Tag Archives: Dragon

SpaceX’s first manned SUCCESSFUL Dragon launch

UPDATE: I am off on a caving trip on Sunday, May 31st, so I will not be doing any updates to this post. The live feeds however will still be here and, though they are presently showing a replay of the launch today, should be covering Dragon’s rendezvous and docking with ISS on Sunday..

UPDATE: Dragon is in orbit. SpaceX has successfully used its Falcon 9 rocket to place to Americans into space, the first American launch from American soil in an American spacecraft on an American rocket in nine years.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

9 China
7 Russia
7 SpaceX
3 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 12 to 9 in the national rankings.

UPDATE: I have added NASA’s media live feed to the one provided on SpaceX’s website. There will be some hype on SpaceX’s feed, but the media feed had no commentary. Pick which you prefer.

UPDATE: NASA and SpaceX have decided to attempt a launch today. The weather remains at 50-50 for launch.

Capitalism in space: Below are the live streams of SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch, presently scheduled for launch at 3:22 pm (Eastern) tomorrow, May 30, 2020.

First, the feed from SpaceX’s website:

Second, the media feed from NASA, with no narration:

The live coverage will begin at 11 am (Eastern), and because this presentation is a partnership of NASA and SpaceX, will be filled with a lot of hype that one normally does not see during a SpaceX live feed, though I will note that during the live feed of the May 27th scrubbed launch, the NASA hype was kept relatively tame, compared to previous events. It seemed they accepted some guidance from SpaceX on how to do this in a way that seemed less fake or propagandistic.

This time I am embedding the media feed, which might have even less hype.

This post is also set to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or after the launch is scrubbed, whichever happens. At the moment the weather says there is a 50-50 chance of launching, so we might end up having a scrub again, like on May 27th. In fact, NASA and SpaceX have already said in the evening of May 29th that they will reassess the weather in the AM on May 30th and decide whether to continue with the countdown or scrub. If so, this link and live feed will remain for the Sunday, May 31st, launch attempt.

As I did during the first launch attempt on May 27th, I will also periodically post below the fold images captured from the live feed, with some commentary. Comments from readers are of course welcome, as always.

NOTE: You will need to refresh the post periodically to see new images and commentary.

For other news updates, scroll down.
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SpaceX and NASA will reassess weather for launch in morning

Because of the 50-50 weather conditions for launching the first manned Dragon mission to ISS tomorrow at 3:22 pm (Eastern), managers at both SpaceX and NASA have decided to maintain the schedule but reassess whether they will proceed come morning.

Thus, it is possible they might scrub the launch attempt very early in the countdown, and instead focus on the Sunday, May 31st launch opportunity. We shall have to wait.

In the meantime the embed of the live stream will appear here at Behind the Black at around midnight (Eastern). If the launch proceeds, the feed begins officially at 11:00 am (Eastern) tomorrow.

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Weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch is presently poor

The weather for Saturday’s SpaceX launch presently gives only a 40% chance of launch.

Forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron have issued a slightly more pessimistic outlook for the next two Crew Dragon launch opportunities Saturday and Sunday.

There’s now a 60 percent probability of weather conditions at the launch site violating one of the criteria for liftoff for launch opportunities at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) Saturday and at 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) Sunday, according to the weather team.

The worst part is that the weather doesn’t look good for either day.

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SpaceX’s first manned Dragon launch scrubbed due to weather

UPDATE: They were forced to scrub at T-16:54 because of weather. They will try again in three days on May 30th, at 3:22 pm (Eastern). I will post the live stream here on Behind the Black late Friday night.

Original post:
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I have embedded below SpaceX’s live stream of the first manned Dragon mission, set to launch at 4:33 pm (Eastern). The stream begins at about 12:15 pm (Eastern). Feel free to watch as the day unfolds. Sadly, it is being managed by NASA, not SpaceX, and thus is filled with a lot of the agency’s fake hype.

I have also set it to remain at the top of the page until after the launch, or if it is scrubbed.

On a side note, NASA is now aiming for an August 30 launch of SpaceX’s next manned Dragon mission, the first official operational flight.

Below the fold I am also posting images captured, with some commentary.


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Weather improves for tomorrow’s manned Dragon launch

Capitalism in space: The weather outlook has brightened tomorrow, increasing the chances that the SpaceX’s manned Dragon capsule will launch as scheduled.

No major technical issues of any significance were under discussion Monday, but the weather could be a factor. Forecasters initially predicted a 60% chance of a weather-related launch rule violation, but Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron, said conditions appeared to be improving somewhat. “If I was to issue the forecast today, right now we would probably be down to 40% chance of violation,” he said. “We have a bit more rain to go here and maybe another round of afternoon thunderstorms tomorrow, but … it looks like much less (cloud) coverage. So we have some hope for launch day.”

But McAleenan’s forecast does not include downrange conditions in the Atlantic Ocean along the Crew Dragon’s trajectory where Hurley and Behnken could be forced to ditch in the unlikely event of a catastrophic booster failure during the climb to space.

SpaceX managers will assess a complicated mix of weather models, high-altitude balloon data and actual wind, rain and wave data from multiple buoys along the ground track to determine whether conditions, on average, are acceptable for launch.

The launch is set for 4:33 pm. I will embed SpaceX’s live stream here on Behind the Black tomorrow earlier in the day, when things begin..

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In space exploration, freedom wins again

Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, with Falcon 9 in background
Dragon astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken
with their Falcon 9/Dragon in the background

This week we shall once again see a demonstration of the power of freedom, and it will not be a demonstration by protesters in Hong Kong or Michigan or New York against the petty dictators who rule them.

No, it will simply be the launch of an American rocket, owned by an American company, putting two Americans in space. While most reports of the manned Dragon launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will properly focus on the new engineering and the specific achievement — the first American manned space mission in almost a decade — few will recognize how it is freedom, that forgotten word, that more than anything made it possible.

And it has always been this way, since the very beginnings of the space age. As John Kennedy expounded in his 1961 speech committing the U.S. to a lunar landing, that commitment was to demonstrate that a free people and nation could do it better:
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SpaceX successfully completes static fire dress rehearsal of manned Dragon Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully completed its standard static fire dress rehearsal prior to launch of the Falcon 9 rocket that will place the first manned Dragon capsule, carrying two astronauts, into space on May 27th.

Today NASA also gave its final okay for the launch. It is now set to happen.

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SpaceX successfully completes Dragon parachute tests

Capitalism in space: SpaceX successfully completed the last planned parachute test yesterday for its manned Dragon spacecraft, clearing the way for its first manned launch on May 27th.

NASA also said that it has closed its investigation into the Merlin engine issue from a March Falcon 9 launch, leaving nothing but the weather in the way for that May manned flight.

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NASA’s safety panel rubberstamps May 27 manned Dragon launch

NASA’s safety panel has apparently reluctantly given its “okay” for the launch of the first manned Dragon launch on May 27th.

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), meeting by teleconference April 23, said it was unable to talk with NASA’s commercial crew program during its quarterly meeting, which was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. The panel’s chair, Patricia Sanders, said that scheduling issues prevented a meeting, but that her committee planned to hold a “part 2” of their quarterly meeting in early May to discuss commercial crew and other topics not taken up this week.

Sanders said the panel has been kept up to date by NASA about commercial crew activities, including plans for SpaceX’s Demo-2 crewed test flight scheduled for May 27. “We are aware of a few technical items that remain to be more fully understood,” she said, “but the path forward appears feasible.”

In other words, it appears that NASA’s management might have taken advantage of the Wuhan panic to cut the panel off from the decision-making process, possibly because this panel has acted now for years to slow progress and in fact discourage any American manned launches at all, out of an almost irrational fear of any failure.

Their recommendations have sometimes verged on the ludicrous, such as an insistence that no manned launch be scheduled until a lot of paperwork was filled out.

It could also be that the panel has recognized at last (or maybe NASA management told them in no uncertain words) that we now have to proceed with American manned missions, since with the expiration of our contract with the Russians we have no other options.

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First manned Dragon flight scheduled for May 27th

Capitalism in space: NASA today officially announced May 27, 2020 as the scheduled launch date for the first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the first time American astronauts will fly from American soil on an American rocket in an American spacecraft since the shuttle was retired almost a decade ago.

The launch is set for 4:32 pm (Eastern), and I am sure will be live streams by both NASA and SpaceX.

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First manned Dragon mission slips to end of May

Capitalism in space: According to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, the first manned flight of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will now occur at the end of May, not mid-May, and will last two or three months.

“I think we’re really good shape,” Bridenstine said in an interview Thursday. “I’m fairly confident that we can launch at the end of May. If we do slip, it’ll probably be into June. It won’t be much.”

The article at the link also reveals that the two astronauts will spend between two to three months on board ISS, not two weeks as originally planned.

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NASA selects full crew for first operational Dragon mission

Even though SpaceX’s first demonstration manned mission to ISS has not yet occurred, NASA yesterday announced the selection of the full four person crew for the second flight, set for later this year and intended as the first operational mission to ISS, lasting six months.

This announcement tells us several things, all good. First, it appears NASA has now definitely decided that the demo mission, presently scheduled for mid-May, will be a short-term mission. They had considered making it a six-month mission, but it now appears they have concluded doing so will delay the demo launch too much.

Second, that NASA is solidifying its plans for that operational flight, the second for Dragon, including a tentative launch date later in 2020, is further evidence that they intend to go through with the demo mission in mid-May.

Finally, it appears that NASA has decided that it will not buy more seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, something that they had previously hinted they needed to do because the agency was worried the American capsules would not be ready this year. The article describes the negotiations on-going with the Russians about the use of Dragon, as well as the future use by Americans of Soyuz. NASA wishes to have astronauts from both countries fly on both spacecraft (Starliner too, once operational), but Russia is as yet reluctant to fly its astronauts on Dragon. They want to see that spacecraft complete more missions successfully.

Regardless, future flights of Americans on Soyuz will cost NASA nothing, as the agency wishes to trade the seats on the U.S. capsules one-for-one for the seats on Soyuz. It also means that NASA has decided it doesn’t need to buy Soyuz flights anymore, as it now expects Dragon to become operational this year.

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NASA awards SpaceX deal to provide cargo to Gateway

Capitalism in space: Should NASA ever decide to build its proposed Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon (the odds of which have gone down recently), it announced today that it has signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon Heavy rocket and an upgraded larger version of its Dragon capsule to ship cargo to that station.

The deal calls for at least two missions, and is SpaceX’s first deal in NASA’s Artemis program.

This deal is a major blow to SLS and Boeing, which up to now had a monopoly on all launches to supply and launch Gateway. In fact, Gateway was invented by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and NASA (not Congress) in order to justify SLS’s existence. That NASA has now decided it is better off using the much cheaper and already operational Falcon Heavy for some Gateway missions suggests that SLS is increasingly vulnerable to cancellation. NASA is making it obvious that other commercial options exist. No need to wait years and spend billions for SLS, when they can go now, for much less.

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NASA confirms May target date for first manned Dragon flight

Capitalism in space: In announcing today it is beginning media accreditation for SpaceX’s first manned Dragon flight to ISS, the agency confirmed earlier reports from SpaceX that they are now aiming for a mid-to-late May launch.

Much can change before then. COVID-19 could get worse, shutting down all launches. The engine failure on yesterday’s successful Falcon 9 launch could require delays.

However, right now, things look good for May, which will be the first time since 2011 that Americans will launch from American soil on an American-built rocket, an almost ten year gap that has been downright disgraceful. Thank you Congress and presidents Bush and Obama! It was how you planned it, and is also another reason we got Trump.

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The last cargo Dragon to berth with ISS using robot arm

Astronauts yesterday used the robot arm on ISS to berth SpaceX’s cargo Dragon freighter, the last time a Dragon capsule will be berthed to the station in this manner.

The successful supply deliver marked the 20th time a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule has arrived at the space station since May 2012. The mission, known as CRS-20 or SpaceX-20, also the final flight of SpaceX’s first-generation Dragon spacecraft, which the company is retiring in favor of a new Dragon capsule designed to dock directly with the space station without needing to be captured by the robotic arm.

I could put this another way that is more embarrassing to NASA. After twenty flights, the agency has finally admitted that SpaceX can design a spacecraft that can do automatic dockings, and is now willing to allow it.

That of course is a gross simplification. Nonetheless, the successful unmanned demo flight last year of SpaceX’s crew Dragon, docking directly with ISS, has proven SpaceX can do it. And since that crew Dragon is essentially the same design for SpaceX’s future cargo Dragons, it makes sense to shift from robot-arm-berthing to direct docking for all future Dragon flights.

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SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight successfully launched a cargo Dragon freighter to ISS.

This is the third flight for this Dragon capsule. It was also the last flight of the company’s first generation Dragon capsules. The company also successfully landed the first stage, which was on its second flight. This was the fiftieth time they have successfully done this. I have embedded the launch video below the fold.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

4 China
4 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. now leads China 7 to 4 in the national rankings.
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Dragon capsule for first manned mission shipped to Florida

Capitalism in space: SpaceX yesterday shipped to Florida the Dragon capsule it will use for its first manned mission, now set for sometime between April and June.

No official word yet on any specific launch date, though there are reports that they are targeting May 7.

In that same story at the second link a NASA official admitted that one of the big issues is filling out the paperwork.

“Even though it sounds mundane, there is a load of paper that has to be verified, and signed off, and checked to make sure we’ve got everything closed out,” [said chief of human spaceflight Doug Loverro.] “It is probably one of the longest things in the tent to go ahead and do. It’s underappreciated but critically important. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do along the way.”

Properly documenting what you are doing is always essential, but if you over do it you raise costs unnecessarily while simultaneously delaying things. And isn’t it interesting that both of these issues — budget overruns and scheduling delays — have been systemic on all of NASA’s projects for decades?

Furthermore, while good documentation can help prevent problems and help you figure out what went wrong, when things go wrong, doing more of it will not further reduce problems or failures. If anything, too much paperwork will likely increase mistakes by focusing workers on the wrong things. This seems to be one of NASA’s problems in recent years.

Regardless, it does look like that first privately built launch will happen in mere months. The one decision remaining that could legitimately delay it would be if NASA decides to make it a longer mission, requiring more training for its astronauts.

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Trunk from Dragon recovered intact

Capitalism in space: In recovering various pieces, including the capsule, dropped in the Atlantic during its January 19 launch abort test, SpaceX (and Elon Musk) were surprised to retrieve the capsule’s trunk section, normally attached below the capsule, largely intact and undamaged.

The recovery does not mean SpaceX will recapture and reuse this component in the future, since on an orbital flight the trunk would go into orbit. What it does suggest strongly is that SpaceX’s engineering is remarkably robust. To quote the old Timex commercial, “Takes a licking, keeps on ticking!” Kudos to them.

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Dragon returns to Earth with mice and cookies baked in space

After several months docked to ISS SpaceX’s cargo Dragon returned to Earth today, bringing back forty mice send up in December for research and some cookies that were baked in space.

Researchers want to inspect the handful of chocolate chip cookies baked by astronauts in a special Zero G oven just in time for Christmas. The oven launched to the space station in November, so astronauts could pop in pre-made cookie dough provided by DoubleTree. A spokesman for the hotel chain said five cookies were baked up there, one at a time. The company plans to share details of this first-of-its-kind experiment in the coming weeks. “We made space cookies and milk for Santa this year,” NASA astronaut Christina Koch tweeted late last month from the space station, posing with one of the individually wrapped cookies.

Scientists also are getting back 40 mice that flew up in early December, including eight genetically engineered to have twice the normal muscle mass. Some of the non-mighty mice bulked up in orbit for the muscle study; others will pack it on once they’re back in the lab.

At the moment the only way to get experiments like this back from ISS is with cargo Dragon. Hopefully that will change when Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle finally flies in the next few years.

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SpaceX successfully launches cargo Dragon to ISS

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today has successfully launched a reused cargo Dragon to ISS.

This is the third flight of this Dragon capsule. They also successfully landed the first stage on their drone ship.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

27 China
18 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China leads the U.S. in the national rankings 27 to 24.

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SpaceX to test upper stage endurance as part of Dragon launch

Capitalism in space: SpaceX plans to perform a six hour orbital coast test of its Falcon 9 upper stage following the release of the Dragon cargo capsule tomorrow (scrubbed today due to high winds).

This is why the first stage will land on a drone ship rather than at Kennedy.

According to SpaceX the test is at the request of “other customers”, unnamed. The article adds this speculation:

Jensen says that the coast test will be performed for unspecified “other” customers, presumably referring to the US Air Force (USAF) and other commercial customers interested in direct-to-geostationary (GEO) launch services. Direct GEO launches require rocket upper stages to perform extremely long coasts in orbit, all while fighting the hostile vacuum environment’s temperature swings and radiation belts and attempting to prevent cryogenic propellant from boiling off or freezing solid. In simple terms, it’s incredibly difficult to build a reliable, high-performance upper stage capable of remaining fully functional after 6-12+ hours in orbit.

Although SpaceX said that the test was for “other” customers, that may well have been a cryptic way to avoid indicating that one such customer might be NASA itself. NASA is in the midst of a political battle for the Europa Clipper spacecraft’s launch contract, which is currently legally obligated to launch on NASA’s SLS rocket. Said rocket will likely cost on the order of >$2 billion per launch, meaning that simply using Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy could save no less than ~$1.5 billion. Incredibly, that means that simply using a commercial launch vehicle could save NASA enough money to fund an entire Curiosity-sized Mars rover or even a majority of the cost of building a dedicated Europa lander. Such a launch would demand every ounce of Falcon Heavy’s performance, including a very long orbital coast.

These speculations could all be true. SpaceX might merely be doing what it always does, testing new engineering upgrades during operational missions. It will then be able to sell its rocket’s enhanced capability to all these customers.

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December 17 officially set for Starliner unmanned orbital launch

Capitalsm in space: NASA and Boeing have now officially scheduled the launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule on its first unmanned demo flight to ISS for December 17.

Boeing had announced this date earlier, but it is now official.

The next two months will be a very busy period for tests of the two privately built manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX. Not only will Boeing fly Starliner on its first unmanned orbital mission, the company will also do a pad abort test of Starliner on November 4. SpaceX in turn will be doing a major parachute test campaign for Dragon, as well as a launch abort test, right now roughly scheduled for late November.

If all go well, both companies will be ready for the first manned flights of both capsules in the first quarter of 2020.

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Bridenstine’s visit to SpaceX a non-story

Link here. Essentially he just reiterated his desire to have the private capsules being built by SpaceX and Boeing flying by early next year.

Essentially, the announcements in the last few days by Musk and Boeing about their upcoming testing and launch schedule for both Dragon and Starliner respectively took the steam out of his SpaceX visit.

In fact, I wonder what the politics were behind this. It is almost as if both companies wanted to take the steam out of his appearance here. Most intriguing.

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Musk confirms: Dragon launch abort test in about 10 weeks

Captalism in space: According to a series of tweets by SpaceX head Elon Musk today, the company now expects they will be ready to fly their launch abort test of their Dragon capsule in about ten weeks, about the third week in December.

Musk noted that they need only do a static fire test and then “reconfigure for flight.”

Expect more detailed information at tomorrow’s press event at SpaceX in California with both Musk and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

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Capsule and booster for SpaceX launch abort test arrives in Florida

Capitalism in space: The Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 first booster for SpaceX’s launch abort test have both arrived in Florida and are being readied for flight.

SpaceX’s launch license suggests this test will occur no earlier than November 1, so it looks like the company is getting close. However, don’t hold your breath about the manned launch. It appears that NASA is still hassling SpaceX “with certification and safety reviews,” which in plain language is mostly paperwork and filling out forms that NASA’s safety panel can then rubber stamp.

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NASA in negotiations to buy more Russian Soyuz astronaut seats

Collusion with Russia discovered! NASA has begun negotiations with Russia’s Roscosmos space agency to buy more astronaut flights to ISS using Russia’s Soyuz rocket and capsule.

According to the story at the link, NASA’s last purchased ticket will fly in March of 2020, and these negotiations would buy flights beginning in the fall of 2020 and beyond into 2021. The story also cites statements by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to CNN, confirming these negotiations.

Apparently NASA thinks the manned capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX will not be ready by the fall of 2020, and needs to buy tickets from Russia because of this.

However, the only reason those American capsules will not have been approved and flown by then will be because NASA’s timidity in approving their launch. The agency’s safety panel as well as its management have repeatedly delayed these private American capsules, sometimes for very strange reasons, including a demand that lots of paperwork be filled out, and what I consider to be an unjustified demand for perfect safety.

Had NASA adopted a reasonable criteria for launch, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule could have flown three years ago.

Meanwhile, NASA seems quite willing to put Americans on a Soyuz rocket, launched by a foreign power whose safety record in the past half decade has been spotty, at best. In that time Russia has experienced numerous quality control problems, including mistakes that led to an Soyuz abort during a launch and a Soyuz parachute failure during a landing, corruption that forced them to recall all rocket engines and freeze launches for almost a year, and sabotage where someone drilled a hole in a Soyuz capsule prior to launch, a sabotage that Russia still refuses to explain.

It is unconscionable for NASA to favor putting Americans on a Soyuz with many documented safety issues, but block the launch of Americans on American-made capsules, for imagined safety issues that have mostly made no sense. In fact, the contrast makes me wonder about the loyalty of NASA’s bureaucracy. They certainly seem to favor Russia and Roscosmos over private American companies.

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Progress on Dragon parachute tests

It appears that SpaceX’s parachute testing for its Dragon manned capsule is finally satisfying the concerns of NASA and its safety panel, based on a Sept 17 NASA blog post.

In fact, SpaceX’s success has even forced NASA “to reevaluate its own [parachute] standards and certification processes.”

The article at the link also notes quite correctly NASA’s tendency to miss the forest for the trees, which is why it has forced SpaceX to do so much additional parachute testing, even though the company apparently had a solid understanding of its parachutes a long time ago.

[T]he space agency has been focused on parachutes and COPVs [the tank issues that caused the 2016 launchpad explosion] for years. This is primarily a result of NASA’s notoriously reactive approach to safety: SpaceX suffered two COPV-related Falcon 9 failures in 2015 and 2016 and has experienced an unknown number (likely 1-3) of anomalies during Crew Dragon parachute testing.

As a result, NASA has focused extensively on these two stand-out concerns. To an extent, this is reasonable – if you know things have a tendency to fail, you’re going to want to make sure that they don’t. However, prioritizing reactive safety measures at the cost of proactive safety would be a major risk, akin to getting in a car crash because you didn’t use a turn signal and then prioritizing turn signal use so much that you forget to look both ways before making turns. Sure, you will probably never get in the same crash, but you are raising the risk of new kinds of accidents if you overcorrect your attention distribution.

Either way, it increasingly appears that a manned Dragon mission might finally be getting close to launch.

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SpaceX launches used Dragon to ISS with used Falcon 9

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today successfully used a Falcon 9 rocket to launch a Dragon freighter to ISS.

The Dragon is making its third flight to ISS. The first stage, which landed successfully, was making its second flight, and will likely be used on the next Dragon cargo mission.

Video of the launch and 1st stage landing is below the fold. The launch is at about 15 minutes. The first stage landing is one of the most spectacular yet.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

10 China
9 Russia
9 SpaceX
5 Europe (Arianespace)
4 India

The U.S. now leads China 15-10 in the national rankings.
» Read more

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