- Parabolic Arc
- November 13, 2023
Launch Roundup – KuiperSats Placed into Orbit, Spanish Company Makes Breakthrough
Welcome to the Launch Roundup! In this edition, one of Jeff Bezos’ companies sent something into orbit, the Spanish company PLD Space made history, Europe is down to a single operational booster, and SpaceX is preparing to launch NASA’s latest asteroid mission.
The first two satellites in Amazon’s 3,236 broadband constellation were placed into orbit on October 5. The spacecraft were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, not Blue Origin’s long-delayed New Glenn launcher that Bezos has spent billions of dollars to develop.
It was the first of nine Atlas V launches that Amazon has reserved for deployment of the Kuiper constellation. The company has also purchased:
- 38 Vulcan launches from ULA,
- 18 Ariane 6 launches from Arianespace, and
- 12 New Glenn launches from Blue Origin (with an option for 15 additional rockets).
|Date||Launcher – Organization||Payloads – Organization||Purpose(s)||Launch Site|
|Oct. 5||Long March 2D||Yaogan 39-03A||Reconnaissance||Xichang|
|Oct. 5||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Oct. 6||SpaceShipTwo – Virgin Galactic|
|Ron Rosano, Trevor Beattie, Namira Salim||Space tourism||Spaceport America|
|Oct. 6||Atlas V – ULA||KuiperSat-1 – Kuiper Systems||Tech demo (communications)||Cape Canaveral|
|KuiperSat-2 – Kuiper Systems||Tech demo (communications)|
|Oct. 7||MIURA 1 – PLD Space (Suborbital)||Technology device – ZARM*||Flight test /microgravity tech test||El Arenosillo|
|Oct. 8||Vega – Arianespace||THEOS-2 – GISTDA+||Earth observation||Kourou|
|TRITON – NSPO^||Meteorology|
|Oct. 9||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||21 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Vandenberg|
+ Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)
^ Taiwan Space Agency
Not one of the three launch vehicles has made its maiden flight. Vulcan could fly at the end of this year, Ariane 6’s first flight is scheduled for sometime next year, and Blue Origin might also fly in 2024.
Amazon is in a race against time. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires 50 percent of the satellites to be launched by July 30, 2026, with the remainder placed into orbit by July 30, 2029.
PLD Space’s success
Spanish startup PLD Space launches its MIURA 1 suborbital rocket on its maiden flight from the El Arenosillo Experimentation Centre on October 7. The reusable rocket reached an apogee of 46 km, which was below the 80 km objective. Company officials were nonetheless ecstatic about the flight.
“This launch culminates over 12 years of relentless effort, yet it marks just the start of our journey,” PLD Space’s Co-founder and Launch Director Raúl Torres said in a press release. “This test flight has yielded valuable data, enabling us to validate crucial design elements and technologies that will underpin the development of our MIURA 5 orbital launcher.”
MIURA 5 will be a two-stage, liquid fuel rocket capable of launching 900 kg (1,984 kg) into low Earth orbit or 450 kg (992 lb) into sun-synchronous orbit.
The smaller, single-stage MIURA 1 rocket can carry 100 kg (220 lb) on a suborbital flight. The payload on the maiden flight was a “technological device” tested under microgravity conditions for the German Centre for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity.
And then there was one
Europe’s next-to-last Vega rocket delivered a dozen payloads into orbit on October 8. The payloads included an Earth observation satellite for Thailand, a weather satellite for Taiwan, and 10 CubeSats for various European customers.
October 8, 2023
|THEOS-2||Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (Thailand)||Earth observation|
|TRITON||Taiwan Space Agency||Meteorology|
|ANSER-Leader||National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)||Earth observation|
|ANSER-Follower 1||National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)||Earth observation|
|ANSER-Follower 2||National Institute for Aerospace Technology (Spain)||Earth observation|
|ESTCube-2||Estonian Student Satellite Foundation/Tartu Observatory||Technology demonstration|
|MACSAT||OQ Technology||Internet of Things|
|NESS||Centre National d’études Spatiales/U-Space||Technology demonstration|
|PRETTY||European Space Agency/Graz University of Technology||Earth observation|
|PROBA V-CC||European Space Agency/Aerospacelab||Earth observation|
Europe is down to one Vega rocket that is scheduled to launch next year. The larger Vega-C booster has been grounded since it failed in December 2022. Officials have said it won’t fly until the fourth quarter of next year. Arianespace has yet to set a 2024 date for the maiden flight of Ariane 6. The Ariane 5 booster was retired in July.
NASA will launch the Psyche asteroid mission aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy on October 12. The spacecraft will explore the metal-rich 16 Pysche asteroid that orbits between Mars and Jupiter.
The launch is scheduled for 10:16 AM EDT (14:16 UTC). NASA’s live launch broadcast will begin at 9:30 AM EDT (13:30 UTC), and will air on YouTube, X, Facebook, Twitch, Daily Motion, the NASA app, www.nasa.gov/nasatv, and NASA’s UHD Channel.
|Date||Launcher – Organization||Payloads – Organization||Purpose(s)||Launch Site|
|Oct. 12||Falcon Heavy – SpaceX||Psyche – NASA||Asteroid orbiter||Kennedy|
|TBD||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Oct. 15||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Oct. 19||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||22 Starlink – SpaceX||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|Oct. 22||Falcon 9 – SpaceX||O3b mPOWER 5 – SES||Communications||Cape Canaveral|
|O3b mPOWER 6 – SES||Communications|
SpaceX has four other launches scheduled over the next 12 days, three of which will carry Starlink broadband satellites.
In order to make the roundups easier to read, we have changed the format of the various tables throughout the article to list only the top performers (companies, launch vehicles, spaceports, etc.) in each category. We will publish full results once per month.
Launches by nation
There have been 165 launches conducted worldwide in 2023, with 156 successes and nine failures. The world’s launch providers are well on their way to exceeding the 187 launches conducted last year.
2023 & 2022 Orbital Launches
Through October 9, 2023
|Nation||2023 Record||2023 Total||2022 Record||2022 Total|
US companies have exceeded last year’s total of 87 launches. They are one short of the 84 fully successful launches conducted in 2022.
China is on its way to meeting its goal of launching at least 60 times this year. Russia’s total is lagging behind last year’s results, while India is on the verge of setting a new record for launches in a calendar year.
Launches by company/agency
SpaceX remains far ahead of every other provider with 72 launches and nearly 2,000 payloads successfully placed into orbit. Elon Musk’s company is aiming to launch 100 times this year. SpaceX launched 61 times in 2022.
Launches by Company/Agency
Top 6 Providers
|China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)||32||0||32||112||0|
|Rocket Lab (USA)||7||1||8||19||1|
|Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)||7||0||7||51||0|
|Galactic Energy (China)||5||1||6||19||1|
|Subtotal, Top Providers||132||3||135||2,233||14|
|Total, All Providers||156||9||165||2,315||29|
^ Deployment failure
+ Company defunct
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is in second place with 32 launches of Long March rockets, followed by Roscosmos with 10 flights. No other launch provider has reached double digits.
Launches by booster
Five boosters/booster families are responsible for 66.7 percent of all launches in 2023. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 remains well ahead of competitors, with 68 Falcon 9 launches and three Falcon Heavy flights.
Launches by Booster
Top 6 Vehicles
|Long March 2C, 2D||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||15||0||15|
|Soyuz-2.1a, 2.1b||Roscosmos, Russia Strategic Rocket Forces||10||0||10|
|Long March 4C||China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.||6||0||6|
|Subtotal, Top Launch Vehicles||109||1||110|
|Total, All Boosters||156||9||165|
Launches by spaceport
Five spaceports are responsible for 111 of 165 launches this year, representing 67.3 percent.
Launches by Spaceport
Top 5 Launch Sites
|Launch Site||2023||2023 Total||2022||2022 Total|
|Cape Canaveral (USA)||43-1||44||36-2-0||38|
|Total, All Launch Sites||156-9||165||178-7-1||186|
Cape Canaveral Space Force Station remains the busiest spaceport in the world with 44 launches. When NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is added to the total, Florida has hosted 54 flights or 32.7 percent of all launches worldwide. Fifty-seven orbital launch attempts originated from the state in 2022.
Vandenberg Space Force Base has hosted 22 launches, three more than in 2022. SpaceX has a number of additional flights scheduled during the rest of the year.
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has equaled its total from 2022 with 25 launches. Xichang spaceport is in a distant second with 10 launches.