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.

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A Busy Six Months as Suborbital Spaceflight Comes Into its Own

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

Part I of II

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For decades, the suborbital launch sector was largely a backwater. Militaries tested ballistic missiles, scientists conducted experiments, and engineers tested new technologies. A sounding rocket is small potatoes compared with orbital rocket launches and the glamor of human spaceflight. Few people paid much attention.

All that has changed in recent years as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and their billionaire owners — Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos — started launching themselves and others on suborbital joyrides. Startups have been conducting suborbital flight tests of new orbital launch vehicles designed to serve the booming smalls satellite market. Suborbital has become a much more interesting sector.

This year has been no exception. The first half of 2022 saw Blue Origin send 12 people into space on two New Shepard flights, a Chinese company conduct six launches in a program to develop aa suborbital spaceplane and hypersonic transport, South Korea and Iran perform flight tests of three different smallsat launchers, Germany test technologies for reusable rockets, and first-ever commercial launch from Australia. And, a great deal of science was done.

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INNOspace Masters 2021/22 – DLR Competition Finds Forward-Looking Ideas for Tomorrow’s Space Travel

INNOspace Masters in Berlin. (Credit: DLR)
  • On July 5, 2022, the winners of this year’s INNOspace Masters competition were announced and awarded at a conference in Berlin.
  • 337 companies, start-ups, universities and research institutions from 28 countries took part in the competition.
  • The next round of the competition will start in early 2023.
  • Focus: space travel, innovation, technology transfer

BERLIN (DLR PR) — On July 5, 2022, the winners of this year’s INNOspace Masters competition were announced by Dr. Peter Gräf, Director of Applications and Science at the German Space Agency at DLR, and Dr. Anna Christmann, Federal Government Coordinator for German Aerospace. Under the motto “Sustainable and Efficient Innovations for Space and Earth”, new ideas and concepts were sought that take up current challenges in space travel and other sectors and offer innovative solutions. The participants could choose from five competition categories – the “Challenges” – which cover different development and innovation phases along the entire innovation chain. Accordingly, there was an overall winner and five other winners – one per competition category.

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DLR Launches Sounding Rocket to Test Reusable Booster Technology

Launch of the STORT flight experiment. [Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]
  • DLR flies three-stage sounding rocket for the first time.
  • Component structures, measurement methods and evaluation algorithms tested for the re-entry phase.
  • A modular and distributed data acquisition system allowed the efficient recording of data from the different experiments.
  • Focus: space travel, aerodynamics, sounding rockets.

ANDOYA, Norway (DLR PR) — Reusable carrier systems are exposed to high loads and temperatures when returning to the surface. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has now successfully tested component structures, measurement methods and evaluation algorithms for the re-entry phase with the flight experiment STORT (key technologies for high-energy return flights from carrier stages). 

In the early morning of June 26, 2022, the three-stage rocket experiment was launched from the Andøya Space launch site in northern Norway. At the apex of the trajectory at an altitude of 38 kilometers, the upper stage reached a flight speed of around 9,000 kilometers per hour, which corresponds to a Mach number of over eight. It then fell into the Atlantic Ocean more than 350 kilometers from the starting point.

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ArianeGroup Selected for Two European Commission Calls for Projects to Speed Up the Development of Europe’s First Reusable and Eco-friendly Launchers

ArianeGroup has been selected by the European Commission to run two major projects in its Horizon Europe research framework program.

  • The SALTO project will facilitate the first flight tests of the Themis reusable stage demonstrator in Kiruna, Sweden.
  • The ENLIGHTEN project will speed up the development and introduction of reusable engine technologies.
  • Each project is built on the joint expertise of ArianeGroup, industry, research institutes and start-ups, to accelerate Europe’s transition to increasingly innovative, competitive and eco-friendly access to space.

ISSY-LES-MOULINEAUX, France (ArianeGroup PR) — Following the call for projects issued by the European Commission as part of its Horizon Europe program designed to encourage and accelerate innovation, ArianeGroup has been given responsibility for two particularly ambitious projects to speed up the development of reusable, ecofriendly European launchers. ArianeGroup will be heading the SALTO and ENLIGHTEN projects, bringing together numerous academic and industrial partners, including innovative start-ups.

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Second Round of Microlauncher Payload Competition Kicks Off

The German Space Agency’s micro-launcher competition at DLR. [Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]
  • On June 20, 2022, the German Space Agency at DLR started the second round of the competition for small satellites to fly on micro-launchers developed and built in Germany.
  • The competition is aimed not only at European institutions, but also at start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises.
  • A total of three more flights will be offered by the space companies Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH and Rocket Factory Augsburg AG in 2023 and 2024.
  • Focus: space travel, commercialization, start-up funding

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — On June 20, 2022, the German Space Agency started the second round of the competition at DLR for a free flight of small satellites on micro-launchers developed and built in Germany. This marks the beginning of the application phase for a total of three further flights, which will be offered by the space companies Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH and Rocket Factory Augsburg AG in 2023 and 2024. This time, the competition is aimed not only at European institutions, but also at start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises.

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Locate and Identify Satellites with Laser Reflectors

The innovative laser reflectors for satellites have additional optics to polarize laser beams. (Credit: DLR/Eppler)
  • The DLR Institute of Technical Physics has developed a new generation of laser reflectors for satellites.
  • Satellites equipped with the reflectors should be able to be located with centimeter precision using lasers and at the same time be clearly identified.
  • The reflectors have additional optics for polarizing the laser light for the satellite laser ranging process.
  • Focus: space travel, security

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is testing a new generation of laser reflectors for satellites. Satellites equipped with it should be able to be located from Earth with lasers and identified at the same time. The special thing about the new reflectors is the adjustable polarization optics for each satellite. These individually change the properties of a reflected laser beam, which allows the satellites to be distinguished.

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Applications for the Second Flight of the Spectrum Launch Vehicle are Now Open

Spectrum rocket (Credit Isar Aerospace)
  • In 2021, Isar Aerospace won the first ever microlauncher competition under ESA’s Commercial Space Transportation Services Program “Boost!” and the payloads for Spectrum’s first flight were selected
  • Today, the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt e.V. published the second Announcement of Opportunity, which will open a new application process for payloads to come on board Spectrum’s second flight
  • This time, the call is open not only to European institutional customers but also start-ups and small to medium sized companies

Munich, 20 June 2022 (Isar Aerospace PR) – The German Space Agency DLR is launching the second round of competition for a free flight of small satellites on microlaunchers developed and built in Germany. This marks the start of the application phase for the second flight of Isar Aerospace’s Spectrum rocket. This time, the competition is not only aimed at European institutions, but also at start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises.

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Smartphone Technology Brings Satellites More Computing Power

OPS-SAT research satellite (Credit: ESA)
  • DLR is developing distributed and heterogeneous on-board computers for future space missions.
  • Combination of radiation-resistant and commercially available processors that monitor each other and redistribute tasks in the event of an error.
  • Successful experiment with Earth observation data on an ESA test satellite.
  • Focus: space travel, earth observation, technology

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — Reliable and powerful computers play a central role in space travel: computer systems in satellites, for example, enable demanding earth observation missions. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is developing a new computer architecture that is intended to give the so-called on-board computers (OBC) more power and also enable them to repair themselves. Distributed heterogeneous OBCs are being developed in the ScOSA (Scalable On-Board Computing for Space Avionics) flight experiment project. You have different computing nodes connected as a network.

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DLR Opens Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors in Hanover

Bose-Einstein condensate in Cold Atoms Lab icon image. (Credit: NASA)
  • The DLR Institute of Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors mainly researches quantum technologies.
  • Areas of application are in space travel, earth observation, navigation and sensors.
  • The DLR institute was officially opened on May 30, 2022.
  • Focus: space travel, quantum technologies

HANOVER, Germany (DLR PR) — Navigation accurate to the centimeter, a tap-proof Internet or autonomous control of vehicles without a radio connection – the promise of new instruments based on quantum mechanical processes and methods. The Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Hanover is developing such technologies. On May 30, 2022, the institute was officially opened. In the future, around 100 employees will work in six departments at the Hanover and Bremen locations.

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Sustainable Funding Provided for German Space Start-ups

  • Funding for the German ESA Business Incubation Centers (BIC) has been secured for a further four years.
  • Funding for the incubation program will be increased by almost 70 percent to a total of 11.6 million euros.
  • By 2025, the program will have grown to 13 locations in seven federal states.

BERLIN, Germany (DLR PR) — The financial future of the German ESA Business Incubation Centers (BIC) is secured in the coming years: As part of the ESA Investor Forum, which took place from May 16 to 17, 2022 in Berlin, Luca del Monte, Head of Commercialization at the European Space Agency (ESA) and Dr. Walther Pelzer, Member of the DLR Executive Board and Head of the German Space Agency at DLR, the extension of the funding for a further four years was announced. The funding will also be increased by around 70 percent. The aim of the incubation centers is to support the commercial use of space technologies and satellite-based services in non-space markets (spin-off) and the use of new technologies in space (spin-in).

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NASA, DLR to End SOFIA Operations

SOFIA flying observatory (Credit: NASA-Jim Ross)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA and its partners at the German Space Agency at the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) will conclude the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) mission, after a successful eight years of science. SOFIA will end operations no later than Sept. 30, 2022, at the conclusion of its current mission extension.

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RFA Wins 11 Million Euros in the DLR Microlauncher Competition

RFA One launcher in flight (Credit: Rocket Factory)

BERLIN, Germany, April 25, 2022 (RFA PR) – Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) wins the 2022 round of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) microlauncher competition. The prize values 11 million Euros [USD $11.7 million]. As a result, the German government will be an anchor customer of RFA ONE. On each of the first two flights of RFA ONE, a payload of up to 150 kg will be placed by DLR.

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Ground-based Rover’s Touch Shared with Astronaut in Space

Analog-1 rover (Credit: ESA–A. Koehler)

PARIS (ESA PR) — If man’s best friend is a dog, then in the future astronauts’ closest companions might well be rovers. A technique allowing astronauts in orbit to control rovers exploring planetary surfaces has been developed by a research team from ESA, the German Aerospace Center DLR and European academia and industry, culminating in an Earth-based rover session commanded from the International Space Station. A paper published in the prestigious Science Robotics journal this week details their results.

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Ger­man En­MAP Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite Launch­es Suc­cess­ful­ly on SpaceX Falcon 9 Transporter-4 Mission

Launch of Fal­con 9 with Ger­man en­vi­ron­men­tal satel­lite En­MAP. (Credit: SpaceX)
  • At 18:24 CEST on 1 April (12:24 local time), the first German-developed hyperspectral satellite (EnMAP) successfully launched on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
  • The mission is being managed by the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Bonn on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK).
  • OHB-System AG was commissioned to develop and build the satellite and the hyperspectral instrument. Meanwhile, the ground segment has been developed and will be operated by DLR in Oberpfaffenhofen. The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) in Potsdam is the scientific coordinator for the mission.
  • Focus: Space, Earth observation, climate change, environmental protection and nature conservation

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — It all began in 2003 with a competition announced by the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) as part of the National Space Programme. The task was to design and build a new type of hyperspectral instrument and a satellite to carry it, and to test both the instrument and its satellite for several years in the harsh conditions of space. At the same time, an (inter)national community of scientists was formed to define the user requirements and objectives for the first German hyperspectral mission, which was also to be the first of its kind in Europe. What data about Earth should be collected with EnMAP, and for what purpose? This is how the special environmental satellite – the abbreviation stands for Environmental Mapping and Analysis Program – was created.

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