Enlarge / People take photos when China’s Long March 5 heavy lift fires from its launch center in Wenchang, south China’s Hainan Province on December 27, 2019.
STR / AFP via Getty Images
China dominated the world ranking for orbital starts for the second year in a row. The communist country ended the year 2019 with 34 attempts and 32 successes.
Russia took second place with 25 attempts and successes, followed by the USA with 21 of 21 successful starts. New Zealand, Europe and India finished fourth overall with six successful starts. (This ranking depends on where the primary stage of the missile is made.)
This global competition is likely to intensify in the coming year. China has declared its intention to launch 40 or more orbital missions in 2020. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation will carry out the majority of the missions with its Long March rocket fleet, including notable missions such as China’s first Mars spacecraft and the Chang e-5 lunar probe, which is expected to return lunar samples to Earth.
China also has an emerging start-up commercial sector that uses private investment to develop government-launched rocket technology. We should see further attempts by Chinese companies to launch in 2020, including some missions that will orbit.
America is rising
The US should also see a surge in growth. After SpaceX launched 13 rockets in 2019, the company is expected to take a significant step forward with a mix of commercial satellites, NASA payloads and its own Starlink Internet satellites. If all goes well, SpaceX could launch its Falcon 9 rocket 30 times or more this year.
The Colorado-based United Launch Alliance should also increase its cadence this year. In 2019, the company launched only two Delta IV medium missiles, one Delta IV Heavy and two Atlas V missions. It could launch half a dozen Atlas V missions this year alone. The newcomers Virgin Orbit and Firefly Aerospace could also supplement the American balance sheet in 2020.
For both SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance, no missions will be more important in 2020 than crewed launches. Both SpaceX with its spacecraft Dragon and United Launch Alliance with its Boeing Starliner vehicle are planning to launch crewed missions from Florida for NASA this year.
While Russia is expected to take third place in 2020, New Zealand could take fourth place alone. Although the US-based Rocket Lab plans to open a launch site in Virginia earlier this year, most of the company’s flights should continue to operate from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. The company hopes to start once a month this year.