- Parabolic Arc
- November 29, 2023
SpaceX Rockets U.S. Launches to New Heights in 2022
by Douglas Messier
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.
Virgin Orbit continued to have success with its LauncherOne rocket. Northrop Grumman sent a Cygnus supply ship to the space station while the future of the Antares rocket that launched it was thrown into doubt by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Astra Space had more success going public in 2021 than it has had in launching payloads into space this year.
U.S. LAUNCHES BY COMPANY & BOOSTER
2022 (through July 31): 46-2
SpaceX’s 33 Falcon 9 launches made up to 65.9 percent of total American launches and 33.3 percent of the 91 launch attempts worldwide through July. Five other American companies launched 15 times with 13 successes and two failures.
Launches by U.S. Companies
January – July 31, 2022
|SpaceX||Falcon 9||33||0||33||Included two Crew Dragons and one cargo Dragon launched to ISS, 20 dedicated Starlink launches, three Transporter rideshare missions|
|Rocket Lab||Electron||5||0||5||All launches from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand; company’s first deep-space mission (CAPSTONE)|
|United Launch Alliance (ULA)||Atlas V||4||0||4||Included Boeing CST-100 Starliner Orbital Test Flight No. 2, three defense launches|
|Astra Space Rocket 3.3||Rocket 3.3||1||2||3||First successful launch with commercial payloads aboard|
|Virgin Orbit||LauncherOne||2||0||2||First night launch|
|Northrop Grumman||Antares||1||0||1||Cygnus NG-17 resupply mission to ISS|
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
2022 (through July 31): 33-0
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 broke its own launch record of 31 in a calendar year on July 22 with more than five months left in 2022. CEO Elon Musk has said the company is aiming to launch 60 times this year. The company launched six times in July; if it can keep up that pace, it should surpass 60 flights.
SpaceX has launched 1,246 payloads and crew into space through July. The bulk of those payloads — 1,013 Starlink broadband satellites — were orbited on 20 dedicated Falcon 9 launches. To date, SpaceX has launched 2,957 Starlink spacecraft with 2,663 still working, according to Jonathan’s Space Report.
January – July 31, 2022
|Spacecraft||Satellite Type(s)||Customer(s)||Number of Launches||Satellites/ Payloads/Crew|
|Transporter-3, -4, -5||Multiple Rideshare||Multiple||3||204|
|Crew-4, Axiom-1||Human Spaceflight||NASA, Axiom Space||2||2|
|Crew-4, Axiom-1||Human Spaceflight||NASA, Axiom Space||–*||8|
|Globalstar FM15, Nilesat-301, SES-22||Commercial Communications||Globalstar, Nilesat, SES||3||3|
|USA-328, 329, 330, 331||Unknown||U.S. Department of Defense||—+||4|
|NROL-87, Intruder 13A, Intruder 13B||Reconnaissance, Electronic Intelligence||National Reconnaissance Office||2||3|
|Cargo Dragon 2 (CRS-25)||ISS Resupply||NASA||1||1|
|BeaverCube, CapSat-1, CLICK A, D3, JAGSAT, TUMnanoSat||Technology demo, Education||ERAU Daytona Beach, MIT, The Weiss School, University of South Alabama, Technical University of Moldova||–^||6|
|SARah-1||Reconnaissance||Bundeswehr (German Military)||1||1|
|COSMO-SkyMed 2nd-generation||Earth Observation (civilian/military)||Italian Space Agency||1||1|
+ Secondary payloads on Globalstar FM15 launch
^ Secondary payloads to be launched from ISS
SpaceX launched 204 payloads on three Transporter rideshare missions. Transporter missions have launched 435 payloads since the Transporter-1 launch on Jan. 24, 2021.
Crew Dragon Flights
SpaceX launched the Crew-4 mission for NASA and Axiom Space’s flight to the space station. Axiom Mission-1 (Ax-1) was the first fully privately-funded and operated mission to ISS. Previous paying customers who visited the station flew on Russian government-owned Soyuz spacecraft with one or two professional cosmonauts or astronauts.
Former NASA astronaut turned Axiom vice president Michael Lopez-Alegria commanded the mission with three paying customers: American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe. The three men reportedly paid $55 million apiece for their seats on the flight, which launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 8.
The Ax-1 astronauts conducted a series of experiments and educational projects during their nearly 17-day mission, which lasted a week longer than planned due to inclement weather in the splashdown zone off the coast of Florida.
SpaceX launched the Crew-4 mission on April 27, two days after the Ax-1 Crew Dragon splashed down off the coast of Florida. NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins and ESA astronaut Samantha Christoferetti arrived safely at the station for a six-month mission.
SpaceX also launched a Cargo Dragon-2 spacecraft to ISS on July 15. It was the company’s 25th resupply mission and its first of 2022.
Other SpaceX Launches
Other payloads launched by SpaceX during the first seven months of 2022 included:
- communications satellites for Nilesat, Globalstar and SES
- three reconnaissance satellites for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)
- a reconnaissance satellite for Germany
- one Earth observation satellite for civilian and military use for Italy
- four small satellites for the U.S. Air Force of unknown purpose.
Records and Milestones
SpaceX set new records and reached the milestones during the year:
- first fully private crewed mission to ISS
- record 33rd launch in a calendar year on July 24
- 150th launch of a Falcon-class rocket on Feb. 3 (includes Falcon I and Falcon Heavy)
- record 6th flight of a fairing half on Feb. 3
- 100th reuse of a Falcon first stage on June 17
- 50th launch from Launch Complex 39-A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on June 17
- conducted two launches from Florida and one from California in 36 hours 18 minutes from June 17-19
- record 13th launch of a first stage booster on June 17
- record 6 launches in a calendar month in April
- record 21-day turnaround of a Falcon 9 first stage in April (previously 27 days)
- record 8-day turnaround of of Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral in April.
UNITED LAUNCH ALLIANCE
2022 (through July 31): 4-0
The highlight of ULA’s flight campaign was the launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on May 19. The uncrewed spacecraft docked with ISS during a successful six-day flight test that ended with a landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on May 25. The flight was a crucial step required before astronauts fly aboard Starliner.
Starliner was loaded with 245 kg (540 lb) pounds of cargo for the space station crew. One seat was filled by Rosie the Rocketeer, an instrumented anthropomorphic test device that provided valuable data on what astronauts would experience during the flight. Starliner returned with nitrogen-oxygen recharge tanks that will be refurbished on the ground and launched to the station again.
The second uncrewed flight test was necessary because of the failure of a Starliner to reach the space station during a flight in December 2019. The failure to dock was due to software and communications anomalies with the spacecraft. Starliner flew an abbreviated two-day orbital mission before landing at White Sands.
ULA’s other three Atlas V launches carried government payloads. On March 1, an Atlas V placed the GOES-T weather satellite into geostationary transfer orbit for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The spacecraft, renamed GOES-18, is a replacement for the GOES-17 satellite.
On Jan. 21 an Atlas V launched two Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness satellites, GSSAP-5 and 6, directly to geosynchronous orbit for the U.S. Space Force (USSF). GSSAP satellites collect space situational awareness data that enable more accurate tracking and characterization of satellites and debris in Earth orbit.
An Atlas V launched two USSF from Cape Canaveral on July 1. The Wide-field of View (WFOV) testbed is designed to evaluate technology for the Next Gen Overhead Persistent Infrared program (NG-OPIR) satellite constellation. NG-OPIR will be a system of early warning satellites for intercontinental and theater ballistic missile launches.
The rocket’s second payload, USSF-12 Ring, was a propulsive EELV Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA). The spacecraft’s mission is classified.
2022 (through July 31): 5-0
Rocket Lab launched 39 payloads for nine customers on five Electron launches during the first seven months of 2022.
The highlight of the company’s launch campaign was the launch of NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) satellite to the moon on June 28. The NASA-funded spacecraft was launched into orbit by an Electron booster and placed into a ballistic transfer orbit to the moon by the company’s Lunar Photon upper stage.
CAPSTONE, which is the size of a microwave oven, will evaluate the near rectilinear halo orbit that will be used by the human-tended lunar Gateway station. The spacecraft is owned and operated by Advanced Space of Westminster, Colo. on behalf of NASA.
Rocket Lab’s “There and Back Again” mission launched 34 satellites for six customers on May 2. Swarm Technologies, which is owned by SpaceX, had 24 SpaceBEE satellites aboard that are one quarter the size of a standard 1U CubeSat. Other companies with satellites aboard included Alba Orbital, Astrix Astronautics, Aurora Propulsion Technologies, E-Space and UnseenLabs.
The name of the launch referred to Rocket Lab’s first attempt to recover an Electron first stage descending under a parachute. A helicopter briefly captured the stage, but the pilot released it for safety reasons after detecting different load characteristics than experienced during tests. The stage was recovered from the ocean.
Rocket Lab’s other two launches involved dedicated launches for customers. “The Owls Night Continues” mission orbited the StriX-β remote sensing satellite for Synspective on Feb. 28. It was the first of three launches for the company’s StriX constellation.
An Electron rocket orbited the BlackSky-14 and BlackSky-15 Gen-2 satellites on April 2. BlackSky uses its constellation of satellites to provide geospatial intelligence to its clients.
On July, an Electron rocket launched the RASR-3 reconnaissance satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.
2022 (through July 31): 2-0
Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne orbited 14 satellites on a pair of launches originating out of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The rocket was carried aloft by a modified Boeing 747 named Cosmic Girl before being released over the Pacific Ocean and igniting. The company is now 4-0 in launches since the failure of LauncherOne’s maiden flight in May 2020.
Virgin Orbit Launches
January – July 31, 2022
|NACHOS-2||Earth observation: high-resolution hyperspectral imaging of trace gases.||Los Alamos National Laboratory||USA|
|STORK-3||Earth observation: Vision-300 imager with a ground resolution of up to 5 meters.||SatRevolution||Poland|
|Lemur-2-Krywe (ADLER-1)||Space environment: measure space debris environment in low Earth orbit.||Austrian Space Forum||Austria|
|CTIM-FD||Tech demo: measure amount of solar radiation that reaches Earth from the Sun.||University of Colorado at Boulder||USA|
|GEARRS-3||Tech demo: test a black box that transmits satellite data, health and safety information.||USAF Research Laboratory||USA|
|GPX-2||Tech demo: commercial-off-the-shelf differential global positioning systems to demonstrate autonomous, close-proximity operations for small satellites.||NASA Langley||USA|
|Gunsmoke-L-1, Gunsmoke L-2||Tech demo: test tactical space support payloads.||U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command||USA|
|MISR-B||Tech demo: likely carried a signal intelligence payload.||Department of Defense||USA|
|PAN-A, Pan-B||Tech demo: test capability of CubeSats to autonomously rendezvous and dock with each other.||Cornell University||USA|
|Recurve||Tech demo: test adaptive radio frequency system capability from low Earth orbit.||USAF Research Laboratory||USA|
|Slingshot-1||Tech demo: test modular, plug-and-play interfaces to make satellite assembly easier.||The Aerospace Corporation||USA|
|SteamSat-2||Tech demo: test water-fueled thrusters for in-space propulsion||SteamJet Space Systems||UK|
|TechEdSat-13||Tech demo: artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) module featuring the first orbital flight of a neuromorphic processor.||NASA Ames||USA|
The majority of the payloads involved testing new technologies that ranged from autonomous rendezvous and docking (PAN-A and PAN-B) to artificial intelligence and water-fueled thrusters. Three satellites were devoted to Earth observation and another to measuring debris in low Earth orbit.
The majority of the payloads were from the Department of Defense (DOD), NASA and academic institutions. DOD’s Space Test Program (STP) flew multiple satellites on both flights. NASA sponsored the launch of four satellites — CTIM-FD, GPX2, PAN-A and PAN-B — under its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program. Two payloads — STORK-3 and StreamSat-2 — came from commercial companies.
Virgin Orbit announced the expansion of its fleet with the purchase of two additional Boeing 747 airliners. On aircraft will be modified for flights of LauncherOne. The other will be used to ferry rockets and equipment to different locations.
The first launch outside of the United States is scheduled to take place from Spaceport Cornwall in the United Kingdom in September. Virgin Orbit has reached agreements to fly from airports in Brazil, Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam.
2022 (through July 31): 1-2
It has been a difficult year thus far for publicly-traded smallsat launch provider Astra Space. Two of Astra’s three Rocket 3.3 launches failed as the company’s overall launch record fell to two successes and five failures. Another rocket esd destroyed in an accident on the launch pad.
On Feb. 10, Astra Space’s first launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida after the fairing protecting the payloads failed to separate and the second stage ignited erratically. A company investigation identified an error in a wiring diagram and a software problem as the root causes of the failure.
Four student-built CubeSats flown under NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program were lost in the accident. NASA sponsored the flight under the space agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program, which supports the development of small satellite launch vehicles.
Astra bounced back a month later with a successful launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on March 15. The payloads included 20 SpaceBEE picosatellites (0.25U CubeSats) for Swarm Technologies and the 1U OreSat0 CubeSat for Portland State University. A payload named Crossover (EyeStar-S4) remained attached to the second stage as planned.
Astra’s return to Cape Canaveral on June 12 was not successful. Premature shutdown of the second stage engine resulted in the loss of two NASA Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) CubeSats.
It was the first of three Astra launches of TROPICS satellites planned for this year. NASA has said the constellation can still provide valuable data about tropical cyclones with only four of the planned six satellites.
2022 (through July 31): 1-0
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket launched the company’s Cygnus NG-17 resupply ship to ISS on Feb. 19. While the mission was a success, the long-term future of Antares would be thrown into uncertainty by the Russian invasion of Ukraine five days later.
The Antares first stage is built in Ukraine; its two RD-181 are manufactured in Russia. Procurement of the first stage was suspended due to the invasion. Russia subsequently announced that it would no longer sell RD-181 engines due to sanctions imposed by the U.S. government over its Ukraine aggression.
Northrop Grumman said it has stages and engines for two Cygnus resupply missions planned for later in the year and spring 2023. Company officials say they are exploring various options for continuing to launch Cygnus resupply ships to ISS under contract with NASA. (Cygnus is the only spacecraft Antares has ever launched; Northrop Grumman has not booked any other payloads for the booster.)
ULA’s Atlas V rockets launched three Cygnus to the space station following the explosion of an Antares rocket shortly after launch in October 2014. At that time, officials decided to abandon using NK-33 engines left over from the Soviet Union’s 1960’s lunar program to power the first stage. It took two years before Antares equipped with RD-181 engines resumed launching Cygnus spacecraft.
Northrop Grumman’s options are rather limited this time around. ULA is phasing out production of the Atlas V rocket in favor of the new Vulcan Centaur booster. Remaining Atlas V flights have been booked while its successor has suffered significant delays. The first Vulcan Centaur launch could occur at the end of this year.
Arianespace is in a similar situation with its transition from the Ariane 5 to the Ariane 6 launch vehicle. Japan has faced delays with its H3 rocket as it phases out its H-IIA rocket. (The H-IIB rocket is already retired.)
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a possibility. With the majority of Falcon 9 launches devoted to deploying the company’s Starlink satellite broadband constellation, SpaceX would likely welcome the revenue that would come from launching Cygnus missions. What the technical challenges are of adapting the rocket and spacecraft for launch is unclear.
International Space Station Flights by SpaceX
2022 (Through July 31): 4 Launches, 3 Returns, 1 Departure
Missions to the space station continued as scheduled despite repeated threats by Russia to pull out of the ISS project over western sanctions imposed by its international partners over that nation’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
U.S. launches to the space station included two crewed SpaceX Dragon missions, an uncrewed Boeing CST-100 Starliner flight test, and resupply missions by SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon 2 and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus freighter.
ISS Launch, Return and Departure Flights*
January – July 28, 2022
|Jan. 24, 2022||Cargo Dragon 2||None||Cargo return||Launched Dec. 21, 2021; splashed down with cargo off coast of Florida|
|Feb. 19, 2022||Antares||Cygnus NG-17||None||ISS resupply||Launched from Wallops Island, Va.|
|March 30, 2022||Soyuz MS-19||Mark Vande Hei, Pyotr Dubrov, Anton Shkaplerov||ISS crew return||Vande Hei and Dubrov spent 355 days in space|
|April 8, 2022||Falcon 9||Crew Dragon||Michael Lopez Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe||Axiom Mission-1 launch||First completely private ISS mission|
|April 25, 2022||Crew Dragon||Michael Lopez Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe||Axiom Mission-1 return||Landed off coast of Florida|
|April 27, 2022||Falcon 9||Crew Dragon||Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, Samantha Christoferetti||ISS Crew-4 launch||Launched from Kennedy Space Center|
|May 6, 2022||Crew Dragon||Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Matthias Mauer, Kayla Barron||ISS Crew-3 return||Launched Nov. 11, 2021|
|May 19, 2022||Atlas V||CST-100 Starliner||None||Uncrewed flight test||Six day repeat of December 2019 flight that failed to reach ISS|
|May 25, 2022||CST-100 Starliner||None||Capsule return||Landed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico|
|June 29, 2022||Cygnus NG-17||None||Resupply ship departure||Burned up in Earth’s atmosphere|
|July 15, 2022||Falcon 9||Cargo Dragon 2 (CRS-25)||None||ISS resupply||Launched from Kennedy Space Center|
Starliner, two Crew Dragons and a Cargo Dragon 2 returned to Earth with eight astronauts and cargo. A NASA astronaut returned to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft after nearly a year in space. And a Cygnus resupply ship burned up in the atmosphere after departing the station in late June.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei returned to Earth with Russian cosmonauts Dubrov and Shkaplerov aboard Soyuz MS-19 on March 30 amid international tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Dubrov and Vande Hei had spent nearly a year — 355 days — on ISS while Shkaplerov had been there for 176 days. Dubrov and Vande Hei were to have returned to Earth in October 2021 after a six-month mission, but Roscosmos changed the schedule while they were in orbit to accommodate a special project.
On Oct. 5, 2021, Shkaplerov flew film director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild to the station where they filmed scenes for a motion picture named, “The Challenge.” Shkaplerov stayed aboard while Shipenko and Peresild returned to Earth with cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky on Soyuz MS-18 after 12 days in space.
The Ax-1 flight in April raised ISS occupancy to 11 as Axiom Space’s commercial fliers joined America astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron; Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov; and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Mauer. The visitors would stay 17 days before returning to Earth on April 25.
NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins and ESA astronaut Samantha Christoferetti arrived safely at the station for a six-month mission after launch on April 27. Crew-3 astronauts Chari, Marshburn, Barron and Mauer returned to Earth on May 6.
U.S. Launches by Spaceport
U.S. orbital launches took place from seven spaceports in four states and one foreign nation during the first seven months of the year.
U.S. Launches by Spaceport
January – July 31, 2022
|Launch Site||State/Nation||Launch Vehicle(s)||Successes||Failures||Total|
|Cape Canaveral||Florida||SpaceX Falcon 9 (13), ULA Atlas V (4), Astra Space Rocket 3.3 (2)||19||2||21|
|Kennedy||Florida||SpaceX Falcon 9||11||0||11|
|Vandenberg||California||SpaceX Falcon 9||7||0||7|
|Mahia Peninsula||New Zealand||Rocket Lab Electron||5||0||5|
|Mojave Air and Space Port||California||Virgin Orbit LauncherOne/Boeing 747||2||0||2|
|Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (Wallops Island, Va.)||Virginia||Northrop Grumman Antares||1||0||1|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska||Alaska||Astra Space Rocket 3.3||1||0||1|
Florida led the world by hosting 32 orbital launches, with 30 successes and two failures. The figure includes 21 flights from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and 11 Falcon 9 launches from the adjoining Kennedy Space Center (KSC). SpaceX launched 15 times from Cape Canaveral, ULA four times, and Astra Space twice.
The nine California launches included seven SpaceX Falcon 9 flights from Vandenberg Space Force Base and two Virgin Orbit LauncherOne missions that originated from the Mojave Air and Space Port.
Rocket Lab launched its Electron rocket five times from its spaceport on Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The company has received permission to launch Electron boosters from a new launch pad on Wallops Island in Virginia. Rocket Lab is also building a manufacturing facility for its Neutron rocket in the state.
Wallops Island in Virginia and the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska hosted launches of Northrop Grumman’s Antares and Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3, respectively. The Alaska launch was Astra Space’s only successful flight.