A handful of stories in no particular order.
More rockets made orbital launch attempts during 2021 than in any previous year in history, breaking a record that dates back to the space race. How many? Eric Berger at Ars Technica has this:
There are no official records of such matters, but several good online resources provide a compendium of data that includes both orbital launch attempts and successes. Based on this information, a total of 144 orbital launches were attempted in 2021, of which 133 were successful. This total does not include two unannounced launch attempts by Iran's Simorgh vehicle.
Last year's numbers surpass the total orbital launch attempts in 1967 (122 successes out of 139 launch attempts) and a previous record for successes in 1976 (125 successes out of 131 attempts).
The busy year comes after a decade of continuous increases in the numbers of launches. From 2000 to 2010, the government and commercial operators launched, on average, fewer than 70 orbital rockets a year. The big differences are China and SpaceX. When we're talking about relatively small numbers like 144 launches and 133 successes, small operators like Rocket Lab - with six launches in 2021 - are important, too. Before 2010, China averaged fewer than 10 rocket launches a year. Last year, the Chinese government and a handful of private Chinese operators launched 56 rockets in 2021, of which there were 53 successes. SpaceX, as we reported last month, had 31 launches all of which were successes.
Yesterday's first SpaceX launch of the year went as routinely as can be. The liftoff was exactly on time and the booster landed in excellent shape on A Shortfall Of Gravitas nine minutes later.
Teslarati edit of SpaceX photos:
Right on schedule, thrice-flown Falcon 9 booster B1062 lifted off on its fourth orbital class mission at 4:49 pm EST, precluding the need for a backup window scheduled a few hours later. Carrying a fully-fueled Falcon upper stage and 49 Starlink V1.5 satellites, together weighing around 130 metric tons (~285,000 lb), the booster separated approximately 68 kilometers (42 mi) above the ground while traveling 2.2 kilometers per second (~1.4 mi/s or Mach 6.4) – about 30% of the way to orbital velocity.
Six minutes later, after peaking at 132 km (82 mi; significantly higher than Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard vehicle) and reentering Earth’s atmosphere, Falcon 9 booster B1062 safely landed around 640 km (~400 mi) downrange aboard drone ship A Shortfall Of Gravitas (ASOG).
Note that when Eric Ralph wrote "Six minutes later," he was referring to six minutes after the booster engine cutoff, when the booster is jettisoned. It's just a few seconds short of 9:00 on the mission timer.
As last month's near loss of Booster 1069 made clear, B1062 isn't out of the woods until it's safely secured by ASOG’s ‘Octagrabber’ robot. Before the Octagrabbers were introduced, a crew would board the drone ship from another ship kept at a safe distance, once the vehicle had passed some number of "safing" steps, and then weld the landing legs to the deck of the drone ship.
Teslarati also reports
being told by the Cape Canaveral Space Force Base that SpaceX has five
launches on their schedule in January. That's more than one/week.
The Space Force spokesman also said there would be two other launches this
I see one Atlas V launch on Jan. 21, but that's all so far.
Over at Boca Chica, while there hasn't been a 29-engine static fire or
anything truly epic like that, they have continued working on a wide variety
of things, including making the "chopsticks" that will catch boosters move
several times. See
the last few minutes of this 16 minute video
(it should start at 13:44).
China seems to be planning a manned lunar mission within the decade. A new Chinese heavy lift rocket, based
upon three cores like the Delta IV Heavy or Falcon Heavy rockets, could
be ready for a debut flight by as early as 2026, Space News reports. Long
Lehao, a senior space industry figure and one of the Long March launch vehicle
designers, said the kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket could be used to put
Chinese astronauts on the Moon. The new-generation crewed launch vehicle
first emerged as a concept at a 2018 airshow.
With NASA's Artemis program slipping "beyond 2025" and relying on the Space Launch System (which seems to be slipping again), it might be a safe bet to say China will get there first. The country is working on all of the pieces required to make it happen. In addition to this heavy lift booster, Space News reports:
An even larger rocket, the Long March 9, is also being developed. Its role will be for launching large infrastructure such as elements of the planned ILRS. That launcher is currently slated for a first launch in 2028, with previous reports stating 2030.
China has committed to developing a joint China-Russia International Lunar Research Station that will first be a robotic base but aims to establish habitats for humans in the 2030s.