rocket (mock-up on the left)

What about the European Ariane 6? At 60 metres long, with a maximum weight of 860 tonnes and the possibility of placing up to 26.6 tonnes in low orbit, its maiden flight will be a reality "probably by the end of 2023", confirmed the president of the French space agency, Philippe Baptiste, in mid-January. But this forecast is conditional, Baptiste stressed, "on the condition that no technical problems are discovered during the combined tests", which are continuing. It would not be unreasonable to think that it could slip to the first quarter of 2024.

The European Space Agency (ESA) also has important commitments in 2023. In April, the initial training phase will begin for the 17 astronaut candidates selected at the end of November, including two Spaniards, Pablo Álvarez and Sara García. Also in April, the penultimate Ariane 5 will fly with the European JUICE probe. Its 6-tonne mission is to discover the secrets of Jupiter and its three icy moons. 

7.- PHOTO/ESA - Para el mes de abril está prevista la puesta en órbita de la sofisticada sonda europea JUICE. El penúltimo lanzador europeo Ariane 5 la propulsará camino de Júpiter para descubrir sus secretos y los de sus tres heladas lunas
7.- PHOTO/ESA - Europe's sophisticated JUICE probe is due to be launched into orbit in April. Europe's penultimate Ariane 5 launcher will propel it on its way to Jupiter to discover its secrets and those of its three icy moons

In the second half of the year, the European infrared space telescope Euclid will take off. At just over 2 tonnes, it will take off in a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral in search of the dark Universe. And in June, Arianespace will carry out the 117th and final launch of Ariane 5, closing the history of a rocket that had a poor debut in June 1996 but has had 112 successes.

At least half a dozen manned missions are planned. Some will be crew relief missions to China's Tiangong orbital complex and others to the International Space Station (ISS), where private flights will also arrive for very short stays. And finally, after several years of delay, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule will carry out its first mission with astronauts. It is the alter ego of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, so that NASA will have two capsule models to send and return human beings to the ISS.