SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is dominating global orbital launches in 2021

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket currently leads the world in orbital launches. (Richard Angle)

Less than five days after SpaceX completed its 20th successful Falcon 9 launch of 2021, a Long March 4C rocket lifted off with a meteorology satellite in tow, carry the country of China past its own same 20-flight milestone.

Excluding SpaceX and China, the rest of the world combined completed its 20th orbital launch hours before SpaceX when US startup Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne rocket successfully flew for the second time. In simpler terms, relative to any other country, space agency, or company, SpaceX led the world in orbital launches for the first half of 2021 – the first time in history a single company has managed that feat.

Perhaps more importantly, as CEO Elon Musk has frequently noted over the last several months, total mass launched to orbit is an even more valuable measure of success and in that regard, SpaceX leads the rest of the world combined. In the first half of 2021, SpaceX has successfully launched more than 230 metric tons (~500,000 lb) of spacecraft, Dragons, space station cargo, and astronauts to orbit and grown its Starlink internet constellation by almost 800 satellites.

As of July 4th, the rest of the world combined – including China, Russia, India, and three other US providers – have launched approximately 175 tons (385,000 lb) to orbit in 2021. According to Musk, SpaceX effectively doubled the rest of the world’s payload mass to orbit in 2020, meaning that other launch providers – mostly led by China – are actually significantly more competitive in 2021, though they’ve still launched ~25% less mass than SpaceX.

As far as specific launch vehicles go, SpaceX also retains an almost unbeatable lead with Falcon 9. Only Russia comes vaguely close with 11 successful Soyuz 2.1 launches so far, followed by China’s Long March 4 with 8 flights this year.

Nevertheless, on July 1st, a Russian Soyuz 2.1 rocket launched OneWeb’s eighth batch of low Earth orbit (LEO) internet satellites, pushing the rest of the non-China/SpaceX world to 21 successful launches in 2021. China’s July 4th launch was its 20th successful orbital mission, tying SpaceX, but the country’s national space agency and at least one Chinese startup have plans for as many as seven more launches this month. Given China’s ambitious manifest and far greater resources, it’s possible that SpaceX won’t catch up before the end of 2021, but the lone company and its reusable Falcon 9 workhorse rocket are still on pace to launch 40 times (or more) this year alone.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is dominating global orbital launches in 2021
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