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U.S. companies led the world last year with 87 orbital launch attempts on the strength of SpaceX’s record-tying 61 launches. There were 84 successes, two failures and one partial failure in a year that saw more than 2,100 satellites launched.
Highlights of the year included:
- NASA conducted the maiden launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), which sent an automated Orion crew vehicle on a successful 25.5-day flight to the moon and back
- SpaceX launched a fully private mission to the International Space Station (ISS)
- Boeing conducted an uncrewed flight of its Starliner crew vehicle to ISS
- Two orbiters and a privately-built lander were launched to the moon
- Firefly Aerospace put satellites into orbit for the first time.
Let’s take a closer look at U.S. launch totals for the year.
Launches by Company
SpaceX’s 61 launches tied a 42-year old record set by the Soviet Union in 1980. The company’s achievements included:
- conducting 70.1% of 87 launches by U.S. companies
- performing 32.6% of 186 launches conducted worldwide
- launching 2,024 of the 2,142 payloads launched by U.S. companies
- orbiting 1,722 Starlink satellites on 34 Falcon 9 boosters.
Orbital Launches by U.S. Companies, 2022
|Company/Launch Vehicle||Successes||Failures||Partial Failures||Launches||Payloads|
|SpaceX Falcon 9||60||0||0||60||2,019|
|SpaceX Falcon Heavy||1||0||0||1||5|
|Rocket Lab Electron||9||0||0||9||44|
|ULA Atlas V||7||0||0||7||9|
|ULA Delta IV Heavy||1||0||0||1||1|
|Astra Space Rocket 3.3||1||2||0||3||22|
|Northrop Grumman Antares||2||0||0||2||9|
|Virgin Orbit LauncherOne||2||0||0||2||15|
|NASA Space Launch System||1||0||0||1||11|
|Firefly Aerospace Alpha||0||0||1||1||7|
Six other companies and NASA combined for 26 launches, with 23 successes, two failures and one partial failure. Rocket Lab set a new record with nine launches in a calendar year. United Launch Alliance (ULA) was close behind with eight launches.
Virgin Orbit launched twice. Firefly Aerospace reached orbit for the first time, although the Alpha rocket released payloads into a lower-than-planned orbit. Astra Space suffered two failures of its Rocket 3.3 booster, which the company subsequently abandoned in favor of the larger Rocket 4.0.
NASA’s massive SLS moon rocket roared off the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center for the first time on Nov. 16. The giant booster sent an uncrewed Orion crew vehicle on a 25.5-day long flight test to the moon as part of the Artemis program.
NASA officials said SLS performed better than expected. They were also extremely pleased with the performance of the Orion spacecraft, saying the vehicle experienced only minor anomalies. The successful test paved the way for a crewed Orion flight to the moon in 2024, followed by a landing at the south pole on the subsequent flight.
Ten CubeSats were launched to the moon along with Orion. Six spacecraft succeeded in their missions, while four others were lost. See Deep Space CubeSats: Where Are the Artemis Secondary Payloads Now? for more details.
Rocket Lab conducted its first mission beyond Earth orbit on June 28 when it launched NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft to the moon. CAPSTONE is testing the near-rectilinear halo orbit that will be used by the human-tended Lunar Gateway station.
On Aug. 4, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched South Korea’s first lunar orbiter Danuri, a.k.a., Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter. The objectives of the mission are to validate technologies for future lunar exploration, produce a topographic map of future landing sites, and survey lunar resources such as water ice, aluminum, helium-3, silicon and uranium. Danuri entered lunar orbit in December.
On Dec. 11, a Falcon 9 launched the Hakuto-R lunar lander mission for i-space of Japan. The privately-built spacecraft is carrying 30 kg (66 lb) of commercial and government payloads, including:
- United Arab Emirates’ Rashid lunar rover
- Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) SORA-Q transformable lunar robot
- NGK Spark Plug Co. solid-state battery test module
- Mission Control Space Services Inc.’s artificial intelligence (AI) flight computer
- Multiple 360-degree cameras from Canadensys Aerospace
- Music disc with the song “SORATO” performed by Japanese rock band Sakanaction, an original supporter of Team HAKUTO during Google Lunar XPRIZE
- Panel engraved with the names of Team HAKUTO crowdfunding supporters during Google Lunar XPRIZE.
Hakuto-R will take about four months to reach the moon using a low-energy transfer trajectory, with a landing scheduled for late April. Hakuto-R will land in the Atlas Crater in the northwest region of the moon. The impact crater is about 87 km (54 miles) across.
U.S. launches to the space station included three crewed SpaceX Dragon missions, an uncrewed Boeing CST-100 Starliner flight test, and two resupply missions apiece by SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon 2 and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicles.
U.S. Launches to & Departures from ISS, 2022
|Jan. 24, 2022||—||Cargo Dragon 2||Capsule return (launched 12/21/21)||Cargo return|
|Feb. 19, 2022||Antares||Cygnus NG-17||Resupply ship launch||Cargo delivery|
|April 8, 2022||Falcon 9||Crew Dragon||Axiom Mission-1 launch||Michael Lopez Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe|
|April 25, 2022||—||Crew Dragon||Axiom Mission-1 return||Michael Lopez Alegria, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe|
|April 27, 2022||Falcon 9||Crew Dragon||Crew-4 launch||Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, Samantha Christoferetti|
|May 6, 2022||—||Crew Dragon||Crew-3 return (launched 11/11/21)||Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Matthias Mauer, Kayla Barron|
|May 19, 2022||Atlas V||CST-100 Starliner||Uncrewed flight test||Limited cargo delivery|
|May 25, 2022||—||CST-100 Starliner||Capsule return||Limited cargo return|
|June 29, 2022||—||Cygnus NG-17||Resupply ship departure||None|
|July 15, 2022||Falcon 9||Cargo Dragon CRS-25||Resupply ship launch||Cargo delivery|
|Aug. 20, 2022||—||Cargo Dragon CRS-25||Capsule return||Cargo return|
|Oct. 5, 2022||Falcon 9||Crew Dragon||Crew-5 launch||Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Koichi Wakata, Anna Kikina|
|Oct. 14, 2022||—||Crew Dragon||Crew-4 return||Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins, Samantha Christoferetti|
|Nov. 7, 2022||Antares||Cygnus NS-18||Resupply ship launch||Cargo delivery|
|Nov. 26, 2022||Falcon 9||Cargo Dragon (CRS-26)||Resupply ship launch||Cargo delivery|
The first fully private crewed flight to the space station was launched aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon on April 8. Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria commanded Axiom Space’s Ax-1 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 flights.
The Ax-1 astronauts conducted a series of experiments and educational activities during their 17-day flight, which ended on April 25. The original plan to spend 10 days aboard ISS was extended due to bad weather in the recovery area.
SpaceX launched the Crew-4 mission two days after the Ax-1 Crew Dragon vehicle splashed down of the coast of Florida. NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines, Jessica Watkins and ESA astronaut Samantha Christoferetti arrived safely at the station for a six-month mission.
On Oct. 5, SpaceX launched the Crew-5 mission with NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.
An ULA Atlas V launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its second orbital flight test. The automated crew vehicle docked with the space station during a six-day flight before landing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The successful mission paved the way for NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams to conduct a week-long crewed flight test to the station in April.
Launches by Spaceport
Florida remained the busiest launch location in the world with 57 orbital launches, an increase from 31 in 2021. Cape Canaveral Space Force Station hosted 39 launches, up from 19 the previous year. SpaceX launched 17 Falcon 9 boosters and one Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. NASA launched Orion aboard SLS from Kennedy.
Vandenberg Space Force Base hosted 16 launches, an increase from seven in 2021. Vandenberg was tied for fourth place with China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
U.S. Launches by Spaceport, 2022
|Cape Canaveral||United States||36||2||0||38|
|Mojave Air and Space Port||United States||2||0||0||2|
|Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS)||United States||2||0||0||2|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska (PSC-Alaska)||United States||1||0||0||1|
Rocket Lab set a new record with nine launches from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The spaceport previously hosted seven launches in 2020.
Three other spaceports — Mojave, MARS and PSC-Alaska — hosted a combined five launches.
Wednesday: SpaceX’s Monster Launch Year
Thursday: A Look at Other U.S. Launches