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.
SpaceX set a new world record on Sunday by launching 143 satellites into Earth orbit aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
The Sunday morning polar orbit launch included 133 commercial and government spacecraft along with 10 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband communications constellation. The launch was conducted from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The mission will deploy 30 satellites to unique orbits using the Electron launch vehicle’s Kick Stage space tug
The satellites will enable internet from space, test new methods of deorbiting space debris, and enable research into predicting earthquakes
The launch will also feature a 3D printed mass simulator for Valve’s Gabe Newell to raise funds for Starship Children’s Hospital
LONG BEACH, Calif., November 2, 2020 (Rocket Lab PR) – Leading space systems company, Rocket Lab, has today announced its next Electron mission will feature a diverse range of payloads from the United States, France and New Zealand.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Sept. 29, 2020 (Swarm Technologies PR — Swarm Technologies, developer of the world’s lowest-cost global satellite communications network, today announced details and pricing of its hardware and network services. Device connectivity remains inaccessible for millions of people worldwide and is prohibitively expensive for many industries. Swarm’s commercial satellite network solves this problem. From the shipping lanes of the Bosphorus to the farmlands of California’s Central Valley, Swarm’s affordable network can now connect IoT devices at an unprecedented scale.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., August 3rd, 2020 (Exolaunch PR) – Exolaunch, a Berlin-based rideshare launch and deployment solutions provider, signed a launch agreement with Swarm Technologies, a Mountain View-based satellite company providing low-cost global connectivity for IoT devices, to launch 24 satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission.
Under the contract, Exolaunch will provide launch, integration and deployment services to the Swarm satellites. The spacecraft will be launched to a sun-synchronous orbit on the Falcon 9 smallsat-dedicated rideshare mission targeted for launch in December 2020.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (Momentus PR) — Swarm Technologies has long been on our radar because the Momentus service model is well-matched with Swarm’s need for low cost, dependable access to space with our unique capability to offer delivery into precision orbits.
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (Swarm Technologies PR) — We are thrilled to announce that Swarm is now fully licensed to launch our commercial offering. Having received all regulatory approvals to operate commercially in the US, in several other countries, and over international waters, we are one step closer to providing affordable satellite connectivity to the world.
First dedicated rideshare mission on Vega to launch spacecraft for Spaceflight customers, including Satellogic, Planet, and Swarm Technologies.
SEATTLE, March 9, 2020 (Spaceflight PR) –– Spaceflight today announced it is providing mission management and rideshare integration services for four organizations on Arianespace’s first dedicated rideshare mission on its Vega launch vehicle. The proof of concept rideshare mission, VV16, will launch 53 microsatellites, nanosatellites and cubesats, including 28 payloads from Spaceflight customers Satellogic, Planet, Swarm Technologies, and an undisclosed organization.
The Australian government has approved SpaceX, Swarm Technologies and Kepler Communications for inclusion on a list of foreign companies allowed to seek approvals to provide communications services in the country.
Rocket Lab’s Electron booster successfully launched the “Make it Rain” rideshare mission for Seattle-based Spaceflight from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula on Saturday.
The mission lofted seven satellites, including: BlackSky’s Global-3 imaging microsat; two U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Prometheus reconnaissance CubeSats; two Swarm SpaceBEE satellites; Melbourne Space Program’s ACRUX-1 CubeSat; and one spacecraft from an undisclosed customer. The payloads weighed 80 kg (176.4 lb).
The BlackSky Global-3 imaging satellite was developed, designed and manufactured by BlackSky of the United States. The company is a provider of geospatial intelligence, satellite imaging and global monitoring services.
It was the sixth successful Electron launch in a row out of seven attempts and the third flight of 2019. Rocket Lab has now orbited 35 satellites on its six successful missions.
The mission’s name was drawn from the high volume of rainfall in Seattle where Spaceflight is headquartered and at the Mahia Peninsula where Electron from which Electron is launched.
PALO ALTO, Calif., January 24, 2019 (Swarm PR) – Swarm Technologies, developer of the world’s lowest-cost global communications network, announced today it has closed its Series A financing round of $25M. The round was led by Craft Ventures and Sky Dayton, founder of EarthLink and Boingo, with participation from Social Capital, 4DX Ventures and NJF Capital. Swarm will use the capital to accelerate software and hardware integrations for customer deployments, to continue hiring world-class talent, and to deploy a constellation of 150 satellites over the next 18 months.
WASHINGTON, December 20, 2018 (FCC PR) — The Federal Communications Commission today announced it has settled an investigation into Swarm Technologies’ unauthorized launch and operation of small satellites. The company agreed to a settlement which included a $900,000 penalty, an extended period of FCC oversight, and a requirement of pre-launch notices to the Commission, among other stipulations.
A Silicon Valley startup named Swarm Technologies has been accused of launching four tiny satellites into space without FCC approval. The four SpaceBEE satellites, which are about one quarter the size of a 1U CubeSat, were launched aboard an Indian PSLV booster in January. The satellites are testing Internet of Things technologies.
The only problem is, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had dismissed Swarm’s application for its experimental satellites a month earlier, on safety grounds. The FCC is responsible for regulating commercial satellites, including minimizing the chance of accidents in space. It feared that the four SpaceBees now orbiting the Earth would pose an unacceptable collision risk for other spacecraft.
If confirmed, this would be the first ever unauthorized launch of commercial satellites.
In fact, the FCC told the startup that the agency would assess “the impact of the applicant’s apparent unauthorized launch and operation of four satellites… on its qualifications to be a Commission licensee.” If Swarm cannot convince the FCC otherwise, the startup could lose permission to build its revolutionary network before the wider world even knows the company exists.