SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.
First in a series
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.
China’s Kauizhou 11 booster failed on its maiden flight on Friday, destroying two satellites and dealing a setback to the nation’s commercial launch industry.
The three-stage, solid-fuel rocket apparently failed during the latter stages of flight after lift off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Chinese media said an investigation is under way.
Destroyed in the launch failure were the Jilin-1 video satellite and the CentiSpace-1-S2 navigation spacecraft.
Operated by Expace, the booster is a larger version of the Kauizhou 1A launcher. Kauizhou 11 is designed to launch payloads weighing 1,000 kg into sun synchronous orbit.
Expace is a commercial spin-off from the stage-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.
China has launched 19 times this year, with 16 successes and three failures. In March, the Long March 7A booster was destroyed during its maiden flight. A Long March 3B failed in flight the following month.
China conducted its first launch of 2018 on Tuesday when a Long March 2D booster lofted a pair of SuperView imaging satellites into polar orbit for Beijing Space View Technology. The rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
“Success! We’re thrilled to announce the successful launch of SuperView-1 03&04 satellites at 11:26 this morning in Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center!” the company tweeted.
The launch doubled the number of high-resolution SuperView satellites the company has on orbit. It plans to sell imagery on the global market.
GBTimesreports China could launch more than 40 times in 2018, which would be a substantial increase over the 18 launches the nation conducted last year.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced at a conference on January 2 that its 2018 work model includes 35 launches, underlining the return to flight of the heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket, the Chang’e-4 lunar far side mission and launches of Beidou navigation satellites as the major activities.
In addition CASIC, a defence contractor, missile maker and sister company of CASC, will carry out a number of missions through its subsidiary EXPACE, including launching four Kuaizhou-1A rockets within one week and the maiden flight of the larger Kuaizhou-11.
Landspace Technology, a Beijing-based private aerospace company, is also expected to debut its LandSpace-1 solid propellant rocket this year.
Recently, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the use of surplus intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) to launch satellites. Orbital ATK would like to lift the ban on using them to launch commercial satellites, the U.S. Air Force would like to find a way to sell the engines, and an emerging commercial launch industry that doesn’t want what it considers government-subsidized competition.
Now, you’ve probably been wondering a few things. What does Orbital ATK do with these engines? What does it launch on them? And what launch vehicles are in operation or in development to compete with these boosters?
Those are all great questions. And now the answers.