Launch 2020: U.S. Reclaimed Top Spot, Flew Astronauts Again from American Soil

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The United States reclaimed the top spot in launches from China last year as NASA astronauts flew into orbit from American soil for the first time in nearly nine years, SpaceX deployed the world’s first satellite mega-constellation with reused rockets, and two new launchers debuted with less than stellar results.

American companies conducted 44 launches in 2020, with 40 successes and four failures. Bryce Tech reports that U.S. companies accounted for 32 of the 41 commercial launches conducted last year. The majority of those flights were conducted by SpaceX, which launched 25 orbital missions.

China came in second with a record of 35 successful launches and four failures. The 39 launch attempts tied that nation’s previous record for flights during a calendar year.

Let’s take a closer look at what U.S. companies achieved last year.

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Airbus, Raytheon Protest SDA Contract Awards to SpaceX & L3Harris

National Defense Space Architecture tracking layer. (Credit: Department of Defense)

Raytheon and Airbus US Space and Defense have filed formal protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the Space Development Agency’s (SDA) decision to award contracts worth $342.5 million to L3Harris Technologies and SpaceX to build eight missile warning satellites.

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Galactic Energy Raises $30 Million, Moves Forward on Pallas-1 Booster

Ceres-1 booster (Credit: Galactic Energy)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Galactic Energy, which became the second private Chinese launch provider to orbit a satellite on Saturday, has announced that it completed a Series A financing round of 200 million yuan ($30.25 million) in September.

In a press release, Galactic Energy said the funding will be used to manufacture and perform upgrades on the solid-fuel Ceres-1 small-satellite booster that flew last week. The funding will also allow the company to continue research and development on its larger liquid-fuel Pallas-1 (Zhishen-1) booster.

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OmegA Rocket Bites the Dust

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Some years ago, I ran into a friend of mine from Northrop Grumman at a conference. Come to think of it, he might have been with pre-acquisition Orbital ATK.

Whatever the case, the subject of the company’s OmegA booster came up.

“It’ll never fly,” he said flatly.

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Northrop Grumman Wins $13.3 Billion ICBM Contract

FALLS CHURCH, Va, Sept. 8, 2020 (Northrop Grumman PR) – Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) was selected by the U.S. Air Force to modernize the nation’s aging intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system under a $13.3 billion contract awarded today for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program.

The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center announced that the effort will span 8.5 years and include weapon system design, qualification, test and evaluation and nuclear certification. Upon successful completion of EMD, the Northrop Grumman team will begin producing and delivering a modern and fully integrated weapon system to meet the Air Force schedule of initial operational capability by 2029.

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Space Angels Network Opposes Removing Limits on ICBM Motors

Minotaur I launch. (Credit: NASA)
Minotaur I launch. (Credit: NASA)

The Space Angels Network has been lobbying against an amendment to the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow greater use of excess ICBM motors for commercial satellite launches. The network says the measure would benefit one company, Orbital ATK, whose Minotaur line of boosters uses these motor,  at the expense of an emerging commercial small-satellite launch industry.

The use of ICBM motors are liimited to launches where commercial alternatives are unavailable. The amendment would remove that restriction.

A letter the network sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee is reproduced below.

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Space Angels Network Opposes Use of Surplus ICBMs to Launch Commercial Satellites

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The Space Angels Network has sent the following letter opposing the use of surplus ICBMs for the launching of commercial satellites to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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ASATs and Ballistic Missile Technology

The Space Review has a couple of stories about the military uses of space:

How should we secure our space-based assets as a nation?
The White House has proposed negotiating a ban on space weapons, even though there is uncertainty about exactly what would be considered such a device. Christopher Stone argues that other measures can be taken to better protect the safety and security of space assets.

North Korea proves the point: ICBMs are proliferating
This weekend’s launch of a North Korean rocket was supposedly intended to put a satellite into orbit, but many observers considered it a test of a long-range missile. Taylor Dinerman opines on the implications of this launch.