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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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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Blue Origin Completes 4th New Shepard Flight with Passengers

New Shepard NS-20 spaceflight participants. Pictured from left to right: Gary Lai, Jim Kitchen, Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, and Dr. George Nield. (Credit: Blue Origin)

VAN HORN, Texas (Blue Origin PR) — Today, Blue Origin successfully completed its fourth human spaceflight and 20th overall flight for New Shepard. The astronaut manifest included: Marty Allen, Sharon Hagle, Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, Gary Lai, and Dr. George Nield. 

“Congratulations to our astronauts on today’s mission above the Kármán Line,” said Phil Joyce, Senior Vice President of New Shepard for Blue Origin. “We had the honor of safely flying this crew of six – each person with their own story of mentorship and passion for human spaceflight. We’re looking forward to many more flights this year, and we’re grateful to our astronaut customers for their trust in this amazing team.”  

Blue Origin is planning more crewed and payload flights throughout 2022 and beyond. If you are interested in flying on New Shepard, visit Blue Origin’s website.  

Customers can now purchase commemorative merchandise from today’s mission on the Blue Origin Shop

Former Top Federal Regulator to Fly on Unregulated Spaceship

Jeff Bezos pins Blue Origin astronaut wings on actor William Shatner. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The first three passenger flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard have been long on symbolism. On the first one, Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk, who in 1960 was one of 13 women who underwent the same medical checks as the Original Seven Mercury astronauts. NASA wasn’t accepting female pilots at the time, so Funk had to wait 51 years to reach space.

New Shepard’s second flight included starship Capt. James T. Kirk, or more precisely, the actor who played the “Star Trek” captain, William Shatner. The third flight had Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of America’s first astronaut to fly to space, who launched aboard a vehicle named after her father, Alan.

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Blue Origin Delays Suborbital Flight to March 31 Due to Weather

Blue Origin New Shepard NS-20 spaceflight participants. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin Launch Update

Due to forecasted high winds during launch and recovery operations on Tuesday, March 29, and Wednesday, March 30, the New Shepard Mission Operations team has made the decision to move the launch of NS-20 to Thursday, March 31.

The team has completed Flight Readiness Review and confirmed the vehicle has met all mission requirements for flight. Astronauts are completing their training, and weather remains the only gating factor.

Live launch coverage of NS-20 begins on BlueOrigin.com at 7:20 am CDT / 12:20 UTC. Follow Blue Origin on Twitter to stay up to date on all mission details.

New Shepard’s Chief Architect to Join Suborbital Flight Next Week

Gary Lai in front of a New Shepard capsule on April 14, 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Blue Origin today announced the sixth crew member joining New Shepard’s 20th mission will be Blue Origin’s Gary Lai, New Shepard Chief Architect. Gary joins the previously announced crew, which includes Marty Allen, husband and wife duo Sharon and Marc Hagle, Jim Kitchen, and Dr. George Nield.

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