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 Selects Futuristic Space Technology Concepts for Early Study

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — An astronaut steps into a body scanner and, hours later, walks on Mars in a custom-made spacesuit, breathing oxygen that was extracted from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. On Venus, an inflatable bird-like drone swoops through the sky, studying the planet’s atmosphere and weather patterns. Ideas like these are currently science fiction, but they could one day become reality, thanks to a new round of grants awarded by NASA.

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23rd SpaceX Commercial Resupply Mission to Launch Bone, Plant, and Materials Studies to International Space Station

Image of seedlings with different genotypes following 9 days of growth in the VEGGIE chamber under temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide conditions mimicking those recorded on the space station. Taken during verification testing at NASA Kennedy Space Center. (Credits: Dr. Shih-Heng Su)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting Saturday, Aug. 28, to launch its 23rd commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for liftoff at 3:37 a.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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NASA Awards Contract for Earth Observing Satellite Instrument

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has awarded the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Atmosphere Science Investigator-led Processing System (SIPS) contract to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.

The total value of this cost-no fee contract is $17,084,053. The contract includes a base year that begins on July 1, and has four options to extend the contract through March 31, 2025.

The contractor will process and reprocess the data from the VIIRS instrument from the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) series of satellites. The contractor will deliver Earth Observing System (EOS)-like standard and near real time atmosphere data products to the Earth Observing System Data and Information System as required by NASA Headquarters Earth Science Division for NASA researchers.

The JPSS missions are funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide global environmental data in low-Earth polar orbit in support of NOAA’s mission. NASA is the acquisition agent for the flight systems. NASA also acquires JPSS data for its research objectives.

Plant Growth on the International Space Station has Global Impacts on Earth

Astronaut Peggy Whitson with the ADVASC soybean plant growth experiment during Expedition 5. (Credits: NASA)

MADISON, WI (NASA PR) — Understanding the effects of gravity on plant life is essential in preparing for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. The ability to produce high-energy, low-mass food sources during spaceflight will enable the maintenance of crew health during long-duration missions while having a reduced impact on resources necessary for long-distance travel.

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