First Quarter 2018 Launch Report: China & USA Battle for Lead

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.

China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.

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Japanese H-IIA Rocket Launches Two Satellites

H-IIA launch on Dec. 23, 2017. (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO (JAX PR) — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA successfully launched H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 37 (H-IIA F37) (with upgraded function) which encapsulates the Global Changing Observation Mission – Climate “SHIKISAI” (GCOM-C) and the Super Low Altitude Test Satellite “TSUBAME” (SLATS) at 10:26:22, 2017 (JST) from the JAXA Tanegashima Space Center.

The launch and flight of H-IIA F37 proceeded as planned. So did the separation of SHIKISAI and TSUBAME, which was confirmed respectively at approximately 16 minutes and 13 seconds and 1 hour and 47 minutes 59 seconds after liftoff.

The reception of telemetry data at the JAXA Mingenew Station, Australia was made at 10:44 a.m. (JST), confirming SHIKISAI’s solar array deployment above Australia. After that, at 11:18 a.m. (JST), the satellite’s attitude control based on its earth sensors was confirmed by telemetry transmitted to the JAXA Santiago Station.

Approximately at 12:54 p.m. (Japan Standard Time, JST), the JAXA Santiago Ground Station, Chile received the signals from TSUBAME (SLATS; Super Low Altitude Satellite). The signal reception confirms that the satellite’s solar array deployment and attitude control based on the onboard sun sensors have occurred as scheduled.

Inmarsat Selects H-IIA to Launch First Inmarsat-6 Satellite

H-IIA launch (Credit: JAXA)

LONDON, 12 September 2017 (Inmarsat PR) — Inmarsat has selected Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as the launch provider for the first satellite in the Inmarsat-6 fleet.

The satellite, Inmarsat-6 F1, is under construction by Airbus Defence and Space. It is scheduled for launch in 2020 using MHI’s H-IIA launch vehicle.

Inmarsat’s sixth generation (I-6) fleet will be the first to feature dual-payload satellites, each supporting L-band and Ka-band services. The I-6 satellites will represent a step change in the capacity of Inmarsat’s L-band services, supporting a new generation of capabilities – from advanced global safety services and very low cost mobile services to Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
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JAXA Begins Tests of H-III Engines

H-III launch vehicle variants (Credit: JAXA)

The Nikkei Asian Review reports JAXA began test firings of the LE-9 rocket engine, which will power its new H-III launch vehicle. The first round of testing will include 11 firings through June.

The new booster is set to replace the H-IIA and H-IIB launchers, which are the mainstay of Japan’s orbital rocket fleet. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and IHI are leading the development of the new two-stage launch vehicle.

H-III is designed to launch payloads at lower costs. The basic configuration can carry 4 metric tons into sun synchronous orbit.  By adding two to four strap-on boosters to the first stage, H-III will be able to lift up to 6.5 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit.

The new booster will have a base cost of about 5 billion yen ($43.9 million). The H-IIA costs an estimated 10 billion yen ($87.8), with the more powerful H-IIB costing 10 billion yen ($131.5 million).

JAXA’s goal is for the H-III to complete flight tests and enter service in March 2021.

Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

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The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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UAE Mars Probe to be Launched on Japanese Rocket

H-IIA launch (Credit: JAXA)
H-IIA launch (Credit: JAXA)

TOKYO & DUBAI, UAE (MHI/MBRSC PR)–Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (TOKYO:7011) (MHI) has received an order for H-IIA launch services from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for launch of the Emirates Mars Mission’s (EMM) Hope spacecraft.

In order to better understand the Martian atmosphere and climate, Hope is expected to be launched in the summer of 2020 on MHI’s H-IIA launch vehicle, and is set to arrive at Mars in 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. This order for the EMM marks MHI’s fourth overseas contract for its launch services.

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Russia Led in Launch Successes and Failures in 2015

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

Russia continued its dominance of the global satellite launch industry in 2015, conducting 29 of 86 orbital launches over the past 12 months. It also maintained its lead in botched launches, suffering two failures and one partial failure.

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