Ambitious launch schedules typically go awry when a rocket suffers a catastrophic failure that takes months to investigate and implement modifications to ensure the same accident doesn’t happen again. In the majority of cases, the failures involve a machine launching a machine. All that can be replaced, albeit at substantial cost.
Russia’s ambitious launch plans for 2022 fell apart due to a far more momentous and deadly action: the nation’s invasion of Ukraine. The decision ruptured cooperation with the West on virtually every space project on which it was safe to do so. The main exception was the International Space Station (ISS), a program involving astronauts and cosmonauts that would be difficult to operate safely if Russia suddenly withdrew (as it indeed threatened to do).
Due to the invasion, Western partners canceled seven launches of foreign payloads in less than a month. The cancellations put Russia even further behind the United States and China in launch totals this year.
Powered by 33 flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, the United States leads all nations with 48 launch attempts through the first seven months of the year. The total is three short of the number of U.S. launches attempted last year, and far ahead of the 27 launches conducted by second place China through the end of July. The U.S. has conducted more launches than the 43 flights conducted by the rest of the world combined.
A number of notable flights were conducted. SpaceX launched two Crew Dragons to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first fully privately funded mission to the orbiting laboratory. United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starship crew vehicle on an automated flight test to ISS, a crucial step before astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission by sending a spacecraft the size of a microwave to the moon.
The first half of 2022 saw more commercial travelers — 16 — launch into space than the 10 professional astronauts who work for government-run space agencies. However, those numbers come with an asterisk or two.
Four of the 14 astronauts who launched into orbit flew on Axiom Space’s privately funded and operated crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Blue Origin launched 12 individuals into space on two flights of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.
The other 10 astronauts who launched to ISS and the Tiangong space station worked fulltime for NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), China Manned Space Agency, or Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation. SpaceX flew American and European astronauts to ISS on the company-owned Crew Dragon spacecraft under a NASA contract. The Russians and Chinese flew aboard government-owned and operated spacecraft.
It was a busy first half of 2022 that saw 77 orbital launches with 74 successes and three failures through the 182nd day of the year on July 1. At a rate of one launch every 2 days 8 hours 44 minutes, the world is on track to exceed the 146 launches conducted in 2021.
A number of significant missions were launched during a period that saw more than 1,000 satellite launched. SpaceX flew the first fully commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing conducted an orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, China prepared to complete assembly of its space station, South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured rocket, and Rocket Lab sent a NASA mission to the moon.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts aboard the Dragon Endurance spacecraft safely splashed down Friday in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida, completing the agency’s third long-duration commercial crew mission to the International Space Station. The international crew of four spent 177 days in orbit.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft with NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, and Tom Marshburn, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer inside undocked from the forward port of the International Space Station’s Harmony module at 1:20 a.m. EDT to complete a nearly six-month science mission.
The return timeline with approximate times (all times Eastern):
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronauts Mission Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines, and Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, and Mission Specialist Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) now are aboard the International Space Station following Crew Dragon’s hatch opening about 9:15 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, April 27.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts are in orbit following their launch to the International Space Station at 3:52 a.m. EDT Wednesday, April 27, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The international crew of astronauts will serve as the fourth commercial crew rotation mission aboard the space station.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — At the conclusion of a weather briefing ahead of today’s planned undocking, NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams elected to wave off today’s undocking attempt due to a diurnal low wind trough which has been causing marginally high winds at the splashdown sites. The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew is now targeting to undock from the International Space Station 8:55 p.m. EDT Sunday, April 24.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The integrated NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams have agreed on a plan for the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for a splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. Sunday, April 24. The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA will provide live coverage of the undocking and departure of the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) prior to its return to Earth from the International Space Station.
The four-member private astronaut crew is scheduled to undock at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday, April 19, to begin the journey home with splashdown off the coast of Florida no earlier than 7:19 a.m. EDT Wednesday, April 20. Teams will monitor weather at the splashdown sites prior to undocking to ensure conditions are acceptable for a safe recovery of the Dragon spacecraft and Ax-1 astronauts. If needed for any reason, there are additional opportunities for the crew’s departure from the space station on Tuesday, April 19 and Wednesday, April 20.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As they prepare to return to Earth later this month, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts will answer media questions about their time aboard the International Space Station during an in-orbit news conference at 1:20 p.m. EDT Friday, April 15.
HOUSTON (Axiom Space PR) — The historic Ax-1 crew has arrived at the International Space Station. Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, and Mission Specialist Mark Pathy entered the space station shortly after the hatch opened at 10:13 a.m. EDT on Saturday, April 9.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The seven-member Expedition 67 crew will wait an extra day to greet the first private astronauts who are due to launch this weekend to the International Space Station. In the meantime, the orbital residents focused on human research and physics today while gearing up for a pair of spacewalks later this month.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — After extending the record for the longest single spaceflight in history by an American to 355 days, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth on Wednesday, March 30, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov.
The trio departed the International Space Station at 3:21 a.m. EDT and made a safe, parachute-assisted landing at 7:28 a.m. (5:28 p.m. Kazakhstan time) southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.