SpaceX Rockets U.S. Launches to New Heights in 2022

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on June 17, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Powered by 33 flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, the United States leads all nations with 48 launch attempts through the first seven months of the year. The total is three short of the number of U.S. launches attempted last year, and far ahead of the 27 launches conducted by second place China through the end of July. The U.S. has conducted more launches than the 43 flights conducted by the rest of the world combined.

A number of notable flights were conducted. SpaceX launched two Crew Dragons to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first fully privately funded mission to the orbiting laboratory. United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starship crew vehicle on an automated flight test to ISS, a crucial step before astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission by sending a spacecraft the size of a microwave to the moon.

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NASA-Supported Advanced Laser Communications CubeSat Readies for Launch

Jackson Barcheck, lead technician with Blue Canyon Technologies (far left), and Jake Cornish, senior mission manager at Nanoracks (middle left), insert the 3U CLICK A CubeSat into its dispenser in April 2022. Nanoracks engineers, Aniello Zabatta (middle right) and Adriana Aiello (far right), observe at the Nanoracks facility in Houston. (Credits: NASA / Robert Markowitz)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — A small CubeSat carrying laser communications technology is readying for launch. Engineers are preparing the NASA-supported CLICK A CubeSat for launch no earlier than July 14, 2022, aboard SpaceX’s 25th Commercial Resupply Service (CRS-25) mission to the International Space Station as part of the next ELaNa (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites) mission.

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Astra Space Rocket Launch Fails Again, Two NASA TROPICS Satellites Lost

Rocket 3.3’s second stage Aether engine flashes as it fails during a launch on June 12, 2022. (Credit: Astra Space/Nasaspaceflight webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The second stage of an Astra Space Rocket 3.3 rocket failed less than a minute before planned shutdown on Sunday, sending two NASA TROPICS mission satellites plunging into the atmosphere instead of entering orbit.

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NASA to Launch 6 Small Satellites to Monitor, Study Tropical Cyclones

An image of Tropical Cyclone Batsirai over Madagascar captured by the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite in February of 2022. (Credit: NASA)

Update: The launch aboard an Astra Space Rocket 3.3 booster failed after the vehicle’s second stage shut down prematurely on Sunday. NASA said in an update that the TROPICS constellation can still improve the monitoring of tropical cyclones with four satellites. Astra Space has the contract to launch the four additional TROPICS spacecraft on two launches.

By Sofie Bates
NASA’s Earth Science News Team

NASA is launching the first two of six small satellites no earlier than June 12 that will study the formation and development of tropical cyclones almost every hour – about four to six times more often than is possible with current satellites. This is the first of three CubeSat launches for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. The remaining satellites will be placed into their orbits during two subsequent launches this year. If successful, the TROPICS satellites will be spread across three orbital planes to cover more of the globe more frequently.

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Video: Scott Manley Analyzes Astra Space’s Rocket 3 Launch Failure

Video Caption: Astra’s first commercial launch ELaNa 41 was also their first from Florida, unfortunately after a successful first stage flight the second stage was trapped by a payload fairing which wouldn’t open.

Let’s look at the footage and see if we can figure out what happened.

Astra Space Seeks to Launch First Satellites Today

Launch Date Set for NASA CubeSat Mission Aboard Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s first mission under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demonstration 2 contract is scheduled to launch four CubeSats to space no earlier than Feb. 5, 2022. The CubeSats, which make up the agency’s 41st Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, will be the first VCLS launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Astra Space Inc’s first operational satellite launch aboard its Rocket 3.3.

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Launch Date Set for NASA CubeSat Mission Aboard Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3

Rocket 3 lifts off from Kodiak Island. (Credit: Astra Space webcast)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA’s first mission under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demonstration 2 contract is scheduled to launch four CubeSats to space no earlier than Feb. 5, 2022. The CubeSats, which make up the agency’s 41st Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission, will be the first VCLS launch from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Astra Space Inc’s first operational satellite launch aboard its Rocket 3.3.

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Astra Space Conducts Static Fire for Upcoming Launch From Cape Canaveral

ELaNa 41 Mission
NASA Fact Sheet

NASA is preparing to launch four small research satellites, known as CubeSats, that were developed by three universities and NASA’s John­son Space Center. The CubeSats, selected through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative  (CSLI), are fly­ing on the Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa 41) mission. The launch of ELaNa 41 will be Astra Space Inc’s first operational satellite launch. The company is targeting January 2022 for liftoff of its Rocket 3.3 from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

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Virgin Orbit Delays Next Launch Until After Merger Vote

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit has delayed its next satellite launch, originally set for Wednesday, Dec. 22, to next month. The launch will come after shareholders of NextGen Acquisition Corp. II vote on Dec. 28 on whether to merge with Richard Branson’s launch services provider.

The merger with the special purpose acquisition company would allow Virgin Orbit to go public on Nasdaq under its own name. The deal will provide $483 million in capital to allow the company to grow.

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Virgin Orbit Set to Launch on Dec. 22

LauncherOne operated in powered flight for only seconds before an anomaly shut it down after being dropped from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747. (Credit; Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Orbit is planning to launch five satellites using its LauncherOne rocket on Dec. 22, according to a U.S. Coast Guard Notice to Mariners.

LauncherOne will be dropped by the Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl over the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The launch window will last from 2-5 p.m. PST, the notice said. Backup launch dates are Dec. 23 and January 8-10 from 2:15-5 p.m.

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Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Jetliner Prepares for Satellite Launch

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 flight. (Credit: Flight Aware)

Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 Cosmic Girl rehearsed an upcoming satellite launch over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday evening. The 3 hour plus flight originating and ending at the Mojave Air and Space Port involved flying what is called the race track near the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.

Last month, Cosmic Girl was practicing nighttime touch-and-goes on Runway 12-30 at the spaceport. That indicates Virgin Orbit is gearing up for the first night launch of its LauncherOne satellite booster.

LauncherOne will launch the STP-27VPB mission for the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). The rocket will also launch the PAN A and PAN B spacecraft, which are part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program.

The flight will be called Tubular Bells, Part 2 after a popular instrumental song of that name produced by Virgin Records. Tubular Bells, Part 1 was the name of the LauncherOne flight that orbited the STP-27VPA mission in June 2021.

Virgin Orbit successfully launched 10 microsatellites for NASA’s ELaNa program in January. It was the first successful flight of LauncherOne, which failed on its maiden launch in June 2020.

NASA Announces 12th Round of Candidates for CubeSat Space Missions

ELaNa 31 CubeSats, SPOC and Bobcat-1, deploy from the International Space Station on Nov. 5, 2020. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 14 small research satellites from nine states – including a first-time selected state, Nebraska – to fly as auxiliary payloads aboard rockets launching between 2022 and 2025. The selected CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and NASA centers in response to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) call for proposals issued in October 2020.

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Quarterly Launch Report: US in the Lead Thanks to SpaceX

A Falcon 9 lifts off with 60 Starlink satellites on March 11, 2021. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 27 orbital launch attempts with 26 successes and one failure during the first quarter of 2021. The United States accounted for nearly half the total with 13 launches behind nine flights by SpaceX.

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