Suborbital Spaceflight by the Numbers

New Shepard launches on its 21st flight of the program on June 4, 2022. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Part II of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 was a busy period in suborbital space with 23 launches conducted that did not involve tests of ballistic missiles or defensive systems. Twelve people flew above the Karman line, new boosters and space technologies were tested, and the first commercial suborbital launch was conducted from Australia. And some science was done.

We covered the above mentioned flights in depth in a story published on Tuesday. In this piece we’ll look a broader look at who launched what, when, where, why and on what.

Suborbital Launches

The 23 suborbital launches used 13 different launch vehicles that flew from eight different countries on four continents. Nine launches were conducted in the United States, six in China, two apiece in Norway and South Korea, and one each in Australia, Iran, North Korea and Sweden.

Suborbital Launches, January – June 2022
(Excludes Ballistic Missile Tests)

DateLaunch VehicleOrganization(s)Launch SitePurposeOutcome
Jan. 9, 2022Black Brant IXNASA – University of MiamiWallops (USA)X-ray astronomySuccess
Jan. 23, 2022Tianxing IISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Jiuquan (?) (China)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentSuccess
Jan. 24, 2022Tianxing ISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Jiuquan (?)(China)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentSuccess
Jan. 29, 2022Improved MalemuteGerman Aerospace Center (DLR)Esrange (Sweden)Microgravity researchSuccess | Apogee: 253.6 km (157.6 miles)
Feb. 26, 2022Hwasong-17KPA Strategic Rocket Force – National Aerospace Development AdministrationSunan (North Korea)Tested imaging system for future reconnaissance satelliteSuccess | Apogee: ~620 km (385.3 miles)
March 5, 2022Black Brant IXNASAPoker Flat (USA)Auroral scienceSuccess | Apogee: 429 km (266.6 miles)
March 9, 2022Black Brant IXNASA – U.S. Naval Research LaboratoryWhite Sands (USA)Solar observationSuccess | Apogee: 302 km (187.7 miles)
March 17, 2022Tianxing IISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Jiuquan (?) (China)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentSuccess
March 21, 2022Terrier-improved MalemuteNASA — U.S. Air ForceWallops (USA)Laminar- turbulent transition measurementsSuccess
March 24, 2022Blue Whale 0.1Perigee Aerospace – Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)Jeju Island (South Korea)Third flight test of smallsat launcherSuccess
March 30, 2022Solid Fuel Space ProjectileMinistry of National DefenseJackup sea installation (South Korea)Smallsat launcher flight testSuccess | Dummy satellite
March 31, 2022New ShepardBlue OriginCorn Ranch (USA)Space tourismSuccess | Six people flown on fourth human flight | Apogee: 107 km (66.5 miles)
April 7, 2022Black Brant IXNASA – Clemson UniversityPoker Flat (USA)Auroral scienceSuccess | Apogee: 339.6 km (211 miles)
April 7, 2022Terrier-Improved MalemuteNASA – Clemson UniversityPoker Flat (USA)Auroral scienceSuccess | Apogee: 207.6 km (129 miles)
April 19, 2022Tianxing IISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Jiuquan (?) (China)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentSuccess
April 25, 2022Tianxing ISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Jiuquan (?) (China)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentSuccess
May 4, 2022Tianxing ISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Jiuquan (?) (China)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentSuccess
May 11, 2022Oriole III-ANASASvalbard (Norway)Ionospheric researchSuccess | Apogee: 767 km (476.6 miles)
June 4, 2022New ShepardBlue OriginCorn Ranch (USA)Space tourismSuccess | Six people flown on fifth human flight | Apogee: 107 km (66.5 miles)
June 24, 2022Terrier-Improved OrionNASA – Colorado Space Grant ConsortiumWallops (USA)EducationSuccess | Apogee: 113.5 km (70.5 miles)
June 26, 2022Black Brant IXNASA – University of Wisconsin – MadisonArnhem Space Centre (Australia)X-ray astronomyFirst launch from Australian commercial spaceport | Apogee: 327 km (203.2 miles)
June 26, 2022ZulijanahIranian Space AgencySemnan (Iran)Flight testSuccess
June 26, 2022VSB-30 Improved OrionGerman Aerospace Center (DLR)Andoya (Norway)Reusable launch vehicle technology testSuccess | Apogee: 38 km (23.6 miles) |
Velocity: Mach 8
Source: Wikipedia & original research

Suborbital Launches by Organization

NASA led the world with nine suborbital flights conducted from three continents using four different types of suborbital rockets. The space agency teamed with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Clemson University, Colorado Space Grant Consortium, University of Miami and the University of Wisconsin-Madison for launches focused on science and education.

Suborbital Launches by Organization
January – June 2022

OrganizationPartner(s)LaunchesPurpose(s)Launch Vehicle(s)Launch Site(s)
NASAU.S. Air Force, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Clemson University, Colorado Space Grant Consortium, University of Miami, University of Wisconsin – Madison9Auroral science (3), x-ray astronomy (2), education, ionospheric research (1), Laminar-turbulent transition (1), solar observation (1)Black Brant IX (5), Terrier-Improved Malemute (2), Terrier-Improved Orion (1), Oriole III-A (1)Arnhem (Australia), Poker Flat (USA), White Sands (USA), Svalbard (Norway)
Space Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)6Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentTianxing I, Tianxing IIJiuquan (?)
Blue Origin2Fourth and fifth human spaceflights, 12 people flownNew ShepardCorn Ranch (USA)
German Aerospace Center (DLR)Technical University of Munich, University of Arizona2Microgravity research, reusable launch vehicle technology testImproved Malemute, VSB-30 Improved OrionAndoya (Norway), Esrange (Sweden)
Iranian Space Agency1Smallsat launcher flight testZulijanahSemnan
KPA Strategic Rocket ForceNational Aerospace Development Administration1Tested imaging system for future reconnaissance satelliteHwasong-17Sunan
Perigee AerospaceKorea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)1Third flight test of smallsat launcherBlue Whale 0.1Jeju Island
South Korea Ministry of National Defense1Smallsat launcher flight testSolid Fuel Space ProjectileJackup sea installation
Source: Wikipedia & original research

China’s Space Transportation, a.k.a., (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology, launched the Tianxing I and Tianxing II rockets as part of a program to develop new crewed vehicles. Blue Origin launched its New Shepard suborbital vehicle twice spaceflight participants aboard.

Six other launches were conducted by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Iranian Space Agency, KPA Strategic Rocket Force, Perigee Aerospace and the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

Launch of Blue Whale 0.1 rocket. (Credit: Perigee Aerospace)

Suborbital Launches by Purpose

Eleven of 23 suborbital launches were focused on rocket and satellite technology development, 10 flights were dedicated to research, two New Shepard flights carried spaceflight participants above the Karman line, and one launch was focused on education.

Suborbital Human Spaceflight

New Shepard lands after the NS-21 flight. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

With Virgin Galactic’s space vehicles in the hangar for modifications, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin had a monopoly on suborbital space tourism flights. The company conducted two suborbital flights that flew 12 individuals above the Karman line at 100 km (62.1 miles).

Suborbital Human Spaceflight
January – June 2022

DateVehicleCompanyLocationSpaceflight ParticipantsNotes
March 31, 2022New Shepard (NS-20)Blue OriginCorn Ranch (Texas)Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, George Nield, Gary LaiFourth New Shepard human flight, 107 km (66.5 miles) apogee
June 4, 2022New Shepard (NS-21)Blue OriginCorn Ranch (Texas)Evan Dick, Katya Echazarreta, Hamish Harding, Victor Correa Hespanha, Jaison Robinson, Victor VescovoFifth New Shepard human flight, 107 km (66.5 miles) apogee
Source: Blue Origin

The NS-20 flight on March 31 gave New Shepard’s chief architect Gary Lai an opportunity to try out the vehicle that he designed. Lai joined the flight after Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson dropped out due to a scheduling conflict.

Lai was joined on New Shepard’s 20th flight by George Nield, a private consultant who previously headed up the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation that is responsible for licensing and regulating launches by Blue Origin and other commercial space companies.

NS-21 spaceflight participants. (Credit: Blue Origin)

During the flights:

  • Marc and Sharon Hagle became the first couple to fly on a commercial space vehicle;
  • Echazarreta was the first Mexican-born woman and youngest American woman to fly to space;
  • Dick became the first person to fly on New Shepard for a second time, having previously reached space during the NS-19 flight on Dec. 11, 2021; and,
  • Hespanha was the second Brazilian to fly to space.

Echazarreta’s flight was sponsored by Space for Humanity’s Citizen Astronaut Program. Hespanha’s won his flight from the Crypto Space Agency.

South Korea’s solid-fuel space projectile launches on a flight test on March 30, 2022 (Credit: South Korea Ministry of National Defense)

Booster & Technology Development

Eleven of the 23 suborbital flights were focused on new booster and technology development.

Suborbital Launches, Launch Vehicle & Technology Development
January — June 2022

PurposeLaunch(es)Launch Vehicle(s)Launch SiteOrganization(s)Partner(s)
Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle development6Tianxing I, Tianxing IIJiuquan (?) (China)Space Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)
Orbital booster flight test1Blue Whale 0.1Jeju Island (South Korea)Perigee AerospaceSouth Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
Orbital booster flight test1Solid-fuel Space ProjectileJackup sea installation (South Korea)South Korea Ministry of National Defense
Orbital booster flight test1 ZulijanahSemnan (Iran)Iranian Space Agency
Reconnaissance satellite imaging system test1Hwasong-17Sunan (North Korea)KPA Strategic Rocket Force (North Korea)National Aerospace Development Administration
Reusable launch vehicle technology test1VSB-30 Improved OrionAndoya (Norway)German Aerospace Center (DLR)Technical University of Munich, University of Arizona
Source: Wikipedia and original reserch

Space Transportation, a.k.a., Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology, conducted six launches as part of its program to develop a reusable suborbital spaceplane for tourism and a hypersonic transport capable of traveling between distant locations on Earth in under two hours.

The company, which has raised $60.6 million, aims to have a crewed flight of a suborbital space tourism vehicle by 2025. Flight tests of a hypersonic vehicle prototype would follow three years later, with completion of a full-scale hypersonic transport in 2030.

Tianxing hypersonic vehicle (Credit: Space Transportation)

Perigee Aerospace of South Korea, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, and the Iranian Space Agency conducted suborbital flights of small satellite launch vehicles. The specifications for the orbital boosters are:

  • Blue Whale 1 (Perigee Aerospace): 40 kg (88.2 lb) into a 500 km (310.7 mile) high sun synchronous orbit | 50 kg (110.2 lb) into a 500 km (310.7 mile) high low Earth orbit (LEO)
  • Solid Fuel Space Projectile (South Korea): 500-kg (1,102.3 lb) satellites into Earth orbit
  • Zulijanah (Iranian Space Agency):: 220 kg (485 lb) or ten 20 kg (44.1 lb) CubeSats into a 500 km (310.7 mile) high orbit.

The German Aerospace Center tested technologies for future reusable launch vehicles. And North Korea tested an imaging system for a reconnaissance satellite aboard a Hwasong-17 ballistic missile.

Science & Education Flights

A Black Brant IX rocket launches from Poker Flat Research Range on March 5, 2022. (Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach)

NASA and its partners conducted three launches for auroral science, two for x-ray astronomy, and one apiece for education, ionospheric research, solar observation, and laminar-turbulent transition research.

Suborbital Launches, Science and Education
January — June 2022

PurposeLaunchesLaunch Vehicle(s)Launch Site(s)Organization(s)
Auroral science3Black Brant IX (2), Terrier-Improved Malemute (I)Poker Flat (USA)NASA, Clemson University
X-ray astronomy2Black Brant IXArnhem (Australia), Wallops (USA)NASA, University of Miami, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Education1Terrier-Improved OrionWallops (USA)NASA, Colorado Space Grant Consortium
Ionospheric research1Oriole III-ASvalbard (Norway)NASA
Laminar–turbulent transition measurements1Terrier-improved MalemuteWallops (USA)U.S. Air Force
Microgravity research1Improved MalemuteEsrange (Sweden)DLR
Solar observation1Black Brant IXWhite Sands (USA)NASA – Naval Research Laboratory
Source: Wikipedia & original research

Three NASA rocket launches from Poker Flat Research Range in Alaska using Black Brant IX and Terrier-Improved Malmute rockets were devoted to studying auroral science. The space agency teamed with Clemson University for two of the flights.

Black Brant IX rocket launches from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and Arnhem Space Center in Australia’s Northern Territory were dedicated to x-ray astronomy. NASA teamed with the University of Miami for the Wallops flight and the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the flight from Arnhem, which was the first commercial launch from Australia.

Five other suborbital launches were focused on education, ionospheric research, laminar-turbulent transition measurements, microgravity research and solar observation.

Suborbital Launches by Location

Sounding rocket launch at Andoya. (Credit: Norwegian Space Agency)

The United States and the Asia-Pacific region hosted 19 of the 23 suborbital launches during the first half of 2022. Three additional launches were conducted from Europe and one from Iran.

Suborbital Launches by Location
January – June 2022

Launch SiteLaunch Vehicle(s)OrganizationPartner(s)Purpose(s)
Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (?) (China)6Tianxing I, Tianxing IISpace Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle development
NASA Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia, USA)3Black Brant IX, Terrier-improved Malemute, Terrier-Improved OrionNASAU.S. Air Force, Colorado Space Grant Consortium, University of MiamiResearch, education
Poker Flat Research Range (Alaska, USA)3Black Brant IX (2), Terrier-Improved MalemuteNASAClemson UniversityAuroral science
Corn Ranch (Texas, USA)2New ShepardBlue OriginNew Shepard fourth and fifth human spaceflights, 12 people flown
Andoya Space (Norway)1VSB-30 Improved OrionGerman Aerospace CenterReusable launch vehicle technology test
Arnhem Space Centre (Australia)1Black Brant IXNASAUniversity of Wisconsin – MadisonFirst launch from Australian commercial spaceport
Esrange Space Center (Sweden)1Improved MalemuteGerman Aerospace CenterMicrogravity research
Jackup Sea Installation (South Korea)1Solid Fuel Space ProjectileMinistry of National DefenseSmall satellite launch vehicle flight test
Jeju Island (South Korea)1Blue Whale 0.1Perigee AerospaceSouth Korea Advanced Institute of Science and TechnologySmall satellite launch vehicle test
Semnan Space Center (Iran)1ZulijanahIranian Space AgencySmall satellite launch vehicle test
Sunan International Airport (North Korea)1Hwasong-17KPA Strategic Rocket ForceNational Aerospace Development AdministrationTest of imaging system for reconnaissance satellite
Svalbard Rocket Range (Norway)1Oriole III-ANASAIonospheric research
White Sands Missile Range (New Mexico, USA)1Black Brant IXNASAU.S. Naval Research LaboratorySolar observation
Source: Wikipedia and original research

Nine launches were conducted in the United States. The Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and Poker Flat in Alaska hosted three suborbital launches apiece. Blue Origin launched New Shepard twice from its Corn Ranch spaceport in Texas. Another launch was conducted from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center might have hosted as many as six flights of Space Transportation’s Tianxing I and Tianxing II vehicles.

Tianxing hypersonic vehicle development plan. (Credit: Space Transportation)

Three suborbital launches were conducted on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea tested Blue Whale 0.1 and Solid Fuel Space Projectile from different locations. North Korea launched a Hwasong-17 ICBM from Sunan to test an imaging system for a reconnaissance satellite.

Further south, the Arnhem Space Centre in Australia hosted the first of three NASA launches. A second launch occurred in July, with a third one planned for later in the month.

Three suborbital launches were conducted in Europe. Norway hosted launches by DLR and NASA at Andoya and Svalbard, respectively. One suborbital launch was conducted at Esrange in Sweden.

Iran conducted a flight test of its Zulijanah booster from Semnan Space Center.

Suborbital Launches by Booster

Launch of the STORT flight experiment. [Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]

The two-stage Black Brant IX booster was launched five times from four different locations: Poker Flat in Alaska, Wallops Island in Virginia, White Sands in New Mexico, and Arnhem in Australia. The flights were focused on auroral science, solar observation and x-ray astronomy.

Suborbital Launches by Booster
January – June 2022

Launch VehicleFlightsOrganizationPartner(s)Purpose(s)Launch Site(s)
Black Brant IX5NASAU.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Clemson University, University of Miami, University of Wisconsin – Madisonauroral science (2), x-ray astronomy (2), solar observation (1)Arnhem (Australia), Poker Flat (USA), Wallops (USA), White Sands (USA)
Tianxing I3Space Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentJiuquan (?) (China)
Tianxing II3Space Transportation (Beijing Lingkong Tianxing Technology)Suborbital spaceplane & hypersonic transport vehicle developmentJiuquan (?) (China)
New Shepard2Blue OriginSpace tourismCorn Ranch (USA)
Terrier-improved Malemute2NASAU.S. Air Force, Clemson Universityauroral science, laminar – turbulent transition measurementsPoker Flat (USA), Wallops (USA)
Blue Whale 0.11Perigee AerospaceKorea Advanced Institute of Science and TechnologyThird flight test of smallsat launch vehicleJeju Island (South Korea)
Hwasong-171KPA Strategic Rocket ForceNational Aerospace Development AdministrationTest of imaging system for reconnaissance satelliteSunan International Airport
Improved Malemute1German Aerospace Center (DLR)MicrogravityEsrange (Sweden)
Oriole III-A1NASAIonospheric researchSvalbard (Norway)
Solid-fuel Space Projectile1South Korea Ministry of National DefenseSmall satellite launcher flight testJackup Sea Installation (South Korea)
Terrier-improved Orion1NASAColorado Space Grant ConsortiumEducationWallops (USA)
VSB-30 Improved Orion1German Aerospace Center (DLR)Technical University of Munich, University of ArizonaReusable launch vehicle technology testAndoya (Norway)
Zulijanah1Iranian Space AgencySecond flight test of smallsat orbital vehicleSemnan (Iran)
Source: Wikipedia & original research

Black Brant IX is part of a family of sounding rockets manufactured by Magellan Aerospace of Winnipeg, Man. There have been more than 1,000 launches of Black Brant rockets with a success rate above 98 percent since 1961. It remains one of the world’s most popular sounding rockets.

Other sounding rockets used for research included the Terrier-improved Malemute (2 launches), Improved Malemute (1), Terrier-improved Orion (1), and Oriole IIIA (1).

Space Transportation launched its Tianxing I and Tianxing II boosters three times apiece. Other suborbital rockets used for launch vehicle and technology development included Blue Whale 0.1, Hwasong-17, Solid Fuel Space Projectile, VSB-30 Improved Orion and Zulijanah.

Part I: A Busy Six Months as Suborbital Spaceflight Comes Into its Own