Successful Falcon Heavy Launch Ends Busy & Failure Plagued Week

Falcon Heavy lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

SpaceX launched its giant Falcon Heavy rocket from Florida on Sunday night to cap off a busy but failure-plagued period that saw nine launch attempts in three nations over eight days.

Falcon Heavy launched the CBAS-2 military communications and LDPE-3A technology demonstration satellites to geosynchronous orbit from Space Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The two first stage side boosters landed back in Florida. The core booster was not recovered due to the weight of the payloads.

It was SpaceX’s second successful launch in the past week and third of the year. Elon Musk’s company launched 40 OneWeb satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Jan. 9. Six days earlier, a Falcon 9 launched 114 satellites on its Transporter-6 rideshare mission.

Orbital Launches
Jan. 8-15 2023

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – Organization(s)Purpose(s)Launch Site
Jan. 8Long March 7A – CASC*Shijian-23 – SAST**Tech demoWenchang
Jan. 9Ceres-1 – Galactic Energy5 satellites – multipleMultipleJiquan
Jan. 9LauncherOne – Virgin Orbit9 satellites – multipleMultipleCornwall
Jan. 9Falcon 9 – SpaceX40 OneWeb – OneWebCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Jan. 10RS1 – ABL SpaceVariSat 1A, 1B – OmniTeqCommunicationsPSC – Alaska
Jan. 12Long March 2C – CASC*APStar 6E – APT SatelliteCommunicationsXichang
Jan. 13Long March 2D – CASC*Yaogan 37 (CAS^), Shiyan 22A & 22B (SAST**)Reconnaissance, tech demoJiuquan
Jan. 15Long March 2D – CASC*14 Satellites – multipleEarth observation, tech demoTaiyuan
Jan. 15Falcon Heavy – SpaceXCBAS-2, LDPE-3A – U.S. Space ForceCommunications, tech demoKennedy
*China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
^Chinese Academy of Sciences
**Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology

Other U.S. launch providers were not as lucky last week. On Jan. 9, Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne booster failed when an anomaly caused its second stage to shut down prematurely. It was LauncherOne’s second failure in six launches and first after four straight successes. Nine satellites were lost in the accident.

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne attached during a dress rehearsal for a flight. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

It was the first orbital launch to originate from Western Europe. Virgin Orbit’s Boeing 747 carrier aircraft took off from Cornwall Newquay Airport in England, and dropped LauncherOne over the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of Ireland.

The UK’s Space Accident Investigation Authority and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration are overseeing Virgin Orbit’s investigation into the failure.

RS1 rocket in flight before all nine first stage engines failed. (Credit: ABL Space Systems)

The maiden launch of ABL Space Systems’ RS1 booster failed 24 hours after LauncherOne’s ill-fated flight. ABL said that all nine first-stage engines failed simultaneously shortly after liftoff from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA). The rocket fell back on the launch pad and exploded, resulting in significant damage to the facility.

Chinese Launches

China’s five launches included four flights of Long March rockets and a single one of Galactic Energy’s Ceres-1.

Earth observation satellites made up 13 of the 24 spacecraft launched by China last week. The other satellites by function included: five technology demonstration, two meteorology, and one each for communications, reconnaissance, education and the Internet of Things.

Electron on the launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. (Credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Upcoming Launches

The table below shows upcoming launched for which there are dates currently set. There will undoubtedly be more flights added as we enter the second half of January.

Upcoming Launches
January 2023

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
Jan. 18Falcon 9 – SpaceXGPS III-06 Amelia Earhart – U.S. Space ForceNavigationCape Canaveral
Jan. 18Falcon 9 – SpaceX51 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsVandenberg
Jan. 23Electron – Rocket LabHawk 6A, 6B, 6C – HawkEye 360Signal collectionMid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport
Jan. 25H-IIAIGS-Radar 7 – CSICE*ReconnaissanceTanegashima
*Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office

Electron’s launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia will be the first Rocket Lab mission conducted from the United States. The company has performed all previous launches from its spaceport on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

Falcon 9 Transporter-6 launch on Jan. 3, 2023. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

Orbital Launches to Date

The United States and China are tied with five launch attempts apiece through the first 15 days of the year. All five Chinese launches succeeded, while SpaceX is responsible for three successful missions by American companies.

Orbital Launches by Nation
Through Jan. 15, 2023

NationSuccessesFailuresPartial FailuresTotalPercentSatellites
United States320550135

SpaceX is far ahead of China in terms of satellites launched with 135 on the strength of the Transporter-6 and OneWeb missions.

The LauncherOne and RS1 failures destroy nine and two satellites, respectively.

Launches by Spaceport

Florida has hosted a combined three launches from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.

Launches by Spaceport
Through Jan. 15, 2023

Cape CanaveralUSA20
Pacific Spaceport Complex – AlaskaUSA01

China split its five launches among its four land-based spaceports. China has also launched a number of rockets from floating platforms in the East China and Yellow seas.

Cornwall and PSCA are each 0-1 in launches this year.