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SpaceX completes 25th orbital launch in 2020

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its 25th orbital launch in 2020, using its Falcon 9 rocket to put an American spy satellite into orbit.

The first stage successfully landed at Cape Canaveral, completing its fifth flight.

Not only is 25 launches in a single year a new record for SpaceX, it is also four more launches than the company predicted it would achieve in 2020.

This was also the 40th successful American orbital launch in 2020, the first time since 1968 that the U.S. has had that many launches. In 1968 the launches were almost all dictated by the government, on rockets controlled by the government. Today, the rockets are all privately designed and owned, with the small number of government launches occurring with the government merely the customer buying a product.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

33 China
25 SpaceX
15 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

The U.S. now leads China 40 to 33 in the national rankings. The rankings also should not change significantly in the last two weeks of the year, as the U.S. has no more scheduled launches and China and Russia only one.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Ray Van Dune

    I enjoyed watching the return flight of the booster, which was covered more extensively than usual because it was a return to launch site (RTLS), and the NRO customer had requested no visual following of the second stage/payload after first stage separation. You could see the dramatic acceleration of the first stage away from the second as it conducted its boost-back burn immediately after separation… it really “got the hell out of Dodge”!

  • Richard M

    The first stage successfully landed at Cape Canaveral, completing its fifth flight.

    And let’s not skip over that!

    NRO is now willing to put its birds up on previously flown first stages.

    We’ve come a long way in the last few years, when even major government agencies can adapt to innovation this quickly.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Couldn’t agree more, Richard M.

    And that reminds me of something else I saw clearly for the first time – the booster firing the landing burn, and immediately redirecting its flight path from a near-offshore landing to an on-target one! The booster initially aims to land in the water close off the shore, and if the landing burn does not occur, that is where it will hit! As soon as the booster “knows” the burn is happening, it switches to aim for the landing zone, and you can see this very clearly in the straight-down shot just before landing. A very clever fail-safe mechanism.

  • NavyNuke

    I noticed the dramatic trajectory change as well. The drone shot of liftoff was a nice touch. I was impressed by how long it was able to track.

  • geoffc

    Thank you NRO for your institutional paranoia! the flight info on screen for first stage landing was super interesting and as other noted, the divert was very obvious.

    I found it interesting how fast the stage was slowing down just from atmospheric resistance. That is, it was decelerating after the reentry burn completed, down to land from almost 2500 km/h down to close to 1000 km/h before the landing burn.

    And the tracking shot from ground of the first stage boost back burn was epic. Getting out of dodge is not quite enough oomoph on that statement!

    Even on the 70th landed booster, 5th for this booster, we still get to learn and see new things.

    SpaceX is a pleasure. (And I hear they fixed the fin on SN9 in Texas, so maybe we will see another exciting test flight there soon!)

  • Rocket Lab got off six launches? Well, 6 of 7, but still an improvement. They’ve really come on the past couple of years, although their scheduled Electron launches for the next two years appear to rapidly decline. Perhaps they have a new booster in the works? I enjoy their somewhat whimsical names for launches.

  • From the link: “This mission marked (first stage) B1059’s fourth flight this year alone.” Parenthesis mine.

    Really, nothing else to say.

  • Questioner


    I’d like to point out that Rocket Lab’s original business idea was to launch one of their Electron rockets weekly for a very affordable price. They are very far from that. Maybe the market doesn’t exist either and Mr. Beck has miscalculated. The company certainly has a large number of employees and high financial obligations and expectations of investors. Can the company do it justice? Is it allowed to doubt?

  • wayne

    a repeat from me, from a different thread.
    –absolutely fantastic tracking film!

    SpaceX Sentinel 6 Launch Remix –
    “Tracking The Booster”
    Scott Manley November 28, 2020

  • Edward

    bkivey asked: “They’ve really come on the past couple of years, although their scheduled Electron launches for the next two years appear to rapidly decline. Perhaps they have a new booster in the works?

    The market that Rocket Lab seeks is small satellites, and they can be conceived, financed, designed, built, tested, and launched in a fairly short time. Two years is agonizingly long for smallsats. Because of this, we should expect that many smallsats that will be launch two years from now have yet to become a twinkle in their fathers’s eyes.

    What we really need to pay attention to is whether the smallsat market is growing. If it is, then there may be enough business for multiple launch companies. If not, then we should see a terrible shakeout of smallsat launch companies in the next half decade.

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