Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

Launch Roundup – A Bad Week for SmallSat Launchers

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 26, 2023
Filed under , , ,
Launch Roundup – A Bad Week for SmallSat Launchers
Electron launches Capella Space’s Acadia-1 satellite on August 24, 2023.
Image credit: Rocket Lab.

Welcome to the Launch Roundup! Last week was a bad one for small satellite launchers with multiple failures, NASA is gearing up to launch another asteroid mission, and Virgin Galactic is preparing to send three more people on a suborbital joy ride.

Recent launches

Galactic Energy’s Ceres-1 suffered its first failure in 10 launches on September 21. The failure lowered the solid-fuel booster’s reliability to 90 percent. Galactic Energy has not revealed the cause of the failure.

The failure came two days after a Rocket Lab Electron booster fell back to Earth after its second stage failed to ignite properly. It was the fourth failure in 40 launches for the orbital rocket, whose reliability fell to 90 percent as a result.

Recent Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Sept. 19Electron – Rocket Lab
Acadia 2 – Capella SpaceEarth observationMahia
Sept. 20Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Sept. 21Ceres-1 – Galactic Energy
Jilin-1 Gaofen-04B – Chang Guang Satellite TechnologyEarth observationJiuquan
Sept. 23Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Sept. 25Falcon 9 – SpaceX21 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsVandenberg
Source: Wikipedia

Two previous launch mishaps resulted from the failures of Electron’s second stage. On the other flight, the range safety officer blew up the second stage after telemetry from it was lost. The problem was traced to a bug in the ground software; the stage was performing as designed.

While Rocket Lab struggled, SpaceX launched 65 Starlink broadband satellites on three Falcon 9 rockets. Two rockets used first stages that launched and landed for a record 17th time.

Starlink Launches

+ Does not include two secondary payloads for other companies.
^ Includes 109 dedicated launches, two Transporter rideshare missions, and two test satellites as launched as secondary payloads.
* Does not include 16 secondary payloads from other companies.

Forty-two Falcon 9s have launched 1,512 Starlink satellites this year. SpaceX has launched 5,178 Starlink spacecraft since February 2018.

Psyche spacecraft. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

Upcoming launches

With the OSIRIS-REx mission to Bennu completed with the return of a soil sample, NASA is gearing up for another asteroid mission. On October 5, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy is scheduled to launch NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to a metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche that orbits between Mars and Jupiter.

The launch is scheduled for 10:34 AM EDT from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA will broadcast the launch on NASA TV and stream it at and

The mission is being led by Arizona Space University, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory providing mission management and operations. Maxar Technologies built the spacecraft bus.

Upcoming Launches

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayloads – OrganizationPurpose(s)Launch Site
Sept. 26Long March 4C – CASC*TBATBAJiuquan
Sept. 28Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
Oct. 4Vega – ArianespaceTHEOS-2 – GISTDA+Earth observationKourou
TRITON – NSPO^Meteorology
10 CubeSats – Multiple (see below)Multiple
Oct. 5Falcon Heavy – SpaceXPsyche – NASAAsteroid orbiterKennedy
Oct. 5SpaceShipTwo – Virgin GalacticRon Rosano, Trevor Beattie, Namira SalimSpace tourismSpaceport America
Oct. 9Falcon 9 – SpaceX22 Starlink – SpaceXCommunicationsCape Canaveral
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
+ Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)
^ Taiwan Space Agency
Source: Wikipedia

On October 4, Europe’s Vega rocket will launch Earth observation and meteorology satellites aboard from Thailand and Taiwan, respectively. The booster will also launch 10 payloads into low Earth orbit.

Vega Launch, October 2023
Secondary Payloads

ANSER-LeaderINTA*Earth observation
ANSER-Follower 1INTA*Earth observation
ANSER-Follower 2INTA*Earth observation
CSC-1ISISPACEPayload hosting
CSC-2ISISPACEPayload hosting
ESTCube-2Estonian Student Satellite Foundation/Tartu ObservatoryTechnology demonstration
MACSATOQ TechnologyInternet of Things
NESSCNES+/U-SpaceTechnology demonstration
PRETTYESA^/TU Graz**Earth observation
PROBA V-CCESA^/AerospacelabEarth observation
* National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)
+ Centre National d’études Spatiales (France)
^ European Space Agency
** Graz University of Technology
Source: Wikipedia

It will be only the third launch attempt for Europe in 2023. The Ariane 5 was retired in July, and the flight of its Ariane 6 successor has been delayed until 2024 due to technical problems. The Vega-C rocket, which is a larger version of Vega, has not flown since it failed on its second flight in December 2023.

Jon Goodwin waves during the Galactic 02 tourism flight.
Jon Goodwin waves during the Galactic 02 tourism flight. Image credit: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic will fly its fourth suborbital flight on October 5. Customers on the space tourism flight include Ron Rosano of the United States, Trevor Beattie of the United Kingdom, and Namira Salim of Pakistan. Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses will join them in the passenger cabin. The flight will be flown by Kelly Latimer and C.J. Stuckow.

Launches by nation

Launches through September 25, 2023. Image credit: Parabolic Arc
Launches through September 25, 2023. Image credit: Parabolic Arc.

There have been 157 launch attempts with 148 successes and nine failures as we approach the end of the third quarter of 2023. There were 186 launches last year, with 178 successes, seven failures, and one partial failure.

Propelled by SpaceX’s record year, the United States leads the world in launch attempts (84), successes (79) and failures (5). US launch providers attempted 87 launches in 2022, with 84 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

China’s perfect record was blemished by the Ceres-1 failure. With 44 launches and three months left in 2023, China is well on its way to its stated goal of launching more than 60 times this year.

Falcon 9 Transporter-7 rideshare mission lifts off
Falcon 9 lifts off on the Transporter-7 mission on April 15, 2023. Image credit: SpaceX.

Launches by company/agency

With another launch scheduled for September 28, SpaceX is likely to end the month with 70 launches. That averages out to 7.8 launches per month. The company will need to fly an average of 10 times per month during the fourth quarter to reach Elon Musk’s goal of 100 launches in 2023.

Launches by Company/Agency

SpaceX (USA)681691,91212*
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)300301080
Roscosmos (Russia)10010550
Rocket Lab (USA)718191
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)707510
Galactic Energy (China)516191
ExPace (China)404140
Strategic Rocket Forces (Russia)30330
Arianespace (Europe)20230
CAS Space (China)101260
Korea Aerospace Research Institute (South Korea)10071^
Northrop Grumman (USA)10140
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan)20230
United Launch Alliance (USA)20240
Firefly Aerospace (USA)10110
Israel Aerospace Industries10110
Space Pioneer (China)10110
i-space (China)10100
LandSpace (China)10100
Virgin Orbit+ (USA)01109
ABL Space Systems (USA)01102
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency01101
National Aerospace Development Administration (North Korea)02202
Relativity Space (USA)01100
* Space tug and deployment failures unrelated to launch vehicle
^ Deployment failure
+ Company defunct

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is in second place with 30 launches, followed by Russia’s Roscosmos with 10 flights. Rocket Lab and the Indian Space Research Organisation are neck and neck in the battle for fourth place.

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket launches a Cygnus resupply ship to the International Space Station on August 1, 2023. Credit: Northrop Grumman)
Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket launched the S.S. Laurel Clark Cygnus spacecraft on August 1 from Wallops Island, Virginia for cargo delivery to crew aboard the International Space Station. Image credit: Northrop Grumman.

Launches by booster

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 leads the world with 65 launches and not a single failure. CASC has launched the Long March 2C and Long March 2D boosters 14 times. The Soyuz-2.1a and Soyuz-2.1b boosters remain the workhorses of the Russian launch fleet. A stripped-down version of the rocket named Soyuz-2.1v has flown once.

Launches by Booster

Launch VehicleCompany/AgencySuccessesFailuresTotal
Falcon 9SpaceX65065
Long March 2C, 2DChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.14014
Soyuz-2.1a, 2.1bRoscosmos, Russia Strategic Rocket Forces10010
ElectronRocket Lab718
Ceres-1, 1SGalactic Energy516
Long March 4CChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.505
Long March 3B/EChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.404
Kuaizhou 1AExPace404
Falcon HeavySpaceX303
PSLVIndian Space Research Organisation303
H-IIAMitsubishi Heavy Industries202
Long March 6, 6AChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.204
Long March 7, 7AChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.204
Ariane 5Arianespace202
LVM IIIIndian Space Research Organisation202
AntaresNorthrop Grumman101
Atlas VUnited Launch Alliance101
Delta IV HeavyUnited Launch Alliance101
Firefly AlphaFirefly Aerospace101
GSLV Mk IIIndian Space Research Organisation101
Hyperbola 1i-space101
Lijian-1CAS Space101
Long March 2FChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.104
Long March 4BChina Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
Long March 11China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.101
NuriKorea Aerospace Research Institute101
Shavit 2Israel Defense Forces101
SSLVIndian Space Research Organisation101
Soyuz-2.1vRussia Strategic Rocket Forces101
Tianlong-2^Space Pioneer101
Chollima-1^National Aerospace Development Administration022
H3^Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency011
LauncherOne*Virgin Orbit+011
RS1^ABL Space Systems011
Starship/Super Heavy^SpaceX011
Terran 1*^Relativity Space011
^ Maiden flight
* Launch vehicle retired
+ Company defunct
Falcon Heavy launches in January 2023.
Falcon Heavy launches in January 2023. Image credit: SpaceX.

Launches by spaceport

Florida’s two adjacent spaceports have hosted 51 orbital launches this year. Floridians have seen a launch on average every five days and six hours. Vandenberg Space Force Base is also having a banner year with 21 launches.

Launches by Spaceport

Launch SitesSuccessesFailuresTotal
Cape Canaveral40141
Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport303
Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska011
Yellow Sea101
Satish Dhawan707
Guiana Space Centre (French Guiana)202
Naro (South Korea)101
Sohae (North Korea)022
Palmchim (Israel)101
Cornwall^ (UK)011
* Spaceport leased to Russia
+ Rocket Lab Electron launches
^ Final LauncherOne flight, Virgin Orbit defunct

China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has hosted 24 launches. The Xichang and Taiyuan spaceports are in second place with nine and eight launches apiece.

Leave a Reply