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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SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches NRO Payload in Record 26th Successful Flight of Year

Falcon 9 launches the NROL-108 mission on Dec. 19, 2020. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Saturday, December 19 at 9:00 a.m. EST, Falcon 9 launched the NROL-108 mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, completing SpaceX’s 26th and final mission of 2020.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster previously supported launch of SpaceX’s 19th and 20th cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, a Starlink mission, and the SAOCOM 1B mission.

Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida – the 70th landing for SpaceX.

Editor’s Note: SpaceX’s 26 launches is a new record for Elon Musk’s company in a calendar year. It was America’s 44th and final orbital launch attempt of the year. That is the highest number in more than 50 years.

Overall, there have been 110 launch attempts with 10 failures worldwide. Two more launches — Long March 8 from China, and a Soyuz-2 from Kourou — are scheduled before the end of the year. It’s possible China or Russia could conduct additional launches; these countries don’t always announce flights very far in advance.

SpaceX Falcon 9 SAOCOM 1B Onboard Launch & Landing Video

Video Caption: Sped up footage from an onboard camera during Falcon 9’s launch of the SAOCOM 1B mission – SpaceX’s first launch to a polar orbit from the East Coast. After launching from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to land at Landing Zone 1.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Argentine Satellite

Falcon 9 lifts off with the SAOCOM 1B satellite. (Credit: SpaceX webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched an Argentine Earth observation satellite on Sunday in a rare polar orbit flight from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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SpaceX Set for Sunday Launch Doubleheader From Florida

UPDATE: The Starlink launch scheduled for the morning was scrubbed due to weather. The SAOCOM 1B mission is still planned for the evening, but the probability of acceptable weather is only 40 percent.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — SpaceX is targeting Sunday, August 30th for two launches – a  Starlink mission in the morning and the SAOCOM 1B mission in the evening.  

You can watch the launch webcasts here, starting about 15 minutes before liftoff.

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A Whole Bunch of Launches Scheduled — Again

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Bored beyond tears due to the lockdown? Got nothing to do and nowhere to go? Only reruns on the tube?

Stay home, grab some beers, and fire up that computer. There’s a whole bunch of launches on the schedule over the next four days. ULA, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, Astra and Arianespace are all back in action with six launches from three countries.

SpaceX will attempt two launches on the same day from Florida on Sunday. The company might also attempt a hop of its sixth Starship prototype this weekend. The timing for that is uncertain.

Remember: launches are subject to change without notice. And wagering is strictly prohibited.

August 29

UPDATE: The booster performed an abort at T minus 3 seconds. United Launch Alliance says it will be at least seven days before they can attempt another launch.

Launch Vehicle: Delta IV Heavy
Payload: NROL-44
Launch Time: 2:04 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com/

An United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket will launch the classified NROL-44 satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

August 29/30

UPDATE: New Electron launch date is Aug. 30/31 with the same launch window.

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Mission Name: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical”
Payload: Sequoia
Launch Window: 11:05 p.m.-3:05 a.m. EDT on Aug. 29/30 (0305-0705 GMT on Aug. 29)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com

Rocket Lab is back in action after the failure of its 13th launch on July 4. Electron will carry the Capella Space’s Sequoia synthetic aperture radar satellite on a dedicated mission.

August 30

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to weather. Next possible launch window is on Tuesday.

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Starlink 11
Launch Time: 10:08 a.m. EDT (1408 GMT)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

The 12th batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.

August 30

UPDATE: Launch successful.

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SAOCOM 1B
Launch Time: 7:19 p.m. EDT (2319 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

SpaceX will launch the SAOCOM 1B environmental satellite for Argentina’s space agency, CONAE. The mission includes the first polar orbit launch from Cape Canaveral since February 1969. The Falcon 9 first stage will attempt a relatively rare return to land instead of touching down on an offshore drone ship.

August 30/31

UPDATE: Astra has postponed the launch to Sept. 10 from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. EDT (7-9:30 p.m. PDT)

Launch Vehicle: Rocket 3.1
Payloads: None
Launch Window: 10:00 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EDT on Aug. 30/31 (0200-0430 GMT on Aug. 31
Launch Site: Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska
Webcast: none

Astra Space will attempt the first orbital flight of its inexpensive launch vehicle.

September 1/2

Launch Vehicle: Vega
Mission Name: Small Spacecraft Mission Service Proof of Concept (SSMS POF)
Payloads: 53 small satellites
Launch Time: 9:51:10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 1 (0151:10 GMT on Sept. 2)
Launch Site: Kourou, French Guiana
Webcast: Arianespace YouTube channel

Arianespace will attempt the first rideshare mission of its Vega booster. The window for the long delayed launch extends until Sept. 4.

Four Launches in Four Days Scheduled for Coming Week

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Are you ready for some launches?

Scattered shouts

I SAID, ARE YOU READY FOR SOME LAUNCHES?!

Crowd goes crazy

That’s better. As Doc Brown once said, starting Thursday you’re going see some serious s***.

August 27

Launch Vehicle: Delta 4 Heavy
Payload: NROL-44
Launch Time: 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com/

An United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket will launch the classified NROL-44 satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

August 28

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SAOCOM 1B
Launch Time: 7:19 p.m. EDT (2319 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

SpaceX will launch the SAOCOM 1B environmental satellite for Argentina’s space agency, CONAE. The mission includes the first polar orbit launch from Cape Canaveral since February 1969. The Falcon 9 first stage will attempt a relatively rare return to land instead of touching down on an offshore drone ship.

August 28/29

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Mission Name: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical”
Payload: Sequoia
Launch Time: 11:05 p.m. EDT on Aug. 28/29 (0305 GMT on Aug. 29)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com

Rocket Lab is back in action after the failure of its 13th launch on July 4. Electron will carry the Capella Space’s Sequoia synthetic aperture radar satellite on a dedicated mission.

August 30

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Starlink 11
Launch Time: 10:08 a.m. EDT (1408 GMT)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

The 12th batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.

Note: Launches subject to change. Absolutely no wagering.

Upcoming Launches to Close Out March

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

Here’s quick look at the launches scheduled for the rest of March. Information from Spaceflightnow.com’s launch schedule.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled for March 30 is listed. However, unofficial reports say it has been delayed indefinitely due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The booster will launch the SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite for Argentine.

What the months ahead hold in terms of launch is uncertain. Europe has suspended flights out of its launch base in French Guiana. Whether other spaceports are closed remains to be seen. China appears to have weathered the worst of the virus.

I would expect crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) to continue. The first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to ISS is scheduled for mid- to late May. It’s difficult to say whether that schedule will hold.

March 23/24

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C
Payloads: 3 Yaogan 30-06 military surveillance satellites
Launch Time: Approximately 11:40 p.m. EDT on 23rd (0340 GMT on 24th)
Launch Site: Xichang, China

UPDATE: Launch successful.

March 24

Launch Vehicle: Astra Rocket 3.0 “1 of 3”
Payloads: TBA
Launch Window: TBA
Launch Site: Pacific Spaceport Complex, Alaska

UPDATE: Media report of an “anomaly” during a dress rehearsal on Monday.. Extend of anomaly and new schedule uncertain. Doesn’t sound like they’re launching on Tuesday. More details here: https://kmxt.org/2020/03/anomaly-at-pacific-spaceport-complex-launch-rehearsal-no-injuries-as-a-result/

March 26

Launch Vehicle: Atlas V
Payload: AEHF 6 military communications satellite
Launch Window: 2:57-4:57 p.m. EDT (1857-2057 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com

March 29

Launch Vehicle: Electron “Don’t Stop Me Now”
Payloads: Multiple CubeSats
Launch Window: 12:43-2:33 a.m. EDT (0443-0633 GMT)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com/

UPDATE: Rocket Lab has suspended preparations on this launch due to the coronavirus.

March 30
(Possibly Postponed)

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite
Launch Time: 7:21 p.m. EDT (2321 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com