April Space Events: Artemis Astronauts, a Journey to Jupiter and More

If you’re looking for space news in April, you won’t have to wait long.

On Monday, NASA will introduce the four astronauts who will travel on the Artemis II mission. The Artemis program — a successor to the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s — aims to return Americans to the moon later in the decade. Artemis II will send three American astronauts and one Canadian on a 10-day journey around the moon and back to Earth, launching as soon as 2024.

The announcement of the mission’s crew will occur at 11 a.m. Eastern time on April 3. They will be the first humans to fly beyond low-Earth orbit and toward the moon since the Apollo 17 mission concluded in 1972.

In the middle of the month, a major European Space Agency mission will send a spacecraft on a long journey toward Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet. The spacecraft, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer or JUICE, will focus on studying several of the gas giant’s moons: oceanic Europa, massive Ganymede and quirky Callisto.

The mission is scheduled to lift off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana on April 13; it will reach the Jovian system in 2031, spend four years performing various flybys and conclude with an orbit of Ganymede.

Near the end of April, a moon landing may occur. Ispace, a private Japanese company, launched its M1 robotic lander in December, carrying cargo built by the space agencies of Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Landing on the moon is perilous, and attempts by India and an Israeli nonprofit ended in crashes in 2019. If Ispace succeeds in touching down on the moon’s surface in one piece, it will be the first private lunar mission to do so.

The spacecraft reached lunar orbit on March 21 and the company has yet to announce the date of its landing attempt.

Skygazers on Earth will have a chance to see one of the first major meteor showers of 2023 in April. The Lyrids meteor shower becomes active on April 15, and reaches peak activity on the night of April 22 into the morning of April 23. With the moon far from full that night, those with clear, dark skies have a shot at seeing fireballs streaking through the heavens.

There will also be a total solar eclipse on April 20. But its path starts in the Indian Ocean, crossing over remote parts of Australia and Indonesia before ending elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, so it won’t be visible in the Western Hemisphere. You’ll have to wait for October, when an annular eclipse will cross from the American West into South America.

Some important space events originally expected in April were recently postponed. The long-delayed first flight of Boeing’s Starliner capsule carrying astronauts to the International Space Station has been moved to July. Boeing needs to complete certifications that the spacecraft is ready to fly, and traffic on the space station has added to the delays.

A mission to launch a Japanese space telescope, XRISM, also faces delays tied to a launch failure in March of Japan’s new H3 rocket, according to Space News.

Another launch facing delays is the first orbital trip of Starship, SpaceX’s massive reusable rocket. SpaceX officials had suggested a launch in March, ahead of a partly successful ground test of the rocket’s engines in February. The company’s founder, Elon Musk, suggested on Twitter that an April flight was possible.

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