There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.
There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)
At least 10 launches are planned worldwide this month. The launches include crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station and the first commercial flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster. Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL will launch NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) from the Marshall Islands on June 14.
China got June off to a successful start on Saturday with the launch of the Gaofen-6 remote sensing satellite aboard a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
SpaceX is up next, with an early morning launch on Monday morning. A Falcon 9 is set to launch the SES 12 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The four-hour launch window opens at 12:29 a.m. EDT (0429 GMT). The company has no plans to recover the previously used first stage.
The current launch schedule is below. View updates here.
Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D Payload: Gaofen 6 remote sensing satellite Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China Outcome: Success
Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9 Payload: SES 12 communications satellite Launch Window: 12:29-1:27 a.m. EDT (0429-0527 GMT) Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida Webcast: www.spacex.com
There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.
China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.
Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.
Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.
The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.
Celestis will launch the ashes of 208 people into orbit aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket in June. The flight, which will be launched out of the Marshall Islands, will be the seventh and largest memorial flight undertaken by the Houston-based company. There is more information at the Space Frontier Foundation website.
SpaceX, based in El Segundo, Calif., is hoping that the third time is a charm for their low-cost rocket. Two previous Falcon 1 launch attempts have failed; the first exploded shortly after takeoff, while the second reached space but failed to put its payload into orbit.