SpaceX successfully launches GPS satellite

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Capitalism in space: In launching an Air Force GPS satellite today, SpaceX successfully completed its 21st launch of 2018, the most ever achieved in a single year by a private company, ever, beating the record the company set last year by three.

The company has been so successful that many will take this achievement for granted. They should not.Ten years ago SpaceX barely existed. In that short time it has revolutionized the rocket industry, and recaptured for the U.S. the commercial market share that was lost by the older American rocket companies to Russia and Europe, because they were fearful and lazy and refused to compete.

The result however has not been zero sum. Launches in total have increased, and the potential for a revitalization of space exploration for everyone has not been as good since the 1960s. I know this will make some groan, but the sky now is literally the limit.

You can watch a replay of today’s SpaceX launch here.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race:

36 China
21 SpaceX
14 Russia
11 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads in the national rankings 36 to 34 over the U.S. At the moment only one more U.S. launch is scheduled, so it appears China will hold that lead. Stay tuned for my annual assessment of the launch industry, coming the first week in January.



  • That’s great news. Here’s hoping that OCX gets completed on time and that the GPS III satellites can be utilized successfully.

  • “Take me out, to the Black
    Tell’em I ain’t comin’ back”

    Should China have an (x) after them for ‘clinched’?

  • Jason Hillyer

    Things seemed to slow down once SpaceX got down to only Block 5, but an impressive year indeed. (I still think Falcon Heavy should count as 3 launches) XD

  • mike shupp

    My only beef …

    Well, more of a disappointment than that. I got to looking in an old book, a chapter by Robert Cornog dealing with “Economics of Space Travel” (pp 587-609) in SPACE LOGISTICS ENGINEERING, edited by Kenneth Brown and Col. Lawrence Ely back in 1962 A while back in other words — this was one of the first books I purchased after buying my initial texbooks back when I entered college in the 1960s; it was something I deliberaetly purchased with the idea of guiding my future life. That particular copy got lost in the wayside unfortunately as I moved through life, but its memory is evergreen; my current copy came used from Amazon a couple years back , a discard from the Murray Hill Library of Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. (and isn’t that a name to reckon with!)

    Anyhow. Fifty years ago, almost sixty, a working aerospace consultant estimated that, world wide, we would be launching 30,000 to maybe 300,000 tons of payload a year in 1976. He thought the cost would be under a dollar per pound for low earth orbit, maybe two bucks a pound for payloads landed on the moon.

    Well, he was looking at performance figures from 1949 through 1961. He couldn’t have imagined how we’ve …. transformed … things. This year, 2018, there’ll be about 110 spacecraft launches, with maybe an average payload of 5 tons, and a cost of maybe $10,000 per pound. (Maybe more: It’s 86 million dollars to launch 190 pounds of US astronaut in a 110 pound spacesuit to the ISS in a Soyuz spacecraft — that’s 290 thousand dollars per pound. Such progress we’re making!)

    We’ve a way to go before we can start clapping our backs, I’m trying to say.

  • Richard M

    He thought the cost would be under a dollar per pound for low earth orbit, maybe two bucks a pound for payloads landed on the moon.

    This is what happens when governments keep space access under their control, and the governments are not terribly interested in doing much with it.

    New Space has done more in the past four years to get the cost down than state agencies had done in the past forty, I think. Can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.

  • Col Beausabre

    “the Murray Hill Library of Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc. (and isn’t that a name to reckon with!)”

    Heck yeah! I grew up maybe five miles away, the father of a classmate was an engineer there, in my teenage years I knew several other Bell Labs engineers. The place was a national treasure….emphasis on the was…it’s a shadow of its former glory

    Sic Transit Gloria

  • M Puckett

    Does Virgin Galactic count?

  • M Puckett: No. My rankings only include orbital rockets.

  • Kirk

    Back on 6 December, during the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meeting, we were told that SpaceX would finally have all their DM1 (uncrewed flight test) hardware ready by 20 December — last Thursday. Two weeks ago Gwynne Shotwell said they would have a dry dress rehearsal before Christmas.

    The delayed GPS III launch probably put off that dress rehearsal, but I would not be surprised to see the fully integrated stack rolled out to LC-39A for fit checks shortly after Christmas. The government shutdown has NASA civil servants not supporting current mission operations furloughed, but I understand that contractors are allowed to access and work at their own facilities which are located in NASA centers, so I don’t believe that it should interfere with DM-1 preparations. (I don’t know if the test mission would be considered in support of the ongoing ISS mission, should the shutdown stretch out.)

    I’ve still not heard a go/no-go relating to the final NASA reviews for this mission, and despite signs of everything proceeding, I don’t see it as a done deal.

  • Edward

    mike shupp wrote: “We’ve a way to go before we can start clapping our backs

    I disagree. We are making progress, and I believe that we should celebrate progress as it is made rather than wait for the final product to be released. We will always be trying to make improvements, so the final product will always be sometime in the future.

    Celebrate now, and celebrate often.

  • Kirk

    Word out of Russia is that they have been notified that the SpaceX DM1 mission has been delayed from 17 January to the end of January. No reason is given. Russian source:

  • Kirk

    Iridium’s Matt Desch just tweeted that their final SpaceX launch of the Iridium NEXT deployment has been delayed by one day to 07:48 a.m. PST, Tuesday, 8 January.

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