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 Enters the Solar Atmosphere for the First Time, Bringing New Discoveries

Parker Solar Probe near the sun. (Credit: NASA)

By Mara Johnson-Groh
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — For the first time in history, a spacecraft has touched the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has now flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – and sampled particles and magnetic fields there. 

The new milestone marks one major step for Parker Solar Probe and one giant leap for solar science. Just as landing on the Moon allowed scientists to understand how it was formed, touching the very stuff the Sun is made of will help scientists uncover critical information about our closest star and its influence on the solar system. 

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NOAA Issues RFI on Space Weather Instruments

Space weather affects the Earth’s magnetic field. (Credit: NASA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — On September 13, 2021, NOAA released a Solar Coronagraph Development and Related Capabilities request for information (RFI) seeking industry interest and capabilities to produce space-based coronagraphs which would be deployed on satellites in near-Earth and deep space orbits on the Sun-Earth line, and off-Sun-Earth line.

This RFI supports NOAA’s continuing efforts to partner with the commercial sector in innovative ways in support of its operational space-based space weather mission.

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NOAA Readies for Addition to its Space Weather Toolkit

An artist’s rendering of the SWFO-L1 satellite. (Credit: NOAA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — NOAA is planning an advanced satellite that will improve forecasts and warnings for potentially damaging solar activity while perched in a Sun-facing orbit a million miles from Earth.

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Future Space Travelers May Follow Cosmic Lighthouses

An image of NICER on the exterior of the space station with one of the station’s solar panels in the background. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — For centuries, lighthouses helped sailors navigate safely into harbor. Their lights swept across the water, cutting through fog and darkness, guiding mariners around dangerous obstacles and keeping them on the right path. In the future, space explorers may receive similar guidance from the steady signals created by pulsars.

Scientists and engineers are using the International Space Station to develop pulsar-based navigation using these cosmic lighthouses to assist with wayfinding on trips to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis  program and on future human missions to Mars.

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Atlas V Launches X-37B Space Plane

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 501 rocket carrying the USSF-7 mission for the U.S. Space Force lifted off on May 17, 9:14 a.m. EDT, from Space Launch Complex-41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Credit: ULA)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., May 17, 2020 ULA PR)  A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 501 rocket carrying the USSF-7 mission for the U.S. Space Force lifted off on May 17, 9:14 a.m. EDT, from Space Launch Complex-41. This marks the 84th successful launch of an Atlas V rocket, 139th launch for ULA, the second launch for the U.S. Space Force and the sixth flight of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV-6).

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SWRI-Led PUNCH Mission Achieves Milestone

SwRI developed and prototyped the Wide Field Imager for the PUNCH mission. The dark baffles in the top recess allow the instrument to image objects over a thousand times fainter than the Milky Way. (Credit: SwRI)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (SwRI PR) — On April 8, 2020, the Polarimeter to UNify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission achieved an important milestone, passing NASA’s critical System Requirements Review/Mission Definition Review (SRR/MDR). Southwest Research Institute is leading PUNCH, a NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) mission that will integrate understanding of the Sun’s corona, the outer atmosphere visible during eclipses, with the tenuous “solar wind” filling the solar system.

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NASA’s ICON to Explore Boundary Between Earth and Space

Illustration of ICON spacecraft. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith)

UPDATE: Due to weather in the area, NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to move the Pegasus XL and ICON launch 24-hours to October 10 at 9:30 p.m., with takeoff of the Stargazer L-1011 at 8:32 p.m. NASA’s live broadcast will begin tomorrow at 9:15 p.m. on www.nasa.gov/live.

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — On Oct.10, 2019, NASA launches the Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, a spacecraft that will explore the dynamic region where Earth meets space: the ionosphere.   

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A Look at the Payloads in Falcon Heavy’s STP-2 Mission

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — The Department of Defense (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) mission, managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), is targeting launch on June 24, 2019, with the launch window opening at 11:30 p.m. ET. Lifting off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, this mission will deliver 24 satellites to space on the DoD’s first ever SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle.

The STP-2 mission will be among the most challenging launches in SpaceX history with four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits, a final propulsive passivation maneuver and a total mission duration of over six hours. In addition, the U.S. Air Force plans to reuse side boosters from the Arabsat-6A Falcon Heavy launch, recovered after a return to launch site landing, making it the first reused Falcon Heavy ever flown for the U.S. Air Force.
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Digital Solid State Propulsion is Headed to ISS

DSSP_Logo
Silicon Valley, CA (SFF PR) — This summer, Digital Solid State Propulsion’s microthruster will be deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpinSat microsatellite, a project of the Naval Research Laboratory, in a partnership with Digital Solid State Propulsion (DSSP), Inc.

The missions’ objective is to demonstrate and characterize the on-orbit performance of the ESP (Electrically-controlled Solid Propellant) technology in space. This is an enabling technology for the small satellite community that will allow small satellites to perform in-space maneuvers. In 2012, DSSP won 2nd place and a cash prize of $10,000 at the Newspace Business Plan Competition (BPC), as part of the Space Frontier Foundations’ annual NewSpace Conference.

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CASIS Announces Partnership with Naval Research Lab

casis_new_logoKENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL., October 2, 2013 (CASIS PR) – Today, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, announced a partnership with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) to launch research investigations studying factors that contribute to occurrences of harmful algal bloom (HAB), or red tide.

The NRL plans to use advanced imaging technology on the (ISS) to develop early HAB detection, quantification and classification algorithms. CASIS has awarded $250,000 enabling the principal investigator, Dr. Ruhul Amin of the NRL, to expand this research.

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