2024 is shaping up to be the biggest year for space exploration in a long time. SpaceX plans to launch 124 rockets in 2024 a major increase over the 98 it sent to space last year: No other organization has managed more than 63 in a single year.
NASA, meanwhile, is scheduled to send a manned spaceship around the moon in a mission the agency hopes will pave the way for a manned trip to the lunar south pole next year. But tensions between the U.S. and China are likely to extend into outer space as the two superpowers vie for an extraterrestrial advantage.
An Asian space race is likewise expected to heat up as Japan’s and India’s space programs aim for key milestones.
SpaceX’s dominance shows little sign of letting up, even as rivals emerge
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning to expand its Starlink satellite constellation and make progress on Starship, the biggest rocket ever built. It has yet to have a successful launch, but the company is expected to test it for the third time in coming months. Amazon is will begin directly competing with Starlink when its satellite broadband network launches later this year. While Amazon’s rival product is unlikely to match Starlink’s network of over 5,000 satellites anytime soon, an alternative to Musk’s firm would be good news for U.S. national security, an expert wrote after the revelations that Musk had rejected a Ukrainian request to use his technology for operations in Russian-occupied Crimea.
The race for the moon is heating up between the U.S. and China
Both the U.S. and China want to set up permanent bases on the moon before trying to pull off manned missions to Mars in the 2030s, McClatchyDC reported. This 21st-century space race is about more than just prestige: “Space is very evident to China as a place they need to counter U.S. power,” a U.S. intelligence official told the news outlet. Both Washington D.C. and Beijing hope to establish the rules of the road for lunar mining and property rights in outer space. China is developing technology to prepare for battles in space such as anti-satellite weapons and space nukes, Politico reported. U.S. officials have been cagey about what kinds of space weapons they have, but one Space Command official said the U.S. “is ready to fight tonight in space if we have to.”
India and Japan hope to foster homegrown space industries
2024’s space activity won’t just be about the U.S. and China. At the end of last year, India laid out an ambitious plan to build a space station by 2035, and is set for at least 12 space missions this year. India sees its space program as part of a wider effort to develop high-tech industries, and can use its satellites to support humanitarian missions and monitor Chinese military movements, Kari A. Bingen of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote. Japan also has big space ambitions, aiming to become the fifth country to land a spaceship on the moon this month. It will also test its first new launch vehicle in over 20 years, the H3, for the third time in February.