China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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JAXA Returns Capsule With ISS Experiments Aboard

HTV Small Re-entry Capsule (Credit: JAXA)

JAXA has successfully recovered a capsule with experiments aboard from the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.

The HTV Small Re-entry Capsule (HSRC) splashed down in the ocean under a parachute near the island of Minamitorishima. The experimental capsule separated from the HTV-7 (Kounotori) resupply ship after the latter separated from ISS. Kounotori burned up in Earth’s atmosphere as planned.

Cross section image of HSRC (Credit: JAXA)

“Towards the goal to acquire Japan’s first cargo recovery capacity from the ISS, the Small Re-entry Capsule will be demonstrating its guided lift flight capabilities that will enable the capsule to descent under reduced G-forces, as well as its heat protection capability of the ablator while its re-entry into the atmosphere,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said in a press release. “We expect that these efforts will lead to securing flexibility in our future space flight activities.”

HRSC provides another way to return experiments from the space station. SpaceX’s Dragon resupply ship is currently the only dedicated cargo vehicle that can return research. Russia’s crewed Soyuz vehicle has limited space available for experiments when there are three astronauts aboard.

HTV-7 carried approximately 6.2 metric tons of cargo to the space station. Supplies included new ISS batteries using Japanese Lithium-Ion batteries, large experiment racks provided by NASA and ESA,  three CubeSats and fresh food.