A brief qualitative and quantitative analysis of what the year 2022 has meant for the race between the great powers for the dominance of places in outer space United States as the winner and renews its position as the undisputed leader.
In the unbridled competition between the government agencies of the world’s most powerful nations to lead the exploration of the cosmos, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, has confirmed its absolute hegemony over those who seek to eclipse it.
As the facts and figures of the year that has just ended show, the President Xi Jinping it is still a long way from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) being able to emulate the milestones recently achieved by NASA, president Vladimir Putin it is unable to keep up with the White House, and old Europe, as well as India and Japan, are at an impassable distance.
NASA took its first effective step on November 16, the Artemis I mission, to return astronauts to the moon, an ambition that is still too far from Beijing.. But Xi Jinping knows this, he is patient, and he has chosen an alternative approach. In just a year and a half he has managed to build his first manned orbital complex alone, Tiangong – the Heavenly Palace in Mandarin language – where two crews of three astronauts, one after the other, have already stayed for three months.
In the growing sphere of large private commercial enterprises, it is safe to say that businessman Elon Musk is the champion of the global space industry. The billionaire with three nationalities – South African, Canadian and American – is by his own merits and his company SpaceX the undisputed main player in world space transport in 2022.
Elon Musk is once again the champion of the space industry
Throughout 2022, SpaceX has launched 34 Falcon 9 rockets, which have deployed no fewer than 1,722 small platforms in the Starlink constellation into orbit -a project also led by Musk- that provides Internet and broadband connectivity throughout the planet.. But in all, it has launched no fewer than 60 Falcon 9s in response to various contracts with NASA, the Space Force, federal institutions, and private companies.
Owner of Twitter since the end of October, Musk had the satisfaction of inaugurating the releases of the year just ended on January 6. It was with its recoverable star vector, Falcon 9, that with a flight from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it put the first batch of Starlink satellites into orbit in 2022 at an altitude of 540 kilometers.
The tycoon also wanted to be the architect of the last takeoff of the year. He did so on December 30, this time from the Vandenberg base in California. Another Falcon 9 rocket placed Eros C3, Israel’s very high-resolution electro-optical spy satellite, at an altitude of 500 kilometers. Weighing in at around 400 kilograms, its maker, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), says it will also provide images “for commercial purposes.”
The number of launches into outer space is increasing every year.. In 2022 there were 186, which is 28.3 and 28.3% more than in 2021 (145), which is a very high rate: one launch every two days. The vast majority of these were to position satellites and only seven missions – three American, two Russian and seven Chinese – to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) or to the new Chinese orbital complex. And of the unmanned vectors, 9 were unsuccessful.
The contribution of Elon Musk and his Falcon 9 rocket has been decisive for the United States. The 2022 place of honor in world space transport is no longer held by Xi Jinping, who has achieved 64 takeoffs, but by Joe Biden, who with 87 -nine of them from New Zealand- has regained the leadership he lost to China in 2021. The combined power of Washington and Beijing is overwhelming. Between them, the two countries have made 151 orbital launches, which represents 81.2% of the annual total.
The facts and figures for 2022
The vast majority of US launches (57) have been from NASA civilian or Space Force military facilities in Florida.. Only 16 have come from the California base at Vandenberg on the west coast. In China, almost half of the flights (25) have left Jiuquan, one of its six space centers.
Moscow remains stuck in third place, well behind Washington and Beijing. The negative impact of the war in Ukraine on its production lines has been reflected in a decline in its extraterrestrial missions. Russia has distributed its launches among its three cosmodromes: Plesetsk (13), Baikonur (7) and Vostochny (2), the latter in Siberia.
Fortunately, tensions between Washington and Moscow have not affected joint missions to and from the ISS. Western astronauts and Russian cosmonauts continue to travel in each other’s capsules. Where the warfare has transcended is in the cooperation of the Russian Space Agency -Roscosmos- with the European Space Agency (ESA).
The breakdown of good relations between the two agencies has led the new director general of Roscosmos, Yuri Borisov, to ground the Euro-Russian ExoMars 2022 mission.. Her main cargo, the Rosalind Franklin rover, is waiting for a new companion to travel to the Red Planet. Europe ranks fourth, but with only five takeoffs from French Guiana, one less than in 2021: three from Ariane 5 and two from the smaller Vega-C, the second of which has been a fiasco, leaving ESA without space transportation and forcing it to contract future launches to third parties.
India is on a par with Europe in fifth place among space-capable nations. Its three delivery vehicle models have made five launches, one of which failed. Japan with their Epsilon vector and South Korea with their new KSLV-II Nuri have been successful in their only releases. Iran has also tried with its Qased rocket, but it failed.
The year just ended has seen NASA become the only space agency to have a new super-heavy launcher, SLS, and a space capsule, Orion, operational that can carry out manned lunar missions and place up to one hundred tons of payload. in low orbit. . But both SLS and Orion have yet to prove their reliability in safely transporting and returning humans to Earth. which will not be achieved until 2024.