Second Annual Worldwide Rocket Launch Report, 2017. Bob Zimmerman

Jan 04, 02:47 AM


(Photo: models of Arianespace launch vehicles )

Twitter: @BatchelorShow

Second Annual Worldwide Rocket Launch Report, 2017. Bob Zimmerman

This new graph suggests that the three most important trends I noted last year are continuing. While Russia showed some recovery from its terrible year in 2016, its launch totals continued to be far below their yearly average since the mid-1990s. Russia had predicted they would complete 30 launches in 2017, and assuming they do not have more failures in 2018 I expect them to try to meet that goal this coming year. Their problem of course is avoiding launch failures, something Russia has, as yet, failed to avoid. [Update: One of my readers, mkent, pointed out that I had miscounted the Russian launch total for 2017, and after checking I discovered he was correct. Russian only managed to tie SpaceX with 18 launches, not 20. I have corrected the graph accordingly.]

The graph does reveal one interesting historical detail about Russia. During the Soviet era that nation routinely launched as many rockets per year as the entire world does today. Many of those launches however were short term lightweight spy satellites, designed to remain in orbit only a month or so before they would send a capsule back to Earth with film for developing. Such satellites haven’t been practical or economical for decades, however, superseded by high resolution digital cameras placed in higher orbits that could beam their images down to Earth and stay in orbit for years. Thus, the need to launch so often for this purpose no longer exists.

The seventeen successful launches by China put it smack dab in the center of that nation’s average number of yearly launches since 2010, but this was about half the number of launches they had predicted they would complete. Because of two launch failures in the summer, including the failure of their biggest rocket (Long March 5 on its second launch), China shut down all launches for the rest of the summer and early fall. This pause prevented them from achieving their goal of 30 launches for the year, though the large number of launches they completed in the year’s last three months (10) suggests that they will make it happen in 2018.