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THE LAUNCHES REPORT 2021

Published on 05 August 2022

2021 saw a total of 146 orbital launches. With 56 flights, China took first place, followed by the United States (51), Russia (25) and Europe (6). The private firm SpaceX broke its record with 31 launches of its Falcon 9.

Looking back from January 2022, let’s look at the figures for launches in 2021. A year marked by 146 launches and 10 failures according to the compilation made by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell (his report as a PDF).

CHINA IN THE LEAD

If we look at the countries from where launchers take off, China came in first with 56 take-offs into orbit. It should be noted here that we are only dealing with flights into orbit and beyond (interplanetary probes and space observatories like the Webb) and therefore do not include suborbital flights (including in particular tourist flights by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin).
In addition to confirming (if need be) the country’s space ambitions, China’s case turns out to be the simplest, all its launchers leaving from its territory. The 51 American flights include, on the other hand, the six missions of the small Electron launcher which took off from New Zealand. This is because the Rocket Lab company which builds and operates this craft is American-owned and based in Long Beach, California.
If we take them away, we’d then have a total of 45 orbital launches from United States territory. Russia, in third position, totals 25 flights if we include those from its own territory (Plesetsk and Vostochny) and also from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (leased by Russia), not forgetting the Soyuz which leave from the Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG) in France (one Soyuz in 2021). Jonathan McDowell notes that if we take away the Soyuz marketed by the European firm, Arianespace (from CSG or elsewhere), we go from 25 to 16. Consequently the European total increases from 6 to 15 including 7 from CSG thanks to the Soyuz VS26 flight! If we go back to the territorial criterion alone, all European orbital launches took place from CSG. The seven break down as three Ariane 5 (VA254, VA255 and VA256), three Vega (VV28, VV29 and VV30) and the Soyuz VS26 (Russian, marketed by Arianespace).
The other countries are Japan (3), India (2 including one failure), Iran (2 failures) and South Korea (1 failure).
China and the United States each experienced three failures. Russia suffered partial failure during the Angara 5 flight of 27 December 2021 (Earth orbit reached, but the upper stage did not start up).

A RECORD YEAR FOR SPACEX

The private firm founded by Elon Musk ended 2021 with a record number of launches with 31 missions (all successful) from its Falcon 9, including two manned missions to the ISS (Crew-2 and Crew-3) and one private manned flight around the Earth (Inspiration4). SpaceX alone therefore carried out three of the eight manned missions of 2021. The others are Russian flights in the Soyuz to the ISS (MS-18, MS-19 and MS-20) and the Shenzhou-12 and 13 flights by China to their own station. Finally, it should be noted that on 21 December 2021, SpaceX recovered a first stage of its Falcon 9 for the hundredth time.

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