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.
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.
WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (NASA PR) — A Minotaur IV rocket carrying a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is scheduled for launch July 15, 2020, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The launch vehicle, built and operated by Northrop Grumman, is scheduled for liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport’s (MARS) Pad 0B. The window opens at 9 a.m.
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months
SPEAR Probe – An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration Troy Howe Howe Industries LLC
Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) systems have the potential to provide a very effective transit mechanism to celestial bodies outside of the realm of solar power, yet the heavy power source and massive radiators required to justify a reactor core often push NEP spacecraft towards very large masses and major missions. If the total mass of an NEP system could be reduced to levels that were able to be launched on smaller vehicles, these devices could deliver scientific payloads to anywhere in the solar system.
By Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker 45th Space Wing Public Affairs
CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. — What does a rocket never before launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, unfavorable weather conditions and a launch pad with a dry spell of over 15 years have in common? A seven-man weather team from the 45th Space Wing, led by Mr. David Craft, launch weather officer and retired airman.
The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.
That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.
SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.
The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.
Video Caption: An Orbital ATK Minotaur IV rocket has successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s launch pad 46 at 06:04 UTC, August 26th 2017. This was the 6th launch and 1st from Cape Canaveral. The rocket carried the ORS-5 payload for the US Air Force.
DULLES, Va., 26 August 2017 (Orbital ATK PR)– Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, announced its Minotaur IV space launch vehicle successfully launched and placed into orbit the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) spacecraft on August 26, 2017.
The Minotaur IV launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46), which is operated under license by Space Florida. This mission marks the 26th consecutive successful launch for the company’s Minotaur product line.
DULLES, Va., 25 August 2017 (Orbital ATK PR)– Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today announced it is proceeding towards launch of the company’s Minotaur IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, tonight at approximately 11:15 p.m. EDT.
Live web coverage of tonight’s Minotaur launch will begin at 10:55 p.m. EDT and can be found at bit.ly/2x7o20P.
The Minotaur IV will carry the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space-5 (ORS-5) spacecraft, which will monitor satellites and space debris to aid the U.S. military’s space situational awareness.
Three launches are scheduled for the week ahead, including a pair in the United States and one in India.
Falcon 9 Formosat 5 remote sensing satellite Date: Thursday, Aug. 24 Time: 2:50-3:34 p.m. EDT; 11:50 a.m.-12:34 p.m. PDT (1850-1934 GMT) Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Minotaur IV ORS 5 Date: Friday, Aug. 25 Time: 11:14 p.m.-3:15 a.m. EDT (0314-0715 GMT on Aug. 26) Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
This marks the first flight of Orbital ATK’s Minotaur IV booster from Cape Canaveral. The payload, also known as SensorSat, is a military satellite that will scan for other spacecraft and orbital debris. ORS 5 was produced by the military’s Operationally Responsive Space program.
PSLV IRNSS 1H navigation satellite Date: Thursday, Aug. 31 Time: TBA Launch Site: Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota, India
CAPE CANAVERAL SPACEPORT (August 17, 2017) – On August 25, Orbital ATK is scheduled to launch its Minotaur 4 rocket from Space Florida’s Space Launch Complex (SLC) 46 at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport. The launch of the ORS 5 mission for the US Air Force (USAF), will be the first launch from the pad since 1999, as well as the first since Space Florida renovated the complex.
The Space Florida Board of Directors last week approved a plan to allow Orbital ATK to use Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) at Cape Canaveral for Minotaur launches. The board instructed staff members to complete negotiations and enter into a contract with the Virginia-based company.
The board’s approval clears the way for Orbital ATK to launch the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Operationally Responsive Space’s ORS-5 SensorSat spacecraft in mid-2017.
SensorSat will be launched aboard a Minotaur IV rocket under a $23.6 million contract.
“The risks associated with operating the site and launching the vehicle are born by [Orbital ATK],” according to the board’s meeting agenda. “The Company will pay a reimbursement fee to Space Florida for all fees and costs incurred by Space Florida associated with the use of the Premises.”
SLC-46 increases the locations where Minotaur rockets can be launched to four. Orbital ATK has launch facilities for the booster in Virginia, California and Alaska.
Space Florida is eyeing SLC-46 for other launches, including or a test of the Orion abort system in 2019.
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.