It’s been an incredible year of activity so far, cementing SpaceX’s dominance in the commercial launch industry. Led by SpaceX, the industry is on track to surpass the annual launch peaks of the space race in the mid-20th century, when most launches were carried out by governments rather than the private sector. 2021 has already set a new record with a total of 145 launches, up from 129 in 1984, the previous peak year, according to data from research firm Quilty Analytics.
If SpaceX maintains its current pace, it could launch more than 52 rockets this year alone, far surpassing last year’s record of 31..
“Even 10 years ago, launches were rare,” Chris Quilty, founder of Quilty Analytics, told CNN Business.
He noted that in 2001, the total number of releases worldwide was just 51.
“So put that in the context of just launching SpaceX 52 times,” he said. “It’s amazing. »
While SpaceX stands out from its rocket competitors, that doesn’t mean the company will remain or remain unchallenged.
Two new rockets capable of rivaling SpaceX’s Falcons – the backpack rockets the company uses to transport satellites and, more recently, astronauts into orbit – are due to launch next year. They are the New Glenn, which is being developed by Blue Origin, backed by Jeff Bezos, and the Vulcan Centaur, a group of rockets from the former launch company United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Others are more optimistic than SpaceX, and others take these risks seriously enough to avert catastrophe.
“Companies that can create space junk will be directly and directly affected by that space junk,” said Carissa Christensen, CEO of the BryceTech Space Research Group, noting that debris from the collision would threaten their satellites — their own investments.
With all these missiles active — and a few smaller launchers slated to launch off the coast of Florida, which is SpaceX’s main launch site — SpaceX could also face launch pad bottlenecks. Each launch requires a ground support team, including military weather personnel, to ensure a safe liftoff. And there are many releases that they can handle at any given time.
“There’s not an infinite number of days, launch pads or launch sites where you can put things into orbit,” Quilty noted.
Christensen added, however, that the Space Coast’s ground support has proven to be resilient, as evidenced by SpaceX’s ability to return a group of astronauts from the International Space Station to the coast of Florida last Friday and then launch the mission. Starlink from a launch pad a few miles away. after a few hours.
Captain Jonathan Eno, deputy director of operations for the US Space Force, charged with monitoring weather and other possible pre-launch responses, said ground support teams in Florida had worked for years to prepare for the massive increase in number of spaceport launches. . In the year it was commissioned in 2019, Space Coast, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, supported just 18 launches. This year, it is on its way to supporting over 60, Notably including the first launch of NASA’s new lunar rocket called the Space Launch System. Your team is now ready to support multiple releases on the same day, even minutes apart.
“SpaceX is in the news a lot,” he told CNN Business. “They are the ones making so many pitchers now. “Obviously we are just preparing for a different reality. »