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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SPACovirus Sweeps Space Sector

Richard Branson celebrates the first Virgin Galactic trade on the New York Stock Exchange. (Credit Virgin Galactic)
Wall Street’s latest easy money craze has attracted a growing number of space companies. But, just because they can go public, should they?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Seven space companies have gotten caught up in the SPACovirus sweeping through Wall Street. The impact on the space industry is going to be interesting to watch.

A SPAC is a special purpose acquisition company. It’s a publicly traded investment firm that, with outside investors, acquires or merges with another company, and then takes the acquisition public under its own name.

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Video: Astra Rocket Flies to Space

Astra Space’s Rocket 3.2 reached space but came up just short of reaching orbit on Tuesday after launch from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.

Astra Rocket 3.2 Launch Window has Opened

Astra’s Rocket 3.2 on the launch pad. (Credit: John Kraus)

Update: Astra stood down on Friday due to weather.

Editor’s Note: Astra said it will begin tweeting 15 minutes prior to a launch attempt. Follow https://twitter.com/Astra for updates.

ROCKET 3.2 PRESS KIT

LAUNCH WINDOW

11 December – 18 December

DAILY LAUNCH OPPORTUNITY

10:00 am– 1:00 pm Kodiak Time
11:00 am – 2:00 pm Pacific Time
6:00 – 9:00 pm UTC

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Astra Rocket Falls Back to Earth, Explodes on Impact

Astra’s attempt to launch its Rocket 3.1 booster from Alaska came to grief on Friday as the first stage failed in flight, causing the booster to fall back to Earth where it exploded on impact.

“Successful lift off and fly out, but the flight ended during the first stage burn,” the company tweeted. “It does look like we got a good amount of nominal flight time. More updates to come!”

Dramatic video posted on Twitter showed the rocket lift off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The roar of the engine suddenly stopped, and the rocket fell to Earth.

“We are excited to have made a ton of progress on our first of three attempts on our path to orbit! We are incredibly proud of our team; we will review the data, make changes and launch Rocket 3.2, which is nearly complete,” Astra tweeted.

Rocket 3.1 after liftoff from Kodiak Island in Alaska. (Credit: Astra)

Astra, which is based in Alameda, Calif., is attempting to develop an inexpensive rocket capable of launching payloads weighing 25–150 kg (55–331 lb) to a 500 km (311 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit for the ultra-low price of $1 million per flight.