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.
There were 27 orbital launch attempts with 26 successes and one failure during the first quarter of 2021. The United States accounted for nearly half the total with 13 launches behind nine flights by SpaceX.
On Wednesday morning, the Long March 4C carrier rocket launched the Gaofen 12-02 Earth observation satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Gaofen 12-02 will be primarily used for land census, urban planning, land rights confirmation, road network design, crop yield estimation, and disaster prevention and mitigation.
Long March 4C was developed by the Eighth Academy of Aerospace Science and Technology Group. For multi-satellite launch missions, the booster can carry payloads weighing up to 3 metric tons to a 700-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.
This flight 73rd launch of the Long March 4C rocket, and the 364th launch of the Long March series.
A Long March 4C rocket successfully launched a trio of Yaogan 31 spacecraft on Saturday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gobi Desert.
The booster lifted off at 10:19 a.m. local time. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) declared the launch to be a complete success.
CASC described the Yaogan satellites as being used primarily for monitoring electromagnetic signals. Western analysts believe the spacecraft contain a set of sophisticated instruments used to monitor foreign military activities.
This launch was the seventh for China in 2021 and the 363rd launch of the Long March series launch vehicle.
China completed a busy year that saw the nation tie its own record for launch attempts with the successful orbiting of a remote sensing satellite and a secondary nanosat on Sunday.
A Long March 4C rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 11:44 p.m.. local time carrying the Yaogan Weixing-33 (R) spacecraft. The spacecraft will be “mainly used for scientific experiment research, marine and land resource surveys and other tasks,” the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said.
Yaogan Weixing-33 (R) is the replacement for a similarly named remote sensing satellite that was lost due to the failure of a Long March 4C booster in May 2019.
A scientific research satellite named Weina Jishu Shiyan was also placed into orbit on Sunday as a secondary payload.
The successful flight was the last of 39 launch attempts for 2020 and the final one in the nation’s 13th Five-Year Plan, CNSA said. China finished the year with 35 successes and four failures.
The 39 launch attempts tied the national record China set in 2018. The nation finished that year with a record of 38 successes and one failure.
China finished second in launch attempts behind the United States in 2020, which completed the year with 40 successes and four failures.
Sunday’s mission was the 69th launch of the Long March 4C booster and the 357th launch of the Long March family of rockets.
The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.
There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)
There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.
China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.
Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.
Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.
The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.
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.
SpaceX had a banner year in 2017, launching a record 18 times and helping to propel the United States to the top of the global launch table with a perfect 29-0 record. The U.S. total made up 32.2 percent of 90 orbital launches worldwide, which was an increase over the 85 flights conducted in 2016.
The 29 American launches were a leap of seven over the 22 flights conducted the previous year. This is the highest number of American orbital launches since the 31 flights undertaken in 1999. However, that year the nation’s launch providers suffered four failures whereas they were perfect in 2017.
An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.
NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.
And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars. (more…)
The launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carrying the JPSS-1 mission for NASA and NOAA was scrubbed today due to a range safety hold and high upper level winds. ULA is working to establish a new launch opportunity.
SpaceX has delayed the Falcon 9 launch of the Zuma payload by one day to Thursday to allow for some additional mission assurance work. The launch window opens at 8 p.m. EST and closes two hours later.
A Chinese Long March 4C launched the Fengyun 3D weather satellite into polar orbit from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center yesterday.