Why the Recent Increase in US-domestic and Global Launches Truly Reflects the Growth of the Space Technology Industry
The growth of the space sector is often analyzed through investment and numbers of satellites launched. However, in order see the true scale of the rapid development in the industry in the blink of an eye, analyzing launch numbers from the last five years can give you a clue into just how much this market has been burgeoning recently.
Traditionally, three countries and a bloc have been leaders in the launch market: the USA, China, Russia and Europe. In order to measure the growth in launch capabilities, let’s time travel back to 2017 – a year in which the USA, for the first time in 14 years, took the helm in being the leading nation in global orbital launch attempts.
That year, the USA launched 29 times – a number that was mainly fuelled by the increase in SpaceX launches. Since 2017, the USA has increased its launches year-on-year and in 2021, 51 rockets sought orbit from US-soil: an increase of 76%.
Looking at the global orbital launch competition, China has been rapidly closing the gap and launched 55 times in 2021, compared to just 19 times in 2017 – accounting for a whopping increase of 189%. Russia and Europe have appeared slightly more stable, with Russia launching 20 times in 2017 and 16 times in 2021 (20% decrease), whereas Europe launched 10 times in 2017 compared to 14 times in 2021 (40% increase).
The development of the US-domestic launch market
As visible in the above numbers, the USA has been rapidly expanding its launch capabilities, thanks to commercial players increasing their launch frequency (SpaceX) and new players becoming operational or by moving their headquarters to the USA (Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab). The USA has a longstanding heritage of launch companies, launching for civil, commercial and national security purposes.
In 2021, a range of young players contributed to the large launch number, including Virgin Orbit, Firefly Aerospace, Rocket Lab and Astra – all offering services in the small launch segment. They were joined by industry bell weathers using medium and heavy launch vehicles including SpaceX, ULA and Northrop Grumman (previously Orbital ATK).
Alongside the aforementioned organizations, there are many start-ups looking to become operational in the coming years, including Launcher, Relativity Space and ABL Space Systems.
Chinese launch capabilities hot on the heels
A lot of development is happening in China. While the vast majority of orbital launch attempts are conducted by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a state-owned enterprise, there are smaller, and rapidly emerging, private launch service providers contributing to Chinese launch capabilities. Examples include Space Pioneer, Galactic Energy, Deep Blue Aerospace, LinkSpace, Landspace, Orien Space, Exspace and i-Space.
The future of US-domestic launch
The US-launch service market has been developing and maturing over the last couple of years, and now serves many organizations requiring launch capabilities for commercial LEO and GEO satellites, crewed missions to the International Space Station, as well as science and national security mission in Earth’s orbits and beyond. On top of that, and something that has not been included in the above analysis, is the growing market for suborbital space tourism and research, which organizations such as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are rapidly expanding into.
One of the key questions within the launch service providers industry has been whether the launch market will reach a point of saturation as so many new players are looking to provide services. It is expected that consolidation will eventually happen and that not all launch businesses will remain successful over the next decade.
Alongside this there is the ongoing development of the Space Launch System and America’s desire to increase crewed launches from US-soil, so it no longer remains reliant on foreign service providers to launch its astronauts.
It is expected that the US-based launch capabilities will not slow down in 2022: SpaceX is aiming to launch 52 times in 2022 and expects its Starship rocket to launch in the early part of the year, while other service providers are also most likely increasing their capabilities while also making new vehicles operational including ULA’s long anticipated Vulcan.
Meet launch service providers at Space Tech Expo USA 2022
To hear about the latest developments within the US-domestic launch service provider market, join us at Space Tech Expo USA 2022 as leading organizations including Virgin Orbit, Rocket Lab, NASA and Launcher will share their expertise and knowledge. The panel, led by Carissa Christensen, CEO at BryceTech, will highlight key questions including the status of the US-domestic launch systems market, the supply versus demand aspect, as well as the latest technology innovation.
To hear from our expert speakers, make sure to register for the in-person Space Tech Expo USA, which is scheduled to take place on May 23-25 in Long Beach, CA. Secure your seat by registering here