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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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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Chinese Astronauts Return to Earth After Six Months in Space

Shenzhou-13 lands in the Gobi Desert. (Credit: CASC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth in their Shenzhou-13 spacecraft on Saturday after spending six months aboard the nation’s first permanent space station.

Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu and Wang Yaping landed in the Gobi Desert after 182 days in space. It was the longest Chinese crewed mission to date, nearly doubling the three months the crew of Shezhou-12 spent aboard the space station launched last April.

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Tianzhou-2 Cargo Ship Departs China’s Tiangong Space Station

The Tianzhou-2 cargo ship departed the Tianhe core module of China’s space station on Sunday after 10 months in space, the Xinhua news agency reported. Controllers plan to send the vehicle to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere at an unspecified time.

Tianzhou-2 was launched with 6.6 metric tons of supplies and fuel from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on May 29, 2021. The vehicle was the first cargo ship sent to China’s first permanent space station.

Tianzhou-2 carried 6,640 kg (14,639 lb) of cargo to the station, including 4,690 kg (10,340 lb) of pressurized cargo and 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) of fuel. The module measures 10.6 m x 3.35 m (34.8 ft x 11 ft) and has two solar panels.

Tianzhou-2 was originally docked to Tiangong’s aft docking port. Last September, the vehicle was moved to the forward docking port after the station’s first crew returned to Earth aboard the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft. In January, the crew of Shenzhou 13 crew tested Tiangong’s robotic by moving Tianzhou-2 to and from a radial docking port.

The Tianzhou-3 cargo ship remains docked to the space station. The Shenzhou-13 crew — Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, Ye Guangfu — are set to return to Earth next month after approximately six months in space. The launches of the Tianzhou-4 cargo ship and Shenzhou-14 crew ship are scheduled for May.