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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NASA Rockets Launch from Australia to Seek Habitable Star Conditions

The closest star system to Earth is the famous Alpha Centauri group. At a distance of 4.3 light-years, this system is made up of the binary formed by the stars Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B, plus the faint red dwarf Alpha Centauri C, also known as Proxima Centauri. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has given us this stunning view of the bright Alpha Centauri A (on the left) and Alpha Centauri B (on the right). (Credits: ESA/NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On the heels of a successful launch on June 26, NASA is set to launch two more sounding rockets from northern Australia during the first half of July. These missions will help astronomers understand how starlight influences a planet’s atmosphere, possibly making or breaking its ability to support life as we know it.

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Skykraft, Equatorial Launch Australia Sign Letter of Intent for Strategic Partnership

Letter of Strategic Intent

Skykraft Pty Ltd and Equatorial Launch Australia Pty Ltd (ELA) agree to develop a strategic relationship that leverages the strengths of both companies. Those being, Skykraft as a designer and manufacturer of small satellite (SmallSAT) constellations for a broad range of space-based services, and ELA as the operator of Australia’s first commercial spaceport, located near Nhulunbuy, Northern Territory.

The combination of Skykraft’s rapid constellation design and manufacture capability, plus ELA’s ability to tailor the launch options through their established spaceport and access to a wide selection of launch vehicles, provides Australia and the broader space community with an end-to-end solution for rapid, flexible and responsive space access.

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Australian Spaceport Plan Advances

A plan to build a spaceport to support small satellite launches has moved forward in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The Northern Land Council has granted a 275-hectare lease in northeast Arnhem Land to the Gumatj clan for use as a commercial rocket launching facility.

That’ll pave the way for Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation to sublease the site to Equatorial Launch Australia, a firm whose $236 million space base proposal is being considered by federal and NT infrastructure funds.

The 12-year lease has an option for a 28-year extension, and is expected to be finalised later this month.

The Arnhem Space Centre could be operational within a year, and would be the only facility of its kind in the south-east Asia region.

Equatorial Launch Australia says they have not finalized any orbital rockets to be launched from the spaceport. Initially, suborbital sounding rockets will be flown from there.