Commercial Space Travelers Outnumbered Professional Astronauts in First Half of 2022

Axiom Mission 1 astronauts, left to right, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Michael López-Alegría, and Eytan Stibbe. The astronauts are approved by NASA and its international partners for Axiom Space’s first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. (Credits: Chris Gunn – Axiom Space)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first half of 2022 saw more commercial travelers — 16 — launch into space than the 10 professional astronauts who work for government-run space agencies. However, those numbers come with an asterisk or two.

Four of the 14 astronauts who launched into orbit flew on Axiom Space’s privately funded and operated crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Blue Origin launched 12 individuals into space on two flights of the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.

The other 10 astronauts who launched to ISS and the Tiangong space station worked fulltime for NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), China Manned Space Agency, or Russia’s Roscosmos State Space Corporation. SpaceX flew American and European astronauts to ISS on the company-owned Crew Dragon spacecraft under a NASA contract. The Russians and Chinese flew aboard government-owned and operated spacecraft.

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China Launches Wentian Module in Major Space Station Expansion

Update: Wentian docked with the space station early Monday morning Beijing time after a 13-hour flight.

China launched the 23-metric ton Wentian module on Sunday as the first step in expanding the nation’s first permanent space station.

The 17.9 meter long is headed for a docking with the station’s Tianhe core module that is currently occupied by the Shenzhou-14 crew of Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe.

Wentian includes laboratory equipment for life sciences, biotechnology and variable gravity experiments. The module also has 22 external mounting devices that will allow for the attachment of unpressurized experiments. Wentian features a robotic arm that is half the size as the one mounted on the outside of the Tianhe core module.

Wentian includes three sleeping berths, a kitchen and a toilet to accommodate the expansion of the station’s full-time complement from three to six taikonauts. The module will provide additional propulsion, control and avionics to back up the Tianhe core. Wentian is powered by two solar panels.

China will launch the Mengtian laboratory module in October to complete initial assembly of the space station. Mengtian is similar in size and design to Wentian.

77 Launches Conducted During First Half of 2022 as Access to Orbit Expanded

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites while the Dragon that will carry Crew-4 to the International space Station awaits its turn. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It was a busy first half of 2022 that saw 77 orbital launches with 74 successes and three failures through the 182nd day of the year on July 1. At a rate of one launch every 2 days 8 hours 44 minutes, the world is on track to exceed the 146 launches conducted in 2021.

A number of significant missions were launched during a period that saw more than 1,000 satellite launched. SpaceX flew the first fully commercial crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Boeing conducted an orbital flight test of its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, China prepared to complete assembly of its space station, South Korea launched its first domestically manufactured rocket, and Rocket Lab sent a NASA mission to the moon.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

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Chinese Astronauts Launch, Dock with Space Station

Long March-2F launches the Shenzhou-14 crew to the Tiangong space station. (Credit: Su Dong)

Three Chinese astronauts arrived at the nation’s first permanent space station on Sunday, beginning a busy six-month mission during which initial assembly of the orbital facility will be completed.

Astronauts Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang. (Credit: CASC)

Chinese astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft at 10:44 a.m. local time (10:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The Long March-2F rocket placed the crew transport into orbit, where they automatically docked with the Tiangong station seven hours after liftoff.

Chinese space station after assembly. (Credit: CASC)

The crew will be on board when the Wentian and Mengtian science modules are launched later this year. The flights will complete the initial assembly of the t-shaped station. The Shenzhou-15 crew will then launch, expanding the station contingent to 6 astronauts, Chinese officials said.

This launch is the 423rd launch of the Long March series of launch vehicles.

China to Launch New Crew to Space Station on Sunday

Astronauts Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang. (Credit: CASC)

BEIJING (CASC PR) — On June 4, the press conference of the Shenzhou 14 manned flight mission announced that, after the research and decision of the General Headquarters of the space station phase flight mission, the aim was to use the Long March 2F carrier rocket to launch the Shenzhou 14 at 10:44 [02:44 UTC Sunday/10:44 p.m. EDT on Saturday] on June 5. The three astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe will carry out the Shenzhou 14 manned mission, with Chen Dong as the commander.

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Three Chinese Astronauts Launch for First Occupation of New Space Station

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three Chinese astronauts launched into orbit on Thursday morning local time for a three-month mission to the nation’s first permanent space station. It will be the longest human space mission in Chinese history, and the country’s first crewed fight in nearly five years.

The mission is commanded by Nie Haisheng, 56, who has logged more than 19 days in space on two previous flights. Nie, who is a major general in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, was joined by Liu Boming, 54, who will be flying to space for the second time, and rookie astronaut Tang Hongbo, 45.

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China to Launch Crew to First Permanent Space Station on Thursday

Shenzhou-12 crew members Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming. (Credit: CNSA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three astronauts will launch on Thursday morning local time aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft for a three-month long mission to China’s first permanent space station. It will be the longest human space mission in Chinese history, and the country’s first crewed fight in nearly five years.

Launch of the crew aboard a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center is scheduled for June 17 at 0122 UTC (June 16 at 9:22 p.m. EDT).

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Part 2 of 2

There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

Part 1 of 2

The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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Chinese Astronauts Return From Tiangong-2 Space Station

china_flagTwo Chinese astronauts returned to Earth safely on Friday after a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.

Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong were reported to be in good condition after their Shenzhou 11 spacecraft touched down in Inner Mongolia. Their mission, which lasted just over 32 days, was China’s longest human spaceflight.

The two astronauts carried out a series of experiments while on board the space station and tested technologies for use aboard a permanent, multi-module facility that China plans to begin launching around 2018. The station is set to be completed around 2022.

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