2018 was a banner year for space launch, with a total of 114 countries (and companies) attempting to launch rockets into orbit -- an average of more than two per week. (According to the stats-crunchers at spacelaunchreport.com, 111 of those were successful). Viewed in that context, 2019 has been something of a letdown. To date, a total of only 85 rockets launches have been attempted -- and only 80 of those have succeeded.
But the space industry is going to try and finish strong.
This week alone, no fewer than five separate organizations will attempt to launch six or more separate satellites, beginning today with ...
From Russia with nukes?
Our first launch today will be the kind that makes investors (and everybody else) a little bit nervous -- a "military payload" of unspecified type. Blasting off from Plesetsk Cosmodrome 800 kilometers north of Moscow in Arkhangelsk Oblast, this Soyuz 2.1v (Volga) rocket will be launched by Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) at approximately 1 p.m. EST.
The payload on this mission is understood to mass 2.8 tons and will be going into Low Earth Orbit -- so breathe a sigh of relief. Unless something goes terribly wrong, this military mission will not be going "boom" anywhere soon.
Once more, with feeling
Scrubbed Friday, an Arianespace launch out of French Guiana has been shifted to today for a second attempt. The launch window on this Ariane 5 rocket will open at 4:08 p.m. EST and, if all goes well, it will be putting two telecommunications satellites into orbit soon thereafter -- Egypt's TIBA-1 comsat, and Inmarsat's "GX5" satellite -- both built by Thales Alenia.
This will be Arianespace's 106th mission utilizing the venerable Ariane 5, which is due to be succeeded by the new Ariane 6 rocket sometime next year. Next Spaceflight estimates the cost of this launch at $200 million, which is probably too pricey to compete long-term against SpaceX rocket launches that now cost as little as $50 million -- hence Arianespace's desire to switch to a newer and cheaper rocket.
A fast rocket from China
Then, at 6:50 p.m. EST tonight, Chinese state-owned launcher "China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation" will attempt to launch a Long March 4C rocket carrying an unknown payload out of the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province just south of Inner Mongolia.
This will be the last launch of the day.
Cheaper than SpaceX?
Space watchers and space investors won't have to wait long for their next flight, however, because on Tuesday, rising space power India -- technically, the state-owned Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO -- will make another launch of its own.
Blasting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (aka "the Spaceport of India") just north of Chennai in Andhra Pradesh, this PSLV-XL rocket will be carrying a Cartosat-3 Earth-observation imaging satellite as its primary payload, as well as 13 commercial nanosatellites from U.S. customers.
Incidentally, this launch highlights two major trends we've been watching here at The Motley Fool: The rise in popularity of small satellites, and also the declining cost of putting such satellites in space. The entire cost of this PSLV mission is estimated at just $31 million -- even cheaper than SpaceX.
A perfect 10
And last but not least, we will round out the week with a Thanksgiving Day launch by New Zealand's Rocket Lab -- a fast-growing small rocket launcher that we've been watching closely, and to the best of our knowledge, the only space "unicorn stock" other than SpaceX to command a $1 billion-plus private valuation.
Very early Thanksgiving morning U.S.-time -- 2:56 a.m. EST -- Rocket Lab will attempt to launch an Electron rocket from its LC-1 launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula. Seven tiny payloads will be aboard, representing a Benetton collection of customers hailing from the United States to Spain to Hungary to Japan.
The launch cost on this one is estimated at a minuscule $7 million, and that's not even the most interesting thing about it. If the launch goes off without a hitch, this will be Rocket Lab's 10th straight launch of an Electron (without a single one blowing up -- no small feat for a start-up).
And not coincidentally, this explains Rocket Lab's tongue-in-cheek name for the mission: "Running out of fingers."