Space Shuttle Columbia 20th Anniversary and More February Space and Astronomy Events

Space Shuttle Columbia 20th Anniversary and More February Space and Astronomy Events

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is making a steady approach to Earth for the first time in about 50,000 years. On Thursday, February 2, the comet will make its closest approach to our planet and its green-hued ice ball and tail will be visible from Earth’s surface.

Even when the weather is bad chances of seeing the comet that day, there will be more chances to see it, including on February 10, when Mars’ proximity to the night sky could make it easy to find.

Late in the month, two spacecraft could head to the International Space Station, each with important missions.

The first, as early as February 20, will be an empty Russian Soyuz capsule. The spacecraft’s mission is to provide a trip home for a trio of Russian and American astronauts whose original ride was damaged in what was likely a micrometeoroid strike in December. That crew of astronauts was expected to return to Earth in March, but could remain in orbit for several more months.

The progress of that flight could affect the timing of Crew-6, a four-astronaut launch to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon ship to replace Crew-5’s four astronauts. Flying on board Crew-6 are Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg of NASA, Andrey Fedyaev of Russia and Sultan Alneyadi, who will be the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to visit the station.

The first flights of new rockets (or the first flights of existing rockets from new places) will be highlights of 2023.

January had a mixed start on this front. Company Rocket Lab had its first flight from a launch pad at Wallops Island in Virginia after previous trips from its home base in New Zealand. But an attempt Virgin Orbit launches first orbital rocket from England failed. The company ABL Space Systems also has experience with this an “energetic explosion” during the first launch.

There are other rockets to watch in February. In late January, SpaceX completed a fuel test of Starship, its next-generation orbital rocket prototype. The rocket is central to SpaceX’s ambitions to go to Mars and NASA’s plans to get astronauts back on the moon. The company may then conduct a “static fire” this month, in which the rocket’s booster stage’s 33 motors fire while the ship itself is held in place. If successful, it could set up the rocket’s first flight to orbit in March.

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