Launch Activity Hits 20-year High in 2014

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WASHINGTON — A late surge of launch activity, primarily by China and Russia, pushed the total number of orbital launches worldwide in 2014 to its highest level in 20 years.

The Dec. 31 launch of the Chinese Fengyun-2G weather satellite on a Long March 3A rocket was the 92nd and final scheduled orbital launch of 2014. That is the highest number of launches in a single calendar year since 1994, when 93 launches took place.

Dec. 31 launch of the Chinese Fengyun-2G weather satellite on a Long March 3A rocket. Credit: Xinhua
Dec. 31 launch of the Chinese Fengyun-2G weather satellite on a Long March 3A rocket. Credit: Xinhua

As is traditionally the case, Russia performed the most launches in 2014, with 32 from Russian-operated launch sites at Baikonur, Plesetsk and Yasny. In addition, four Russian Soyuz rockets launched from French Guiana on missions conducted by Arianespace.

The United States carried out 23 launches, 14 of which involved Atlas and Delta rockets manufactured by United Launch Alliance. SpaceX performed six Falcon 9 launches and Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its Antares rocket three times, including a failed launch Oct. 28.

China conducted 16 launches of its Long March and Kuaizhou families of rockets in 2014. Europe launched its Ariane 5 six times and Vega once. Japan and India each carried out four launches, and Israel launched its Shavit rocket once.

Sea Launch, whose multinational nature — its Zenit-3SL rocket uses Ukrainian lower stages and a Russian upper stage, while operating from a home port in California and licensed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration — defies easy national classification, performed one launch in 2014. In August, the company announced it was laying off staff and taking its ships out of service until at least the middle of 2015 because of a lack of scheduled launches.

The high number of launches in 2014, up from 81 in 2013, was helped by a surge of launch activity late in the year. There were 15 launches in December, including nine from Dec. 15 through the end of the year. All nine of those final launches used rockets built by China or Russia, including one Soyuz launch from French Guiana.

The 92 launches in 2014 do not include two notable test flights of new launch vehicles. In July, Russia launched its first Angara rocket, the Angara-1.2PP, while India launched its first Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 3 on Dec. 18. Both test flights were suborbital and were not designed to place payloads in orbit.

The first scheduled launch of 2015 is the Jan. 6 flight of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo spacecraft on a resupply mission to the international space station.