The year 2020 AD did not turn out exactly as we would have liked down on Earth. But in space, it did prove to be momentous.
SpaceX and NASA delivered astronauts to the International Space Station (twice!) aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, Japan and China brought back extraterrestrial rock to Earth and NASA scooped up some space chunks from asteroid Bennu. Excitement for Mars peaked in July, when three missions departed for the red planet. The Mars-bound spacecraft, from NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates, are en route now. They’re set to arrive early in 2021.
Last year, to keep all of you in the know, CNET launched the SPACE CALENDAR (all caps for dramatic cosmic effect), covering all the big rocket launches, mesmerizing meteor showers, epic eclipses and even an assortment of scientific milestones. In 2021, we’re back at it again. You can find all the key dates for space missions below, with meteor showers and events without a date toward the end of the piece.
Our always-updating Google calendar can be synced with your own calendar so you never miss a thing. That big button below? That’s how you add it.
You can also use another calendar with this link, which will allow you to download our calendar file and add it to a provider of your choice, like Outlook.
There are many more rocket launches each year than those listed below, but they’re so often subject to change that we’ve decided to leave them off this big list. The best advice is to always keep an eye on CNET’s Science page and sign up for our space and science newsletter if you want to ensure you’re getting launch updates from the likes of SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Blue Origin. We’ll also endeavor to shift things around on the Google calendar as soon as we have information, so keep your eyes peeled.
[February?] Starship SN9 test
Remember the incredible explosion of SpaceX’s SN8 prototype in December? SpaceX considers that a success on its way to a fully fledged spacecraft that can get to orbit and — eventually — to Mars. In late 2020 or early 2021, Elon Musk’s spaceflight company expects to send the next numbered prototype on its way. Its three powerful Raptor engines are attached and it has been wheeled onto the launchpad, so the prototype is likely to fly early in 2021.
The SN9 test has been delayed a number of times and we’re trying to stay on top of things. It’s looking like an early February launch is possible. We’ll keep you updated, just jump over to this article!
[Feb. 9] Hope inserts itself into Mars’ orbit
The United Arab Emirates’ Hope (Al Amal) probe, which was launched in July 2020, will perform a Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) as it prepares to circle the red planet and produce one of the most complete pictures of its atmosphere ever. A successful MOI would make the UAE the fifth nation to reach Mars, following the US, Russia, China and India.
The MOI is a complex procedure, involving a 30 minute burn that slows Hope from 75,000 miles per hour to just 11,200. At approximately 7:42 a.m. PT on Feb. 9, the bus-length probe will be “at” Mars and will begin to transition to the science phase of the mission. It will, at its closest point, be just 620 miles from Mars’ surface.
Want to know more about the journey to Mars for the UAE? Read about it here.
[Feb. 10] Tianwen-1 arrives at Mars
China’s Tianwen-1 (“Questions to Heaven”) spacecraft is carrying a Martian orbiter, lander and rover as cargo and will make its own insertion just a day after Hope, according to Chinese news service CCTV. The Chinese mission will not release it’s…