2022 has been a record year in space. A staggering 186 orbital launches have been completed, a huge increase from 145 launches last year. The undisputed heroes of 2022 have been SpaceX, NASA and China, although in terms of launches, the main actor in 2022 is SpaceX, which has carried out an impressive number of 61 orbital missions: 60 for the Falcon 9 and one for the Falcon Heavy. a record that’s even more incredible if we take into account All mission is successful and All The landing attempts have been good in the initial phase. Thanks to SpaceX, the US leads the podium of countries with the most orbital launches this year: the US carried out 47% of missions worldwide, but SpaceX launched 33%, with the remaining 14% being in charge of the rest of the companies (Rocket Lab and ULA, mainly). China carried out 64 missions, nine launches more than last year, thus surpassing the record for 2021. In terms of new launchers, we’ve finally seen the launch of the SLS and the official start of the Artemis program, a moment many may have thought was over. Will never come
2022 has been marked by a reduced number of mission or launcher failures by smaller rockets or microlaunchers. To highlight the failure of two government solid fuel rockets: the Japanese Epsilon and the European Vega-C. Most launches have been from Florida, 57, with Jiuquan (China) Space Center in second place thanks to its 25 missions. Vandenberg Air Force Base (California, USA) and Xichang (China) are in third place with 16 launches each.
As we said, SpaceX and NASA have been two of the three space heroes of 2022. Despite several delays, the US space agency finally launched the SLS Block 1 rocket with the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis I mission. The mission was a complete success. , demonstrating the feasibility of the ill-fated super-rocket and the Orion spacecraft in their completed version (with the European Service Module). The US is now the only country in the world with a working superlauncher – a rocket capable of putting a hundred tons of payload into low orbit – and a spacecraft designed for deep space missions. Following the success of Artemis I, NASA has greenlit the Artemis II mission with astronauts around the Moon planned for 2024. Another major success for the agency has been the James Webb Space Telescope, which was successfully deployed and began spectacular transmissions. Images of the universe.
Operations on the ISS have continued despite the war in Ukraine and Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft docked with the station for the first time, although there are still several months to go before seeing a manned mission with this vehicle. The DART probe successfully collided with the dimorphic asteroid, thus successfully completing the first planetary defense mission in history. As for the New Space Launchers, they’re still not quite off the ground, if I may joke: The Astra rocket finally made it into orbit, but Firefly’s Alpha had a partially failed mission. This market segment is still dominated in the US by Rocket Lab’s Electron and Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne.
SpaceX continues to build on its record of spectacular launches and reuses. Several stages have crossed ten missions and Elon Musk’s company already has two first stages that have done 15 and 14 missions respectively. And the most incredible thing is that all launches and stage recoveries throughout this year have been successful. The Starlink mega-constellation already has over 3,600 satellites in orbit and serves over one million users. SpaceX is currently the largest active satellite operator on the planet. In fact, nearly half of SpaceX’s 2022 launches are dedicated to completing the Starlink mega-constellation.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon remains America’s only operational crewed spacecraft, and this year we’ve seen three Crew Dragon missions, including the first private mission to the ISS (Axiom-1). SpaceX’s activity at Starbase (Boca Chica, Texas) and in Florida remains frenetic, though 2022 has seen a more mature and leisurely Starship program, which has to digest the technical challenges of developing the Raptor 2 engine and tile heat shield. Is kept. among other challenges. In the end, the expected orbital launch of the Starship system did not happen and we are left with the desire to see a test of the Super Heavy, with all its engines working simultaneously.
2022 has been a successful year for China. The Asian country has successfully completed the construction of the Chinese space station for the coupling of the large Wentian and Mengtian modules. In 2022 we have seen the first relief of three crew living aboard the station and the first Chinese manned spacecraft in orbit, so we will be able to see six Chinese astronauts in space at the same time for the first time, beginning a phase of permanent human presence Has happened. In complex orbital. There is a lot of merit in this build as China has completed its station in a year and a half and all the missions associated with it have been a resounding success. Two crews have also spent six months in space and three spacewalks have been performed.
China has launched nine more than last year, bringing the total to a record 64. To put this number in perspective, we should not forget that till 2017 the country carried out about twenty missions in just one year. In addition, virtually all missions carried payloads made in China. The country continues to launch all types of civilian and military satellites at a rate never seen before. Like the US, the Chinese new space market has yet to catch up: the Ceres 1 microlauncher made two successful missions, but the Hyperbola 1 failed again. The Zhuk 2 became the first methane orbital rocket to fly, but it did not reach orbit. In turn, subsidiaries of state-owned companies have been very successful, and we have seen the debut of China’s most powerful solid-propellant rockets: the Zhongke 1A and the Geelong 3. , China, on the other hand, introduced the CZ-6A launcher this year and finalized its plans for the CZ-9 and CZ-5G lunar rockets as well as the spacecraft that will take part in these manned missions to the Moon.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has marked 2022 and its negative effects will be felt for years to come. Russia and the West have severed almost all ties on space matters. Of course, the ESA has been more forceful when it comes to breaking off its contacts with Russia than the United States, which has shown a more pragmatic attitude and maintained its cooperation in programs such as the ISS and even with Russia. New agreements have also been signed. , such as the one that allows NASA astronauts to travel in the Soyuz spacecraft in exchange for Russian astronauts in the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the future Starliner. Will the Russian space program survive this severe test? only time will tell.
The war in Ukraine has hastened the end of missions for the US Atlas V rocket, which is powered by Russian RD-180 engines, while the Vulcan is favored by Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, which also uses Russian engines. , will be replaced by a version. In charge of Jugnu Company. The ExoMars 2022 mission, with strong Russian involvement, was grounded by ESA’s decision at the same time that Europe decided to suspend all Soyuz rocket launches from French Guiana. Similarly, Germany unilaterally shut down the eROSITA X-ray telescope on board the Russian Spektr-RG observatory. In terms of the number of launches, the war in Ukraine has not had much impact, as Russia has carried out 22 missions, only three less than in 2021. This year Angara 1.2 flew for the first time and Roscosmos confirmed its decision to build the Russian ROS space station after the ISS’s lifespan ends.
2022 has not been a good year for Europe. Ariane 6 has seen its first launch delayed until late 2023… and with luck. As if this were not enough, Vega-C failed on its second launch, leading to a crisis of access to space in the old continent. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and problems with European launchers have had a profound effect on the European space programme. The Rosalind Franklin rover hasn’t been able to head to Mars this year when the ExoMars 2022 mission was canceled (Russia supplied the descent stage and other elements) and the rover’s future is dubious to say the least. On the other hand, many European missions will be launched by the Falcon 9 rocket because neither the Soyuz nor the Ariane 6 are available, such as the Euclid Space Telescope or the Hera probe. In return, Samantha Cristoforetti became the first ESA woman to perform a spacewalk.
rest of the world
In 2022 we have seen the launch of two Asian lunar missions: the Danuri probe from South Korea and the private Hakuto-R mission in charge of Europe and Japan with an Emirati Rashid rover on board.