2021 was a year of awe-inspiring advancements for the space industry, and despite the fact that progress is not always linear, we are confident that 2024 will bring even more remarkable achievements.
This year has been a challenging one for many space companies, and we do not disregard this fact in our hopefulness. With the end of zero-interest-rate policy and an increase in the cost of cash, fundraising has become more difficult. However, 2023 has also presented several favorable conditions that lead us to believe that next year will be one of the most eventful in space exploration history.
This is TechCrunch, so our list of anticipated and exciting developments for 2024 leans towards venture-backed startups, keeping in mind that this may exclude certain companies such as Artemis II.
More Starship tests
SpaceX had a monumental year, not just because of nearly 100 successful launches of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, but also because of the two launches of Starship – the most powerful launch vehicle ever created.
The first test was in April, followed by a second in November. Although both ended in mid-air explosions and fell short of achieving the full mission profile, they were still considered significant successes.
Part of this success can be attributed to SpaceX’s culture of rapid improvement and iteration of hardware. Within six months between the two launches, the company incorporated numerous improvements to ground infrastructure and the launch vehicle. These included a redesigned launch mount, a water deluge system, and upgrades to the Raptor engines. These enhancements led to an even further flight for Starship during its second launch, and impressively, SpaceX achieved an experimental hot staging – separating the rocket’s two stages by igniting the upper stage’s engines while the booster is still connected and firing its engines.
We anticipate seeing even more improvements and a higher testing frequency in the upcoming year, and we would not be surprised if SpaceX succeeds in completing the full orbital flight plan.
Historic lunar lander missions
In 2024, we will witness a record number of private companies attempting to land spacecraft on the moon, unprecedented in history. We are anticipating attempts from Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, Firefly Aerospace, and ispace. Currently, only four nation states have succeeded in landing spacecraft on the moon, so the success of even one private company would be a historic achievement.
The year will kick off with launches from Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, and it is highly likely that both will attempt to land in the same week, during the third week of February. Firefly is targeting the third quarter for the launch of their Blue Ghost lander, while ispace is aiming for a late-year mission.
Advanced satellite operations demonstrations
Many space startups are focused on expanding the capabilities of satellites in space. One notable example is rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO), in which two spacecraft maneuver to dock or interact with each other intentionally. Another area of interest involves in-space manufacturing and satellite reentry.
In 2024, we anticipate more demonstrations from startups seeking to execute cutting-edge satellite operations. Some notable ones include:
Defense-focused startup True Anomaly will demonstrate RPO with two of its Jackal satellites early in the year.
In-space logistics startup Atomos Space will launch its first two orbital transfer vehicles, which could potentially assist in repositioning satellites in orbit.
Japanese firm Astroscale is collaborating with Rocket Lab to launch a spacecraft for an orbital debris removal demonstration.
Varda Space Industries will bring back its first spacecraft for in-space manufacturing, successfully growing crystals of the drug ritonavir in orbit.
SpaceX co-founder Tom Mueller’s startup, Impulse Space, will launch two more missions of its Mira spacecraft for last-mile orbital delivery and satellite constellation deployment.
More rocket testing from newer entrants and established players
Although SpaceX remains a key player, there are other exciting developments and tests expected from companies looking to claim their share of the launch market. We are looking forward to the first launches of Blue Origin’s New Glenn, Rocket Lab’s Neutron, and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser spaceplane. Additionally, we anticipate updates from Stoke Space and Relativity, both companies with rockets scheduled for launch later in the decade. We will also be keeping an eye on the second flight test of ABL Space System’s RS1 rocket.