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.
China completed its Beidou satellite navigation system with a launch last week, fully standing up a rival to the American Global Positioning System (GPS), Europe’s Galileo constellation, and Russia’s GLONASS system and strengthening the nation as a space power.
The following excerpt from the report summarizes U.S. counterspace capabilities.
The United States has conducted multiple tests of technologies for rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in both low Earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO), along with tracking, targeting, and intercept technologies that could lead to a co-orbital anti-satellite (ASAT) capability.
These tests and demonstrations were conducted for other non-offensive missions, such as missile defense, on-orbit inspections, and satellite servicing, and the United States does not have an acknowledged program to develop co-orbital capabilities. However, the United States possesses the technological capability to develop a co-orbital capability in a short period of time if it chooses to.
Completing our look at the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress, we examine how China is using its space program to achieve the nation’s geopolitical and economic goals. [Full Report]
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
China is using its growing space program to achieve a range of geopolitical and economic goals, including attracting partners for its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), improving economic and political ties with other countries, and deepening others’ reliance on its space systems and data services.
“Beijing views its space program as key to elevating its leadership profile in international space cooperation, including through BRI, and establishing a dominant position in the commercial space industry,” according to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Report to Congress.
China successfully launched two satellites for the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Monday afternoon Beijing time, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The launch means all the 24 medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites of the BDS-3 have been successfully sent into space, and the deployment of the core BDS-3 constellation system has been completed, according to Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the BDS.
“BDS now has the full capacity for global service. It will be able to provide excellent navigation service to global users,” Yang said.
China started to build the BDS-3 system in 2009. The system, independently constructed and operated by China, consists of three geostationary orbit satellites, three inclined geosynchronous orbit satellites and 24 MEO satellites.
A Long March-3A booster launched the two satellites into orbit.
The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.
China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.
After a record 39 launches in 2018, China is planning to launch over 50 satellites aboard more than 30 launch vehicles this year, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has announced.
The manifest includes the return to flight of China’s largest launch vehicle, Long March 5, after a two-year stand down. The booster, which can lift 14 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), failed during its second flight on July 2, 2017 after a successful maiden flight eight months earlier.
China set a new national record for the number of launches in a calendar year.
A Long March 3B booster lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center with two Beidou navigation satellites bound for medium Earth orbit. It was the 23rd successful launch of the year with no failures.
To date, China has launched six boosters with 11 Beidou satellites aboard in 2018. The navigation satellite system, which is similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System and Europe’s Galileo constellation, will eventually have 35 satellites in orbit.
China’s launch total for 2018 is expected to be in the low to mid-30’s.
The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.
China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.
SpaceX successfully launched 10 Iridium Next satellites aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Friday morning.
Iridium-NEXT satellites 41-50 were successfully deployed from the booster’s second stage about an hour after the launch at 7:13 a.m. PDT. It was the fifth batch of 10 Iridium-NEXT satellites that SpaceX has orbited using three different first stage boosters.
In recent weeks, Chinese officials have revealed more details about the investigation into the Long March 5 launch failure last year as well as their ambitious launch plans for this year, which include a landing on the far side of the moon.
Long March 5 will be returned to flight in the second half of 2018, according to Bao Weimin, head of the Science and Technology Committee of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Engineers have identified the cause of a launch failure that occurred last July and are working to verify it, he said.
A Chinese Long March 3B booster successfully orbited two Beidou navigational satellites on Monday. The flight, which took off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, was the seventh orbital launch by China in 2018, leading all nations thus far.
SpaceX also conducted a static fire of a Falcon 9 booster on Monday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket is set to launch Hisdesat’s Paz satellite on Saturday using a previously-flown first stage. The launch will be followed by another flight five days later from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Here is the launch schedule for the weeks ahead. Check for updates here.
Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9 Payload: Paz Launch Time: 9:22 a.m. EST; 6:22 a.m. PST (1422 GMT) Launch Site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, California
Built by Airbus Defense and Space, Hisdesat’s Paz satellite will provide radar imaging as well as ship tracking and weather data. The flight will use a previously-flown first stage.