Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

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.

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A Look Back at Space Tourism Version 1.0 as New Gaggle of Millionauts Prepares to Fly

The first space tourist, Dennis Tito, poses with Soyuz TM-32 crew mates Talgat Musabayev, and Yuri Baturin in 2001. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For eight years, they thundered aloft in cramped Russian spacecraft from a former Soviet spaceport in Kazakhstan, battling bureaucracy and gravity to blaze a trail across the heavens and redefine what it meant to be a space traveler. No longer would access to orbit be limited to highly trained astronauts chosen on merit and working on behalf of their nations; instead, space would be open to any sufficiently healthy people with enough money and moxie to qualify.

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Crew-1 Set to Return to Earth on Sunday

NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, left, Victor Glover, second from left, Mike Hopkins, second from right, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi, right, are introduced by Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana after arriving at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center ahead of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Florida. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission with NASA  astronauts Michael HopkinsVictor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is now targeting a return to Earth no earlier than about 2:57 a.m. EDT Sunday, May 2, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, is scheduled to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. Saturday, May 1, to begin the journey home.

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NASA TV to Air First US Commercial Crew Port Relocation on Space Station

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts aboard the International Space Station will mark another first for commercial spaceflight Monday, April 5, when the four astronauts will relocate the Crew Dragon spacecraft to prepare for the arrival of new crew members in late April and the upcoming delivery of new solar arrays this summer.

Live coverage will begin at 6 a.m. EDT on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

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The Year of the Four Spaceships: Final Report

Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Back in February, I went out on a limb and predicted that 2020 could be the Year of the Four Spaceships, with SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic and reaching major milestones in human spaceflight. (See 2020: Four Spaceships & the End of America’s Cosmic Groundhog Day)

With the disruption and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it wasn’t the easiest year to get things done. Keeping that in mind, let’s see how the companies did in 2020. (Spoiler Alert: they came up a little short.)

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Crew-1 Launch Targeted for Mid-November, Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Remains on Schedule

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members are seen seated in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during crew equipment interface training. From left to right are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, mission specialist; Victor Glover, pilot; and Mike Hopkins, Crew Dragon commander; and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist. (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Kathy Lueders gave a Twitter update on the progress SpaceX is making in dealing with an anomaly during a recent launch. Her tweets are below.

We are making a lot of good progress with @SpaceX on engine testing to better understand the unexpected behavior observed during a recent non-NASA launch.

It’s too early to report findings at this point, as @SpaceX continues testing to validate what’s believed to be the most credible cause.

Based on our current analysis, @SpaceX is replacing one Merlin engine on the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich launch vehicle and one engine for Crew-1 rocket that displayed similar early-start behavior during testing.

We are still targeting the Sentinel-6 launch for Nov. 10 from Vandenberg Air Force Base as we expect to complete forward work in time.

We are also still working towards a mid-November launch for Crew-1. We will want a few days between Sentinel-6 and Crew-1 to complete data reviews and check performance. Most importantly, we will fly all our missions when we are ready.

Crew-1 mission will be the first commercial flight of the Crew Dragon vehicle to the International Space Station.

Crew-1 Launch Postponed Due to Falcon 9 Launch Anomaly

SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Soichi Noguchi. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station is now targeted for no sooner than early-to-mid November, providing additional time for SpaceX to complete hardware testing and data reviews as the company evaluates off-nominal behavior of Falcon 9 first stage engine gas generators observed during a recent non-NASA mission launch attempt. Through the agency’s Commercial Crew and Launch Services Programs partnership with SpaceX, NASA has full insight into the company’s launch and testing data.

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SpaceX to Launch Crew-1 Mission on Halloween

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 crew members are seen seated in the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft during crew equipment interface training. From left to right are NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, mission specialist; Victor Glover, pilot; and Mike Hopkins, Crew Dragon commander; and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, mission specialist. (Credit: SpaceX)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 2:40 a.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 31, for the launch of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission with astronauts to the International Space Station.

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NASA to Provide Live Coverage of SpaceX Crew Dragon In-flight Abort Test

Crew Dragon abort static test (Credit: NASA)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA will provide coverage of the upcoming prelaunch and launch activities for the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch escape demonstration, as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which is working with U.S. companies to launch American astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil.

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NASA Announces Astronaut Assignments for First Four Commercial Crew Flights

From: Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley (Credit; NASA)

SpaceX Crew Dragon Flight Test

Targeted to launch in April 2019 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The crew:

Bob Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri. He has a doctorate in engineering, is a flight test engineer, and Colonel in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000, and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice – for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks, for a total of more than 37 hours.

Doug Hurley calls Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He was a test pilot in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. He achieved the rank of Colonel in the Marine Corps and piloted space shuttle Endeavor for STS-127, and Atlantis for STS-135 – the final space shuttle mission.

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