Rocket Rundown: A Review of Spaceflight in 2018
A total of 114 orbital missions were launched during the 12 months of 2018. In addition to being a significant increase on the 90 launches of last year, it is also the most launched in a calendar year since 1990. The increase is in no small part due to the increased launch cadence from China. The country smashed all its previous records launching a staggering 39 missions.
In addition to being a bumper year for rocket launches, 2018 was a year marked by reliability. With just one partial failure and two failures, it was one of the safest in the history of spaceflight.
2018 spaceflight highlights
The last 12 months have been packed with firsts and finals. The year has given us the highs of the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy and the lows of the final moments of Dawn and Kepler. With 114 launches and the continued exploration of the cosmos, it is a year that we are sure to remember as a moment in history when the fascination for spaceflight was reinvigorated. Below are just a view of the most impactful spaceflight moments of 2018.
The Falcon Heavy lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on February 6, 2018 | Image credit: SpaceX
Maiden Falcon Heavy launch
After several delays, the maiden SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center carry a bizarre test payload. With a successful maiden launch, the Falcon Heavy became the most powerful rocket currently in service. Read more
The third flight of a Falcon 9 booster
In early December, SpaceX launched a record-breaking third mission utilising the same Falcon 9 Block 5 booster. The mission carried the largest rideshare ever launched from US soil with a staggering 64 individual payloads. Read more
China launch Chang’e 4 moon mission
China launched their Chang’e 4 lunar lander and rover on December 7. The lander is expected to touch down on the far side of the moon in early January. If successful, it will be the first time in history anyone has done so. Read more
First operational flight of Rocket Lab
Small launch vehicle developer, Rocket Lab completed three orbital missions in 2018 including their first commercial mission, “It’s Business Time”. Read more
InSight launch and landing
NASA newest Mars lander, Insight was launched on May 5. On November 26, the lander successfully touched down on the Martian surface. InSight is currently being put through extensive testing before beginning science operations in 2019. Read more
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) space telescope was launched aboard a Falcon 9 on April 18. The telescope has been tasked with searching the skies for exoplanets that could potentially harbour life. The launch was timed perfectly as NASA’s Kepler telescope (an older exoplanet hunter) ran out of fuel in late 2018. Read more
Orbital launches by country
This year, China accelerated its launch cadence surpassing the United States in total launches for the first time in history. The country launched a total of 39 orbital missions suffering just one failure, the maiden flight of the privately developed Zhuque-1 rocket. The United States, boosted largely by the 21 launches aboard SpaceX rockets, completed 34 orbital mission with a 100% success rate. Russia managed to maintain a 20-launch year (including Soyuz launches from Kourou) suffering a single failure, the Soyuz MS-10 mishap.
Orbital launches by rocket
SpaceX has, for a second year running, launched their Falcon 9 rocket more than any other. A total of 20 orbital missions were launched aboard Falcon 9 rockets with 11 being launched with flight-proven first stage boosters. China launched a total of 37 missions aboard Long March rockets, however, that includes launches aboard all Long March variants. 14 of China’s orbital missions were launched aboard Long March 3 rockets and 14 aboard Long Mach 2 rockets. Russia launched 9 missions aboard the Soyuz-2, 5 aboard the Soyuz-FG and 2 aboard the Soyuz-ST.
Orbital launches by spaceport
A total of seven countries hosted orbital rocket launches in 2018. The seven countries utilised a combined 16 spaceports to launch the 114 orbital missions. The United States’ Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center hosted the most launches with 17 each. China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center narrowly missed out on the top spot hosting 15 missions. The Jiuquan launch facility was, however, the only spaceport worldwide to suffer a total failure in 2018. New Zealand was the surprise newcomer of 2018 with a total of three orbital missions after launching their first ever in 2017. Small launch vehicle builder, Rocket Lab expects to boost the country’s launch cadence in the coming year.