For the second year in a row, China dominated the global orbital launch rankings. The communist country ended 2019 with 34 orbital launch attempts and 32 successes.
Russia is in second place with 25 attempts and successes, followed by the United States with 21 out of 21 successful launches. New Zealand, Europe and India all finished in fourth place overall, with six successful launches. (These rankings are determined by where the rocket’s primary stage is manufactured.)
In the coming year, this global competition should intensify. China has stated its intention to launch 40 or more orbital missions by 2020. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation will perform most missions with its Long March missile fleet, including notable missions such as China’s first Mars spacecraft and the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, which is intended to return lunar samples to Earth.
China also has a burgeoning commercial launch sector, which uses private investment to develop government-discontinued missile technology. We should see several more launch attempts from Chinese companies in 2020, including a handful of missions entering orbit.
America is rising
The United States should also see strong growth. After SpaceX launches 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 or more times this year.
The Colorado-based United Launch Alliance should also increase its cadence this year. In 2019, the company launched just 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. Newcomers Virgin Orbit and Firefly Aerospace could also add to the US tally in 2020.
For both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, no missions will be more important than manned launches in 2020. Both SpaceX, with its Dragon spacecraft, and United Launch Alliance, with Boeing’s Starliner vehicle, expect to launch manned missions from Florida for NASA this year.
While Russia is likely to be in third place in 2020, New Zealand could be in fourth place in terms of orbital launches. While the US-based Rocket Lab plans to open a launch site in Virginia early this year, most of the company’s flights should still be from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The company hopes to launch once a month this year.