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.
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.
Four astronauts returned to Earth early Sunday morning on a SpaceX Crew Dragon after a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), completing the first
The Resilience spacecraft carried NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to a splashdown off the coast of Panama City, Florida at 2:56 a.m. EDT.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission with NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor 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.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, is scheduled to undock from the space station to begin the journey home at 7:05 a.m. EDT Wednesday, April 28. NASA and SpaceX are targeting 12:40 p.m. for the splashdown and conclusion of the Crew-1 mission. The return to Earth – and activities leading up to the return – will air live on NASA Television, the NASA App, and the agency’s website.
Crew-1 is the first of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which worked with the U.S. aerospace industry to return launches with astronauts on American rockets and spacecraft from American soil.
In advance of departure from the space station, Crew-1 astronaut and station Commander Shannon Walker of NASA will hand over command of the station to JAXA astronaut and Crew-2 member Akihiko Hoshide during a change of command and farewell event.
The Crew Dragon will autonomously undock, depart the space station, and splash down at one of seven targeted landing zones in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida. Resilience also will return to Earth important and time-sensitive research. For normal crew rescue and recovery operations, the NASA and SpaceX teams select two primary splashdown locations from the seven possible locations about two weeks prior to return, with additional decision milestones taking place prior to crew boarding the spacecraft, during free flight, and before Crew Dragon performs a deorbit burn.
NASA and SpaceX closely coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard to establish a 10-nautical-mile safety zone around the expected splashdown location to ensure safety for the public and for those involved in the recovery operations, as well as the crew aboard the returning spacecraft.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 return coverage is as follows (all times are Eastern):
1:25 p.m. – Change of Command and Crew-1 farewell remarks aboard the International Space Station
Wednesday, April 28
4:45 a.m. – NASA TV coverage begins for 5 a.m. hatch closure
6:45 a.m. – NASA TV coverage begins for the 7:05 a.m. undocking
12:40 p.m. – Splashdown (NASA TV will provide continuous coverage from undocking to splashdown)
2:30 p.m. – Return to Earth news conference at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, with the following participants:
Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, Kennedy Space Center
Kenny Todd, deputy manager, International Space Station, Johnson
Hans Koenigsmann, Senior Advisor, Flight Reliability, SpaceX
Hiroshi Sasaki, vice president and director general, JAXA’s Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate
Media wishing to participate in the Return to Earth news conference by telephone must call Johnson’s newsroom at 281-483-5111 to RSVP no later than 12 p.m. Wednesday, April 28. Those following the briefing on social media may ask questions using #AskNASA.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has delivered on its goal of safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station from the United States through a partnership with American private industry. This partnership is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities. The space station remains the springboard to NASA’s next great leap in space exploration, including future missions to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, along with Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, returned to Earth on Saturday, following six months living and working aboard the International Space Station.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — Three space travelers, including NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, are poised to launch Friday, April 9, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station. NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app will provide comprehensive prelaunch and launch-to-docking coverage.
Crew Dragon autonomously undocked from the forward port of the station’s Harmony module at 6:30 a.m. and relocated to the space-facing port at 7:08 a.m.
This is the start of a process that will enable extraction of new solar arrays from the SpaceX CRS-22 cargo mission’s trunk when it arrives to dock at the Node 2 zenith port following Crew-1 departure.
Following a short handover, Crew-1 NASA astronauts Hopkins, Glover and Walker, along with JAXA astronaut Noguchi, plan to return home off the coast of Florida about five days after the Crew-2 arrival to the space station as long as mission priorities and weather cooperate.
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.
MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — Russian ISS-64 long-term expedition crewmembers have completed the repair works in the Zvezda service module of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.
According to RSC Energia press service, “the International Space Station crew has completed the repair works of the Zvezda module hull. In the coming days Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov will close the Zvezda module hatches to perform pressure level checks.”
All the works are conducted under the supervision of the ISS Russian Segment Chief Operation Control Group and RSC Energia specialists.
Currently, the 64th long-term expedition crew is working on board the International Space Station. The crew consists of Roscosmos cosmonauts Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov, as well as NASA astronauts Kathleen Rubins, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., February 9, 2021 (CASIS PR) – Astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) are currently supporting two investigations sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory that are focused on microbial research. The space station’s unique microgravity environment allows investigators to conduct fundamental research not possible on Earth that may yield valuable insights in the life sciences, ultimately leading to applications to benefit humans on Earth.
HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA and SpaceX are targeting no earlier than Tuesday, April 20, for launch of the second crew rotation mission with astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft from the United States to the International Space Station.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission will launch four astronauts aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket to the space station. It will be the first mission to fly two international partner crew members as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.