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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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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NASA to Purchase Additional Commercial Crew Missions

From left to right, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthais Maurer, NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft onboard the SpaceX Shannon recovery ship shortly after having landed in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tampa, Florida, Friday, May 6, 2022. Maurer, Marshburn, Chari, and Barron are returning after 177 days in space as part of Expeditions 66 and 67 aboard the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA intends to issue a sole source modification to SpaceX to acquire five additional crewed flights to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capabilities (CCtCap) contract. The additional crew flights will allow NASA to maintain an uninterrupted U.S. capability for human access to the space station with two unique commercial crew industry partners.

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China Rolls Out Long March-2F Rocket for Crew Launch to Space Station

The Long March-2F rocket that will launch the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft is rolled out to the launch pad. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

China has rolled out the Long March-2F rocket that it will use to send a new three-member crew of astronauts to the nation’s space station. The launch of the as-yet unidentified astronauts aboard Shenzhou-14 could take place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China as early as Sunday, June 5.

The crew will spend a busy six months in space during which time China will complete initial assembly of the station. The Wentian laboratory module will be launched in July to join the Tianhe core module. The Mengtian laboratory module is scheduled for launch in October.

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Axiom Space and Italian Government Sign Historic MOU to Expand Commercial Utilization of Space

The President and CEO of Axiom Space, Michael Suffredini (left), and Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation and Digital Transition, Vittorio Colao, (right) sign a MOU in Rome. The agreement furthers the Italian government’s and Axiom Space’s existing collaboration, including the potential for the development of space infrastructure integrated with the future Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station. (Image Credit: Axiom Space)

HOUSTON (Axiom Space PR) — Axiom Space, a leader in human spaceflight currently building the world’s first commercial space station, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Italian government to further their existing collaboration, including the potential for the development of space infrastructure integrated with the future Axiom Station. The agreement was signed by the President and CEO of Axiom Space, Michael Suffredini, and Italy’s Minister for Technological Innovation and Digital Transition, Vittorio Colao, on 19 May in Rome, Italy.

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Watch SpaceX Launch Next Crew to Space Station on Wednesday

Official portrait of Crew-4 astronauts Bob Hines, Samantha Cristoforetti, Jessica Watkins and Kjell Lindgren. (Credit: NASA-J.Valcarcel/ R.Markowitz/N.Moran)

SpaceX Mission Update

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — SpaceX and NASA are targeting no earlier than Wednesday, April 27 for Falcon 9’s launch of Crew-4, Dragon’s fourth science expedition mission to the International Space Station, from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch is targeted for 3:52 a.m. ET (7:52 UTC), with a backup opportunity available on Thursday, April 28.

This will be the first flight of the Dragon spacecraft supporting this mission and the fourth flight for Falcon 9’s first stage booster, which previously launched CRS-22, Crew-3, and Turksat 5B. Following stage separation, Falcon 9’s first stage will land on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

During their time at the orbiting laboratory, the Crew-4 astronauts will conduct over 200 science experiments in areas such as materials science, health technologies, and plant science to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth.

You can watch the live launch webcast starting about 4 hours before liftoff. 

Richard Branson Gets His Astronaut Wings, Aims to Eliminate Asterisk* Next Time

Unity 22 crew: Michael Masucci, Colin Bennett, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, David Mackay and Beth Moses at the 37th Space Symposium. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • Billionaire aims to go higher and faster next time
  • Virgin Galactic still can’t get SpaceShipTwo all the way up (to Karman line)
  • FAA throws in the towel on deciding who is and who isn’t an astronaut

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Earlier this month, Richard Branson and two Virgin Galactic employees received commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flight test they took part in last July. The trio was the last group to receive the wings — FAA ended the program last year — and the honors came with a pretty big asterisk.

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Coverage Set for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 Briefing, Events, Broadcast

Official portrait of Crew-4 astronauts Bob Hines, Samantha Cristoforetti, Jessica Watkins and Kjell Lindgren. (Credit: NASA-J.Valcarcel/ R.Markowitz/N.Moran)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the agency’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission sending astronauts to the International Space Station.

The launch is targeted for 5:26 a.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, dubbed by Crew-4 as Freedom, is scheduled to dock to the space station at 6 a.m. Sunday, April 24.

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Roscosmos Looks to Make Space Tourist Training Even Shorter

The three new residents aboard the station (front row, from left) are Russian actress Yulia Peresild, Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, and Russian Producer Klim Shipenko. In the back, are Expedition 65 crew members Shane Kimbrough, Oleg Novitskiy, Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, Pyotr Dubrov, Mark Vande Hei, and Akihiko Hoshide. (Credit: NASA TV)

TASS reports that it is theoretically possible to reduce the time it takes to train a non-professional astronaut (aka, space tourists or spaceflight participants) to fly to orbit aboard the Soyuz spacecraft to under the current four months. Paying customers used to spend months in training prior to a flight.

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Ax-1 Private Astronaut Mission Arrives at International Space Station

Space station crew welcomes the Ax-1 astronauts to the ISS. (Credit: Axiom Space)

HOUSTON (Axiom Space PR) — The historic Ax-1 crew has arrived at the International Space Station. Commander  Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Larry Connor, Mission Specialist Eytan Stibbe, and Mission Specialist Mark Pathy entered the space station shortly after the hatch opened at 10:13 a.m. EDT on Saturday, April 9.   

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Accenture Invests in Titan Space Technologies to Help Unlock the Next Frontier of Innovation through Space Experimentation

NEW YORK, Apr. 6, 2022 (Accenture PR) – Accenture (NYSE: ACN) has made a strategic investment, through Accenture Ventures, in Titan Space Technologies, an orbital compute platform that offers real-time monitoring and neural engine capabilities to accelerate the next generation of scientific technology innovations for enterprises, such as adaptive immune response, carbon capture and biomedical applications.

As part of Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission, Titan successfully deployed and ran its first suite of machine learning models on HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2 aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

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Ax-1 Mission Launches Successfully; 4 Private Astronauts En Route to Space Station

Ax-1 crew prior to launch. (Credit: SpaceX)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (Axiom Space PR) — Axiom Space’s Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), the world’s first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS), launched Friday. The four-person multi-national crew of Ax-1 is now in orbit following an 11:17 a.m. EDT liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  

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Both Launch Pads at NASA Kennedy Space Center Occupied

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Complex 39B as the Artemis I launch team prepares for the next attempt of the wet dress rehearsal test, right, as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft aboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), Wednesday, April 6, 2022, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Ax-1 mission is the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. Ax-1 crew members Commander Michael López-Alegría of Spain and the United States, Pilot Larry Connor of the United States, and Mission Specialists Eytan Stibbe of Israel, and Mark Pathy of Canada are scheduled to launch on April 8 from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)