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.
On Christmas Day 2021, an European Ariane 5 rocket roared off its launch pad in French Guiana with the most expensive payload the booster had ever carried, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. The launcher performed perfectly, sending the most powerful space telescope on a journey to its final destination 1.5 million km (900 million miles) from Earth. The launch was so accurate that Webb should have sufficient propellant to perform science operations for much longer than its planned 10-year lifetime.
There was a collective sigh of relief among the European, American and Canadian scientists and engineers involved in the long-delayed program. It was a superb Christmas gift to a world suffering through the second year of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
Noordwijk, The Netherlands (ESA PR) — The next steps in exploring and using space for the benefit of European citizens were this week on the agenda at ESA’s Council meeting in ESA/ESTEC, the Netherlands on 14 and 15 June. The possibility of the first-ever European astronaut to set foot on the Moon, a telecommunication satellite for lunar exploration and a mission to return precious rock samples from Mars were all discussed.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson joined the meeting with ESA Member States in a decisive gesture to advocate for Europe’s strong role in multiple projects which reinforce the enduring partnership between the two leading space agencies.
“From understanding our changing planet to exploring Mars, I hugely value the cooperation we have with NASA” says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher. “By contributing key European hardware and services to exciting programmes such as Artemis and Mars Sample Return, we are building Europe’s autonomy while also being a reliable partner.”
PARIS (ESA PR) — Following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, ESA’s Director General has initiated a comprehensive review of all activities currently undertaken in cooperation with Russia and Ukraine. The objective is to determine the possible consequences of this new geopolitical context for ESA programmes and activities and to create a more resilient and robust space infrastructure for Europe.
The ESA Council on 13 April acknowledged the following findings and took the following decisions.
The Chinese government-owned CGTN website has an interview with Roscosmos Director General Dmitry Rogozin. With relations severely damaged with the West due to sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Roscosmos is increasingly focused on deepening cooperation with China’s surging space program. The partnership already includes jointly developing a crewed base on the moon in the 2030s.
On the suspended ExoMars mission with Europe, Rogozin said:
“In the construction of ExoMars, the main element is the landing module. The Mars research rover is not the essential element. I think we can make this mission happen with another partner like China or someone else.”
SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — The UK-built ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover is set for launch in September after a series of successful tests, including driving off its landing platform.
The European Space Agency (ESA) rover starts the year with months of successful maintenance and functional tests behind it. All its instruments are go for flight, with some minor tuning left to complete this month.
Russia recently marked the 25th anniversary of the entry of the Proton rocket into the international commercial marketplace. On April 8, 1996, a Proton-K booster with a DM3 upper stage launched the Astra 1F geosynchronous communications satellite built by U.S.-based Hughes for Luxembourg’s SES from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — After a seven-month journey, NASA’s car-sized Mars Perseverance rover will make its final descent to the Red Planet to begin its search for traces of life.
The rover’s mission – backed by the UK government – is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars. Supported by over £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help to decide which samples are sent to Earth in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.