- Parabolic Arc
- November 29, 2023
Two Companies Dominate Orbital Launches During Busy and Eventful Year
by Douglas Messier
Two companies on opposite sides of the globe have helped to put the world on a record pace for orbital launches this year. With 110 launches through Sept. 2, it’s virtually certain that the world’s launch providers will exceed the 146 launches conducted last year.
SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket 39 times through the end of August; a 40th launch is scheduled for this evening. Falcon 9 launches have amounted to almost 35.5 percent of the world’s 110 launch attempts, and 69.6 percent of the 56 launches by U.S. companies. The company might meet Elon Musk’s goal of 60 launches by the end of the year.
SpaceX’s nearest rival is the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which has launched a plethora of different Long March rocket variants 30 times this year. The company conducted all but five of China’s 35 launch attempts so far.
SpaceX and CASC combined for 69 launches — 62.7 percent of all launches worldwide. U.S. and Chinese companies have conducted 91 or 82.7 percent of the 110 launches this year.
Orbital Launches by Nation
Jan. 1 – Sept. 3, 2022
|Nation||Successes||Failures||Total||Percentage of Total Launches||Notes|
|United States||54||2||56||50.9||Includes Rocket Lab Electron launches from New Zealand; 2 Crew Dragon and 1 Cargo Dragon flights to ISS; CST-100 Starliner flight to ISS: final flight of Rocket 3.3 (failure)|
|China||34||1||35||31.8||Crew, cargo and module launches to space station; Reusable Experimental Spacecraft flight; successful maiden flights of Long March 6A and ZK-1A boosters;|
|Russia||12||0||12||10.9||Includes 1 Soyuz ST-B launch from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana conducted by Arianespace; 1 Soyuz crew and 2 Progress freighters to ISS; 1 successful maiden flight of Angara 1.2|
|India||2||1||3||2.7||2 Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Small Satellite Launch Vehicle maiden flight (failure)|
|Europe||2||0||2||1.8||Successful Vega-C maiden flight|
|Iran||1||0||1||0.9||Qased launch vehicle|
|South Korea||1||0||1||0.9||First successful launch of domestically produced orbital launch vehicle (Nuri)|
Russia is a distant third with only 12 launches. India, Europe, Iran and South Korea have combined for a mere seven launches with six successes and a single failure. Japan has not launched a single rocket yet.
U.S. and Chinese companies have conducted a number of notable launches, including:
- the first fully private mission to the International Space Station (ISS);
- Boeing CST-100 Starliner’s successful flight test to ISS;
- a new three-member crew to China’s Tiangong space station;
- a science module that doubled Tiangong’s size;
- a reusable Chinese spacecraft;
- two new Chinese rockets conducting maiden flights; and
- the first deep-space mission attempted by Rocket Lab.
Let’s take a closer look at U.S. and Chinese launches this year.
2022 (Through Sept. 3): 54-2
SpaceX is a perfect 39-0 this year. Five other U.S. companies have combined for a total of 17 launches with 15 successes and two failures.
U.S. Launches by Booster and Company
Jan. 1 – Sept. 3, 2022
|Falcon 9||SpaceX||39||0||39||Two Crew Dragons and one Cargo Dragon launched to ISS, 25 dedicated Starlink launches, 3 Transporter rideshare missions|
|Electron||Rocket Lab||6||0||6||All launches from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand; company’s first deep-space mission (CAPSTONE)|
|Atlas V||United Launch Alliance (ULA)||5||0||5||Boeing CST-100 Starliner Orbital Test Flight No. 2|
|Rocket 3.3||Astra Space||1||2||3||Final flight of Rocket 3.3|
|LauncherOne||Virgin Orbit||2||0||2||First night launch|
|Antares||Northrop Grumman||1||0||1||Cygnus NG-17 resupply mission to ISS|
Rocket Lab and United Launch Alliance conducted six and five launches, respectively. Astra Space had one successful launch in three attempts. Virgin Orbit launched two times and Northrop Grumman once.
SpaceX dedicated 25 of 39 launches to deploying 1,264 Starlink broadband satellites. Three Transporter rideshare missions deployed an additional 204 payloads into orbit. Musk’s company has orbited 1,492 payloads this year.
SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches
Jan. 1 – Sept. 3, 2022
|Mission||Description||Spacecraft Owner(s)||Number of Launches||Number of Spacecraft|
|Transporter-3, 4, 5||Rideshare missions||Various||3||204|
|Cargo Dragon||Space Station resupply (including 8 CubeSats)||SpaceX||1||9|
|Crew Dragon||Axiom Mission-1 and Crew-4 with 8 astronauts||SpaceX||2||2|
|Communications||Globalstar FM15, Nilesat-301, SES-22||Globalstar, Nilesat, SES||3||3|
|Reconnaissance||NROL-87, SARah-1||National Reconnaissance Office, German armed forces||2||2|
|Signal intelligence||Intruder 13A, Intruder 13B||National Reconnaissance Office||1||2|
|Earth observation||COSMO-SkyMed 2nd Generation||Italian Space Agency||1||1|
|Lunar orbiter||Danuri||Korea Aerospace Research Institute||1||1|
|Technology demonstration||Cargo Dragon secondary payloads for deployment from ISS||ERAU Daytona Beach, Happy Science University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technical University of Moldova, University of South Alabama||—||5|
|Unknown||Secondary payloads on Globalstar FM15 launch||U.S. Defense Department||—||4|
|Education||Cargo Dragon secondary payloads for deployment from ISS||Kyushu Institute of Technology, The Weiss School||—||2|
|Technology Demonstration – Education||Cargo Dragon secondary payload for deployment from ISS||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||—||1|
SpaceX launched two Crew Dragon missions with eight astronauts and one Cargo Dragon spacecraft to the space station.
SpaceX launched the first fully-private crewed flight to the space station on April 8. Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria commanded Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission with three paying customers: American Larry Connor, Canadian Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe. The three men reportedly paid $55 million apiece for the flight.
The Ax-1 astronauts conducted a series of experiments during their 17-day mission, which ended on April 25. SpaceX launched the Crew-4 mission for NASA two days later. American astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Robert Hines and Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Samantha Christoferetti arrived safely at the station for a six-month mission.
On July 15, SpaceX launched its first Cargo Dragon resupply mission of the year to the space station. The cargo ship had eight CubeSats aboard for later deployment from the station.
Eight other Falcon 9 flights were dedicated to launching three communications satellites, three spacecraft for the National Reconnaissance Office, a reconnaissance satellite for the German armed forces, an Earth observation satellite for the Italian Space Agency, and the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter for South Korea.
SpaceX launched 12 secondary payloads. Five spacecraft were devoted to technology development, two to education, and one to technology development and education. Four other payloads were military spacecraft whose purpose was not announced.
Other U.S. Launches
An Atlas V launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its second orbital flight test. The automated crew vehicle docked with the space station during a six-day flight before returning to land at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The successful mission paved the way for NASA astronauts to conduct a flight test to ISS next year.
Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission when an Electron rocket launched the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft in June. CAPSTONE will orbit the moon in a near rectilinear halo orbit that will be used by the human-tended lunar Gateway that NASA will launch later in this decade.
Rocket Lab also attempted to recover an Electron first stage for reuse in May. A helicopter briefly captured the booster as it descended under a parachute. The pilot quickly released the stage when its behavior posed a risk; it was later recovered from the ocean. CEO Peter Beck said that despite the failure, the test proved that Electron stages can be recovered in the future.
Northrup Grumman launched a Cygnus resupply ship to ISS using an Antares rocket whose first stage was built in Ukraine and powered by Russian rocket engines. Faced with a supply cutoff due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Northrop Grumman announced plans to team with Firefly Aerospace to develop an all-American first stage.
Northrop Grumman has Ukrainian stages and Russian engines for two more Cygnus launches. The company announced plans to launch cargo ships aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 boosters until the new Antares launch vehicle is ready for flight.
Virgin Orbit conducted two air launches over the Pacific Ocean that originated from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The second LauncherOne flight was the first one to take place at night. The company’s next launch will originate from Spaceport Cornwall in England later this month. It will be the first orbital launch to originate from the United Kingdom.
Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 failed twice in three launch attempts. The company announced it will abandon the booster in favor of the larger Rocket 4.0 and conduct no further launches in 2022.
2022 (Through Sept. 3): 34-1
China has been busy operating and expanding the Tiangong space station this year. The Shenzhou-13 crew of Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu ended a 6-month mission in April. They were the second group of taikonauts to occupy the new station. The three-member crew of Shenzhou-12 spent 92 days aboard the orbital facility.
The Tianzhou-4 resupply ship was launched to the station in May. On June 5, a Long March 2F booster launched Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe to the station aboard Shenzhou-14 for a scheduled six-month mission.
China doubled the size of the station with the launch of the Wentian module on July 24. The module includes equipment for scientific investigations, living space for additional crew members and an airlock for spacewalks. A second science module named Mengtian is scheduled for launch in October. The flight will complete initial assembly of Tiangong.
Jan. 1 – Sept. 3, 2022
|Long March 4C||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||7||0||7||7 satellites launched|
|Long March 2D||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||6||0||6||19 satellites launched|
|Long March 2C||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||5||0||5||23 satellites launched|
|Long March 3B||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||2||0||2||ChinaSat 6D and Tianlian II-03 geosynchronous communications satellites|
|Long March 2F||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||2||0||2||Shenzhou-14 crew of Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe launched to Tiangong space station; reusable experimental spacecraft|
|Kuaizhou-1A||ExPace (CASIC subsidiary)||2||0||2||2 technology demonstration, 1 space environment observation|
|Long March 11||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||3 satellites launched|
|Long March 11H||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||5 satellites launched from barge in South China Sea|
|Long March 4B||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||1 satellite launched|
|Long March 5B||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||Wentian module to China’s space station|
|Long March 6||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||16 satellites launched|
|Long March 6A||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||Maiden flight of Long March 6A variant with 2 satellites|
|Long March 7||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||Tianzhou 4 cargo vehicle to Tiangong space station that carried an unidentified smallsat|
|Long March 8||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1||0||1||Long March Express commercial rideshare launch with 22 payloads|
|Ceres-1||Galactic Energy||1||0||1||3 satellites launched; third success in three attempts|
|ZK-1A||CAS Space (Spinoff of Chinese Academy of Sciences)||1||0||1||Maiden launch with six small satellites|
|Hyperbola-1||i-Space||0||1||1||Jilin-1 Mofang-01A Earth observation satellite lost; third consecutive failure after maiden launch success|
China also launched its Reusable Experimental Spacecraft on Aug. 4. The satellite is reported to be very similar to the U.S. military’s X-37B vehicle, which is used for a variety of clandestine purposes.
The Long March 6A rocket made its maiden flight with two satellites aboard in March. The upgrade of the Long March 6 rocket features a first stage equipped with two YF-100 engines instead of one engine and four solid-rocket boosters to improve performance. The upgraded booster can place 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) into a 700 km (435 mile) high sun synchronous orbit (SSO). Long March 6 is limited to launching 1,080 kg (2,381 lb) to SSO.
Chinese Small Satellite Launchers
While CASC continued to dominate with 30 of the nation’s 35 launches, other companies made steady if somewhat uneven progress on developing new commercial small-satellite boosters.
CAS Space, a spinoff of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, conducted a successful maiden launch of its ZK-1A rocket on July 27. The new booster launched six satellites in Earth orbit. ZK-1A is a four-stage solid-fuel booster capable of lifting 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) to SSO or 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO).
ExPace, a fully owned subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), returned the Kuaizhou-1A rocket to flight in June after the booster’s previous flight in December 2021 failed. The company followed up that success with the launch of another Kuaizhou-1A rocket in late August.
Kuaizhou-1A’s capacity to SSO is 250 kg (551 lb) to a 500 km (331 mile) high orbit or 200 kg (441 lb) to a 700-km (435 mile) high orbit. The booster can also launch 300 kg (661 lb) to LEO.
ExPace announced in June that it had raised an additional $237 million to expand its launch operations. The company’s future boosters include the Kuaizhou-21 capable of launching 20,000 kg (44,092 lb) to LEO and the Kuaizhou-31 with a capacity of 70,000 kg (154,324 lb) to LEO.
Galactic Energy conducted the third straight successful launch of its Ceres-1 rocket on Aug. 9. The booster placed three Earth observation satellites into sun synchronous orbit. Ceres-1 is capable of placing about 350 kg (771 lb) into LEO.
Meanwhile, i-space suffered the third straight failure of its Hyperbola-1 launcher in April after a successful maiden flight in July 2019. A Jilin-1 Mofang-01A Earth observation satellite was lost in the failure. Hyperbola-1 can launch 300 kg (661 lb) into LEO.
Chinese Satellite Launches by Purpose
China has launched a total of 120 satellites this year. An extremely large number of them — 66, to be precise — have been identified as Earth observation spacecraft.
Chinese Satellites by Purpose
Jan. 1 – Sept. 3, 2022
|Earth observation||Chang Guang Satellite Technology (40), China Siwei (4), Ministry of Natural Resources (4), Mino Space & MinoSpace/ADA Space (4), Hainan Westar (2), Sanya Institute of Remote Sensing/Hainan Westar (2), ADA Space (1), ASES Space (1), Chinese Academy of Sciences (1), CASC (1), China National Space Administration (1), HEAD Aerospace Group (1), Shaanxi Silk Road Tiantu/Mino Space (1), Spacety (1), SpaceWish (1), Twenty First Century Space Technology (1)||66*|
|Communications||Galaxy Space (6), Chang Guang Satellite Technology (2), CNSA (1), China Satcom (1), DFH Satcom (1), Guodian Gaoke (1)||12|
|Reconnaissance||Chinese Academy of Sciences||10|
|Navigation & communications||Geesat||9|
|Technology demonstration||Chinese Academy of Sciences (4), Chang Guang Satellite Technology (1), CASIC (1)||6|
|Space Station||CMSA (2), Chang Guang Satellite Technology (1)||3|
|Atmospheric research||CASIC (2), Chinese Academy of Sciences (1)||3|
|Electromagnetic research||Chinese Academy of Sciences||2|
|STEM||SAST Space — education 1, science popularization 1||2|
|Environmental monitoring||Ministry of Ecology and Environment||1|
|Experimental space plane||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||1|
|Quantum key distribution||Hefei Institutes of Physical Science||1|
|Space environment monitoring||Chinese Academy of Sciences||1|
|TBA||Smart Satellite Technology Co.||1^|
*Includes satellite lost in launch failure
^ To be launched from Tiangong space station
Forty Earth observations were launched for the Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co., which was the first private Chinese remote sensing company. The company lost one of those satellites when the Hyperbola-1 launcher failed.
A dozen communications satellites were launched. Ten reconnaissance satellites were launched for the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The first nine Geesat navigation satellites were launched. Initial plans are for the deployment of a 72-satellite constellation to provide autonomous driving services through China and Asia. An additional 168 satellites would be added to the constellation to provide global service after 2025.
U.S. and Chinese Launches by Location
Florida remained the busiest launch location in the world with a combined 37 launch attempts from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Astra Space’s two failed launches were conducted from Cape Canaveral.
U.S. and Chinese Launches by Location
Jan. 1 – Sept. 3, 2022
|Launch Site||Country||Launch Vehicle(s)||Successes||Failures||Total|
|Cape Canaveral||United States||Falcon 9 (18), Atlas V (5), Rocket 3.3 (2)||23||2||25|
|Jiuquan||China||Long March 4C (6), Long March 2C (2), Long March 2F (2), Long March 11 (1), Ceres-1 (1), Kuaizhou-1A (1), Hyperbola-1 (1), ZK-1A (1)||14||1||15|
|Kennedy||United States||Falcon 9||12||0||12|
|Vandenberg||United States||Falcon 9||9||0||9|
|Taiyuan||China||Long March 2D (3), Long March 2C (1), Long March 4B (1), Long March 4C (1), Long March 6 (1), Long March 6A (1)||8||0||8|
|Xichang||China||Long March 2D (3), Long March 2C (2), Long Long March 3B (2), Kauizhou-1A (1)||8||0||8|
|Wenchang||China||Long March 5B, Long March 7, Long March 8||3||0||3|
|Mojave Air and Space Port||United States||LauncherOne/Boeing 747||2||0||2|
|Tai Rui Launch Platform, East China Sea||China||Long March 11H||1||0||1|
|Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport||United States||Antares||1||0||1|
|Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska||United States||Rocket 3.3||1||0||1|
California hosted 11 launches, including nine Falcon 9 flights from Vandenberg Space Force Base and two successful Virgin Orbit launches from Mojave.
Rocket Lab conducted six Electron launches from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia and the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska each hosted one launch during the first eight months of the year.
The Jiquan Satellite Launch Center hosted 15 launches of eight different types of launch vehicles. The Taiyuan and Xinchang spaceports were tied for second among Chinese spaceports with eight launches apiece. Wenchang three launches included sending the Wentian science module and Tianzhou 4 resupply ship to the space station. A Long March 11H rocket was launched from a platform in the East China Sea.