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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DLR Launches Sounding Rocket to Test Reusable Booster Technology

Launch of the STORT flight experiment. [Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)]
  • DLR flies three-stage sounding rocket for the first time.
  • Component structures, measurement methods and evaluation algorithms tested for the re-entry phase.
  • A modular and distributed data acquisition system allowed the efficient recording of data from the different experiments.
  • Focus: space travel, aerodynamics, sounding rockets.

ANDOYA, Norway (DLR PR) — Reusable carrier systems are exposed to high loads and temperatures when returning to the surface. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has now successfully tested component structures, measurement methods and evaluation algorithms for the re-entry phase with the flight experiment STORT (key technologies for high-energy return flights from carrier stages). 

In the early morning of June 26, 2022, the three-stage rocket experiment was launched from the Andøya Space launch site in northern Norway. At the apex of the trajectory at an altitude of 38 kilometers, the upper stage reached a flight speed of around 9,000 kilometers per hour, which corresponds to a Mach number of over eight. It then fell into the Atlantic Ocean more than 350 kilometers from the starting point.

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ArianeGroup Selected for Two European Commission Calls for Projects to Speed Up the Development of Europe’s First Reusable and Eco-friendly Launchers

ArianeGroup has been selected by the European Commission to run two major projects in its Horizon Europe research framework program.

  • The SALTO project will facilitate the first flight tests of the Themis reusable stage demonstrator in Kiruna, Sweden.
  • The ENLIGHTEN project will speed up the development and introduction of reusable engine technologies.
  • Each project is built on the joint expertise of ArianeGroup, industry, research institutes and start-ups, to accelerate Europe’s transition to increasingly innovative, competitive and eco-friendly access to space.

ISSY-LES-MOULINEAUX, France (ArianeGroup PR) — Following the call for projects issued by the European Commission as part of its Horizon Europe program designed to encourage and accelerate innovation, ArianeGroup has been given responsibility for two particularly ambitious projects to speed up the development of reusable, ecofriendly European launchers. ArianeGroup will be heading the SALTO and ENLIGHTEN projects, bringing together numerous academic and industrial partners, including innovative start-ups.

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PLD Space, Airborne Systems North America sign to Develop Llauncher Recovery Systems

ARION 1 & 2 technology demonstration. (Credit: PLD Space)

PLD Space is developing a family of recoverable launch vehicles
Airborne Systems has almost 100 years of experience in the EDLS systems

ELCHE, Spain — October 3, 2018 (PLD Space PR) — Airborne Systems has developed a parachute recovery system for PLD Space to advance the development of their recoverable launch vehicle family (ARION 1 and ARION 2). Drawing on almost 100 years of experience with the design and development of Entry, Descent and Landing Systems (EDLS), Airborne Systems provide a solution consisting of a Drogue parachute Subsystem and a Main parachute subsystem.

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Cool Blue Origin Engine Picture

NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (r) discusses the upcoming testing of Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly with Steve Knowles, Blue Origin project manager, on the E-1 Test Stand TODAY at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. The BE-3 will be used on Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Development Program. Blue Origin is one of NASA’s partners developing innovative systems to reach low Earth orbit.
NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center
:  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (r) discusses the upcoming testing of Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine thrust chamber assembly with Steve Knowles, Blue Origin project manager, on the E-1 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. The BE-3 will be used on Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Development Program. Blue Origin is one of NASA’s partners developing innovative systems to reach low Earth orbit.











XCOR Made Significant Technological Progress in 2010

The FAA’s 2011 U.S. Commercial Space Transportation Developments and Concepts: Vehicles, Technologies, and Spaceports report highlights a pair of significant advancements by XCOR Aerospace in 2010. They involve significant progress on a new type of piston pump engine that could make turbopumps obsolete. XCOR also completed a series of crucial wind tunnel tests on its Lynx suborbital vehicle.

Both achievements are worth a closer look. Excerpts from the report follow with my notes in italics.

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India Taking Step-by-Step Approach to Developing Hypersonic SSTO

Brahmand.com takes a look at India’s step-by-step approach to developing reusable hypersonic launch vehicles:

The RLV will loft a satellite into orbit and immediately re-enter the atmosphere and glide back for a conventional landing. The RLV and the rocket booster will be recovered separately, with the former making a conventional landing on a runway and booster making a parachute landing.

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NASA, Air Force Partner on Commercial Reusable Launch Vehicles

nasa_logo

NASA PRESS RELEASE

NASA is partnering with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a technology roadmap for the commercial reusable launch vehicle, or RLV, industry.

“NASA is committed to stimulating the emerging commercial reusable launch vehicle industry,” said Lori Garver, deputy administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “There is a natural evolutionary path from today’s emerging commercial suborbital RLV industry to growing and developing the capability to provide low-cost, frequent and reliable access to low Earth orbit. One part of our plan is to partner with other federal agencies to develop a consensus roadmap of the commercial RLV industry’s long-range technology needs.”

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Reaction Engines Celebrates 20 Years, Looks Forward to Success with Skylon

skylon

REACTION ENGINES PRESS RELEASE

On 15th August 2009, this Oxfordshire aerospace company celebrated its 20th anniversary. Reaction Engines Ltd (REL) has been developing the SKYLON spaceplane, a progression from the HOTOL project, over the past 2 decades and believes that a single stage to orbit (SSTO) reusable launch vehicle (RLV) is the future of global Space travel.

The secret to SKYLON’s success is its innovative SABRE engine which possesses the dual capability to be in air-breathing mode up to 30km and Mach 5 before switching to rocket mode.

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