These are the space missions to look out for in the 2020s

Spending on space exploration has been raised by $9 billion in 2022.

Spending on space exploration has been raised by $9 billion in 2022. Image: Unsplash/NASA

Ian Shine
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Space is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


Listen to the article

  • Aspirations to reach the Moon – and other parts of space – are growing, with numerous space missions planned for the 2020s.
  • NASA’s Artemis III aims to put humans back on the Moon’s surface, while other space agencies will send missions to planets including Mars and Mercury.
  • Scientific research in space is enhancing our understanding of health and material science, robotics and other technologies, according to the World Economic Forum’s briefing paper, Six Ways Space Technologies Benefit Life on Earth.

“We can all aspire to the Moon and beyond." That’s what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after his country made its historic landing on the Moon’s south pole in August – and it also appears to be what is happening.

Aspirations to reach the Moon – and other parts of space – are growing, with numerous space missions planned for the 2020s.

Japan has followed quickly on India’s heels, launching its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon in early September. India’s Chandrayaan-3 is searching for water ice that could support future Moon exploration – although it has recently run into problems, with extremely low temperatures impacting the functioning of the mission's lander. Japan, meanwhile, wants to prove that “high-accuracy landings” are possible on the moon, by touching down within 100 metres of its target site.

Spending on space exploration is rising

Governments raised their spending on space exploration by $9 billion in 2022, meaning it made up 45% of defence spending, up from 41% a year earlier, the Space Foundation says. But it’s not just countries exploring space – private-sector companies are also developing space programmes.

This is expanding the possibilities of space exploration, which could help us tackle some of the biggest problems facing planet Earth.

Different examples of benefits in relation to space research.
Space research is helping find answers to some of the Earth’s biggest challenges. Image: World Economic Forum

“Satellites that circle the globe provide the most accurate weather reports and warn us of impending storms; they monitor our climate every day, helping to track increasing rates of climate change and its effects,” says the World Economic Forum’s briefing paper Six Ways Space Technologies Benefit Life on Earth. “Scientific research that takes place in orbit is helping to push the frontiers of our understanding of health and material science, robotics and other technologies.”

Here’s a look at some of the potentially most important space missions planned in the 2020s.

NASA’s Artemis III: Putting humans back on the moon

Humans could walk on the moon for the first time in 50 years if the Artemis III mission is successful in 2025.

Like India, US space agency NASA plans to explore the area around the Moon’s south pole. Astronauts will take pictures and make videos to survey the region’s geology. They will also take samples with the hope of increasing our understanding – not just of this part of the Moon, but of the entire solar system.

Infographic illustrating Artemis III landing on the moon.
Artemis III could put humans back on the moon’s surface. Image: NASA

“This mission will usher in a future in which humans consistently access the Moon, and human planetary exploration missions are within reach,” NASA says. It adds that the additional knowledge and technological developments built up thanks to Artemis III will help pave the way for the first human mission to Mars.

Europe’s ExoMars: Exploring the Red Planet

It aims to send a vehicle, the Rosalind Frank Rover, across the surface of the Red Planet and to drill two metres into the surface to obtain geological samples. A separate Trace Gas Orbiter will study the atmosphere around Mars.


The ExoMars landing is expected in 2030, and timing will be important. The mission wants six months of study time, but it also needs to leave before the arrival of Mars’ northern hemisphere winter, which is likely to bring huge amounts of dust that could jeopardize the rover’s ability to function.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also been launching missions around Mars. Its Hope probe entered the planet’s orbit in 2021, and the pictures it took have led to the creation of a new map of Mars that shows the entire planet in one shot. The UAE has a long-term goal to build a settlement on Mars by 2117.

MMX: Japan heads to Mars’ moons

The Martian Moons eXploration mission by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is scheduled to enter Mars’ orbit in 2025 and explore the moon of Phobos.

A series of meteorite impacts are believed to have left Phobos covered with material from Mars, and JAXA hopes to obtain the world's first sample return of Martian surface material containing traces of life.

Infographic illustrating statistics on objects launched into outer space.
It’s not just countries exploring space – private-sector companies are also developing space programmes. Image: Visual Capitalist

“A major scientific goal for the mission is clarifying the origin of the two Martian moons and the evolution process of the Martian Sphere (Mars, Phobos and Deimos),” JAXA says. “The creation of this system is one of the keys to solving the mysteries of planetary formation in the solar system.”

SpaceX’s Falcon 9: Setting up the internet in space

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX says that reusable rockets would power breakthroughs in space exploration, as they would slash the costs of going into orbit dramatically.

Most rockets are currently used only once, but SpaceX says its Falcon launch vehicles are the first to be capable of reflight.


How is the Forum tackling global cybersecurity challenges?

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is due to launch on 29 September as part of the company’s plan to establish a space-based internet communication system named Starlink. This could make high-speed internet available worldwide, SpaceX says.

BepiColombo: Heading to Mercury

Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system and least explored planet of the inner solar system. The ESA’s BepiColombo mission launched in 2018 and aims to arrive at Mercury in 2025 following a series of flybys.

BepiColombo will be only the second mission in history to orbit Mercury and will try to find out more about why the planet has a magnetic field, and why it has ice in its polar craters, despite being the closest planet to the Sun and facing temperatures of up to 430°C.

Mercury is particularly interesting to scientists who study exoplanets, planets that orbit other stars,” according to NGO The Planetary Society. “Thousands of known exoplanets orbit extremely close to their stars. By studying Mercury right here in our backyard, we can better understand what these close-orbiting worlds might be like.”

China’s Chang'e 6: Hunting for lunar materials

Four spacecraft will be involved in China’s Chang’e 6 mission, due to launch in May 2024. It aims to take rock samples from the southern hemisphere on the far side of the Moon, in an area known as the Apollo Basin, according to

The basin is a 538-kilometre-wide crater believed to hold substantial deposits of “mare”, which is formed when basaltic lava flows into depressions on the Moon’s surface.


The Chang’e 6 mission aims to recover 2 kilograms of mare and other lunar materials, with the hope of finding out more about the history of the Moon. Chang'e 7 and 8 missions are expected to follow in 2026 and 2028. China also says it wants to put astronauts on the moon by 2030.

Dragonfly and DAVINCI: NASA trips to Saturn and Venus

NASA’s Dragonfly mission heads off to Saturn in 2026, but won’t arrive at the planet’s moon, Titan, until 2034. It will spend two years taking surface samples and making measurements to establish how habitable various sites might be.

The mission aims to understand the origin and evolution of Venus’ atmosphere, as well as how and why Venus differs from Earth and Mars. It will also look for evidence of oceans and investigate levels of volcanic activity.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum